Sunday, July 5, 2009

Excessive Violence in Romance Novels: Who Needs It?

Books are powerful things. They can make us fall in love with fictional characters. They can make us cheer for heroes and loathe evil villains. Scenes from novels linger in our memories forever. A truly gifted author can do that to her readers...she has power. Readers learn to trust an author...learn to care for the characters she creates, savoring their triumphs as their own. 

A long time ago, I was an obsessive mystery reader. I read all sorts of disturbing mysteries and barely batted an eyelash. And then I had a son. Suddenly, scenes of children being abducted, abused, and tortured were no longer palatable. I was exhausted and barely able to function. I needed something to make me feel good, lift my spirits and remind me that there is life outside of dirty diapers and mashed peas. I read my first romance novel and I was hooked. A guaranteed happy ending. Loving, intense sexual relationships. If I wanted to immerse myself in violence, abuse and depressing current issues, all I had to do was read the front page of the newspaper. Instead, I chose to lose myself in a romance novel, and I have been an addicted fan of this genre ever since.

One of the very first paranormal romance writers I discovered was Christine Feehan. I read one of her Carpathian vampire novels and was intrigued by this new landscape. Vampires are sexy? Although there was violence in this world, because it was not based in reality, but rather a paranormal setting, I was able to stomach it...especially since the complete devotion of these Carpathians to their lifemates was such a romantic notion. However, I noticed over the years that Feehan's books were becoming darker and more disturbing. The Ghostwalker series especially. Rape and violence against women was becoming a common theme in her books. 

Which brings me to Hidden Currents. I have been a faithful fan of the Drake Sisters series since the beginning. And finally, Feehan released the final, seventh installment of this paranormal series, Elle's story. I have been looking forward to this book all year. I started to get nervous after reading several comments from reviewers who received an advanced copy of the book. They liked it, but the torture and abuse and difficult subject matter (human trafficking) were hard to take. Uh oh. I ordered the book from Amazon. I wanted closure for the series...I was cheering for Elle and Jackson. They deserved a happy ending. Reader reviews started to trickle in on the Amazon website. Here are some of the comments..."[Feehan] let her readers down," "very disappointed," "disgusted," "made me sick," "simply awful," "degrading to any woman who has been raped," and worst of all, "I wish I hadn't read it." Many of these readers prefaced their comments by saying they were long-time Feehan fans. There are also some 5-star reviews from readers who loved this book regardless of the dark material.

So, I made a decision. Maybe I'm a big wuss. Maybe I'm missing out on some great books because I don't want to read such disturbing stuff. But I don't want a scene replaying through my head as I fall asleep where a character I have grown to care about is forced to endure horrendous abuse. I'm putting my unread copy of Hidden Currents on the shelf, and it's going to stay there. Every author has her own prerogative to write whatever she wants. Likewise, a reader has the prerogative to choose as well. I miss the old Christine Feehan books, which really focused on romance. I guess I'll have to be content with re-reading the old Dark series. In the mean time, I'm going to immerse myself in the many wonderful, non-violent romances being released, and continue to celebrate this genre I have grown to love.



Lola said...

Hi Penelope, I'm a Christine Feehan fan from way back. I also follow all her series. While I can handle the ugly aspects in fiction or in real life I felt with Hidden Currents it was unrealistic and down right ridiculous.

If an Author is going to put her hero/ine thru the ringer then that Author has a responsibility to treat the subject matter with respect and beliveabilty. I can't fathom a victim (even in a paranormal world) to overcome what Elle did in 7 days. That's where my issue with this book stems from. I couldn't suspend my belief to work thru the book. Of course that's just my opinion on this book, but I did read the reviews on Amazon and agree with most of them.

Penny Watson said...

Hi Lola! I saw that many readers agreed with you about the unrealistic "healing" time for Elle...they all said that one week was clearly not enough time to overcome the trauma she had experienced. And several readers said it did a disservice to women who were recovering from rape, to suggest that a woman could be completely healed in such a short amount of time. I am still hopeful that Dark Slayer will be a step in the right direction for Feehan. Thanks for stopping by and leaving a message.

Kristie (J) said...

I`m a wuzz to with a very vivid imagination. So I have to brace myself if I`m going to read a book where I know there is torture or violence. But if I`m braced enough I can handle it. One of my all time favourite books - Ride the Fire by Pamela Clare has quite a vivid torture scene done to the hero. The first time I read the book, I read the scene (it`s at the beginning) but on further readings of the book (I think it`s 5 x`s now), I skip that first little bit.

Penny Watson said...

Hey Kristie! I am such a wuss that I even have difficulty with off-stage rape or torture...just knowing that it happened to the character, even if I do not have to read the details, is disturbing to me. However, I was able to deal with Zsadist's story by JW Ward, and that poor guy was horribly abused. I follow your same approach when I re-read Lover Awakened...I skip most of the sections about the Lessers, and always skip the parts with Zsadist's torture.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your decision to not read this book. I did read it, unfortunately. I skipped most of the chapter detailing her rape and torture. Even so, I had a hard time sleeping after reading this book. I was so looking forward to Elle and Jackson's story. I've read and reread all of the Drake books. I'm afraid that I'll not be reading anymore Feehan books if this is the road she's taking. That sort of genre is not for me and I don't think it should be published as a romance. I'm not criticizing anyone who chooses to read that type of material and gets entertainment from it. Every person is different. I, however, don't even watch horror movies. Being scared out of my mind is not a form of relaxtion I enjoy! I feel very sad about my decision to forgoe Feehan books in the future. There are not a lot of really great authors out there. I'll miss her. The Drake series ended very badly. You should just make up your own happy ending and leave this book on the shelf.

Penny Watson said...

So sorry, Anonymous! I feel the same way. Christine Feehan will no longer be a "must-read" for me anymore. I am wondering if she will listen to the outrage of so many fans and scale back on the violence, or if she just doesn't care and perhaps is content moving away from romance. We'll have to wait and see.