Sidney Kay here from Kay's Blog. Just recently I was reading a romance novel and I had one of those moments…yes, I was distracted, I confess. I know that I'm not alone in this, but before I get too far into my story, let me set the stage.
It was a story similar to others and up to the distracting moment I was enjoying the book immensely. We had our spunky, stubborn, pretty-but-doesn't-know-it heroine - let's call her Daphne Minx-Tart. As some of our heroines oft times do, the virgin Daphne was riding in the park in the morning without a chaperon. So, you see historical accuracy was not the strong point of this book; however, I digress. Now, for some reason I don't remember, our heroine Daphne had dismounted and was leading her horse through the foggy park. Did I forget to say it was foggy? Anyway, as luck would have it our hero - let's call him Damien Gabriel Adrian Hawkeshunghuge, or as his friends call him, Hawk. Anyway, Hawk was galloping through the foggy park, almost running over our heroine. In the process his big old horse startles Daphne's big old horse and her big old horse steps on her dainty heroine feet - ouchy! Well, we do not call Hawk a hero for nothing, no sir. He jumps from his horse, in manly fashion, for he must rescue our fair damsel. Swinging her up into his manly studly arms, for he must inspect her foot from the giant horse crunch… it might be bruised, crushed, broken, or ye gads, squished! So, after picking her up in his muscle-bound arms (he must work out at Jackson's) he deposits her under a nearby tree and proceeds to remove her boot. Now, if it were me, even through all of the intense pain that would be caused by a large animal with hooves stepping on my foot, one of the first thoughts that would have passed through my pain-inflicted mind would be, "Don't take off my boots, my feet have been in them all morning and they are sweaty and smelly!" But, then I'm not the heroine. Heroines don't have smelly feet and, besides, our heroine is entranced by his silver eyes, chestnut-highlighted raven hair and cat-like movements as he slowly lifts her skirt, running his hands sensually up her leg to her garter. He languidly pulls the ribbon from the garter and slowly rolls her stockings down her smooth leg. Um, smooth leg? It was at this point my mind started to wander, and I became distracted by my own thoughts. Smooth legs, my eye - she'd have hairy legs. Oh sure, they'd be soft hairy legs, but hairy nonetheless! Wouldn't those hairy legs be glistening in the sun? Oh, I forgot, it's foggy. But wouldn't the hero see them? Would the hero be Ickified? Why aren't hairy legs ever mentioned in romance books? I'm pretty sure it isn't the sensibility of the hero that the author is concerned with, but us, the squeamish readers.
Yes, us we are squeamish, we are delicate, and as I reflect on the books I've read, I must admit that there have been tons of those moments - some are of my own making; however there have been plenty of authors that have chosen to include some squirm-inducing moments in their books. Some of them are mild; I call them my Puleese moments. But sometimes there are truly moments that classify as Ick. And I do recognize that my Ick moment may be your Puleese moment or maybe only an eyebrow raise moment, however - we've all read scenarios that stretch our personal boundaries and I've decided to share some more of mine with you.
First of all, there are some plot lines that just naturally lend themselves to a squirm fest. One of my big squirms is age difference. Nothing makes my stomach churn faster then a 35-year-old man caressing an 18-year-old girl. And, I don't care if it is supposedly historically accurate - be careful when you yell accuracy. Check those old bible records. A lot of younger men married in the olden golden days.
Dead bodies. Nothing says romance like being in a room with a dead body or trying to hide it or sitting it up or dragging it around. Now, I will admit to finding some shenanigans with dead bodies to be pretty funny... I like dark humor. But, I think the trick is to limit the exposure to the body, not have it there constantly. Because, really, how dumb do you have to be to not know that it's a dead body standing/laying/sitting there? And, authors, having sex anywhere close, on top of, or beside a dead body is downright disgusting!
Plot lines with pirates. All those smelly, scurvy, disease-laden men scampering around an enclosed space for months. Just the thought of those aromas lends itself to an Eeuuwww moment. How pirates made their way into romance novels, I'll never understand. It's been a long time since I read Windflower by Laura London, but I vaguely remember an almost idyllic cruise learning to mend sails and climb ropes. Nothing about smelly, stinky, dirty men with yellow teeth living in a confined dark space for hours on time. To say nothing of the food that must have been on those ships, there's a reason they are called "scurvy men." Let me set a scene for you - have you ever ridden in an elevator with someone who forgot their underarm deodorant? Just think about being in that elevator with 40 smelly underarm hairy guys. Pirate stories may not be written with ick/puleese/eeuuwww moments, but my mind just can't help creating them. And, I forgot the rats... let us not forget the germ-infested rats who accompany us on our journey.
And speaking of smells in elevators - you know what's as bad as arm-pit bouquet? Perfume. I know, I know, some of you have some wonderful perfume, but have you ever been trapped at a concert with a bunch of competing scents? And, the odor is usually strong because the fair lady just dumped a gallon of that beloved Christmas present all over herself or she's sprayed it in the air and walked through it or maybe just dabbed a little behind the ear, knee, elbow, tongue - whatever. I usually leave the theater with a raging headache from all the pungent odors. And, thanks to mother nature, the ability to smell things only increases with age. So, when I read a book in which the heroine is taking a bath in Lilac or Lily of the Valley or Lavender or Rose Water, my gag button goes off and I have an Eeuuwww moment. (I have no problems with lemon...)
Do you know what theme really makes tremendous Puleese and Ick moments! A road trip! Yep, nothing better! Now, be warned, road trips are not for the faint of heart - no baths, no underarm deodorant, no toothpaste, just two stinky, smelly lovers with bad breath trekking all over the countryside escaping our equally disgusting villain. (Not to mention no plumbing - just the thought of mother natures call in the woods makes me shudder.) It is on these road trips that we find out how truly heroic our hero is. Yes, all those manly Hawks are amazing - not only does the road trip not faze them, but it doesn't seem to slow down their sexual urges one iota. Of course, as a woman, I have always been aware of the ability of men to pee anywhere, anytime, in any position; but it wasn't until romance books that I became aware that they can have sex anywhere, anytime, in any position: riding a horse, riding in a carriage, in the front seat with a steering wheel, in the sand, in the water, under a waterfall, against a tree. And, why should having sex against a tree stop any man? They are not the ones having their back shredded by bark or having their feet caught in the steering wheel or sand in their orifices…
And, something else you should know about our heroes... evidently they don't sneeze, itch or have runny eyes or any reaction when hiding out in a barn. Let me tell you, hay/straw isn't soft. It scratches, it sticks to you, it somehow finds its way underneath your clothes, to say nothing of the dust motes floating in the air, especially if there has been any humping and bumping during the night. Imagine all those particles invading your nose. Sneezing, Coughing, Hacking… and Hot Sex! Puleese. And then the morning arrives, along with that wonderful, never-find-it-in-a-romance-book, morning breath yuckery moment.
Ahh, bad breath. I guess you do find it in romance books, but only the villain has it, never the hero, never Damien Gabriel Adrian Hawkeshunghuge or his lovely heroine with the liquid aquamarine eyes. (And do you know why they're liquid? Because she's been rolling around in the straw/hay with a kazillion dust particles.)
Now, what about those heroines who don't get to have road trips? Well, I'm here to tell you that even in a relatively clean environment we can have a few Icks. Imagine this, if you will: at last our hero, Hawk, has the vicar's daughter with the aquamarine eyes just where he wants her. After all, it may be her last chance to ever know what sex is really like before she disappears wherever it is she's going to disappear. So, our hero obliges and we are given some hot sweaty mind-gastic sex over and over- the best ever! Satiated they fall asleep in each others arms - regrets are for later. Morning dawns - our heroine is awakened by a strange sensation. Her body is awake with sensual fire! What's going on? What's causing this feeling? Oh, dear! Oh, dear! Wait! What's our hero up to? Well, he's up to about his ears - he's got his head buried in the valley of whankey-woo, gnawing away. Didn't this couple just boink the night away? Did at anytime during the night, either one of them get up to bathe? No! Wouldn't there be all kinds of love smeared all over? Starting to squirm! OMG! Ick! Ick and Ick! Someone take a bath Puleese! Authors: water = clean. Water is our friend and water can be sensual. Have them bathe one another before they start brunching.
Oh, and by the way all you wary Romanceland virgins, remember - when you decide to take the plunge do it on his side of the bed and let him sleep on the wet spot!
Butt-her-up. And, now for a Last Tango in Paris historical moment. Once upon a time, long long ago, a time when Erotica novels were beginning to dip their toes in the water, there was a book called Gabriel's Woman by Robin Schone. And, if you've read this book, you know where this is going. Now, let me tell you, fellow romance readers, there is a reason for twilight sleep when one has a colonoscopy - it's called pain! Imagine the trauma when the heroine in this book is rear-ended by Gabriel, our hero. (By the way, it was my trauma, the heroine loved it!) Now, the problem I had wasn't necessary the act itself but the size of our hero's Mr. Toad. This is not a normal sized kind of guy… no siree, not our hero. Why, his Mr. Toad could probably have touched his chin, to say nothing of the gigantic circumference, at least a 300 foot girth. OMG! Wouldn't something that big be extremely painful? Gabriel's Woman has the unique place in my Romanceland reading history for my biggest (and I do mean biggest) eye-opening Ick moment. (I may have exaggerated some points.)
Ahhh, I feel so much better now.
So, there you have it - some of my squirmy, squeamish, puleese, ick moments. What does this mean to the grand scheme of life? Probably nothing. Do these moments keep me from reading romance stories? Absolutely not! Love Romance stories! Oh sure, I've had moments that have thrown me out of the story and moments where I've actually not been able to finish the book. I will admit that a lot of times it is the mood I'm in that effects my reaction to particular passages in books. And, let's not forget, there are some authors who can seamlessly blend these squeamish moments into a great read. After all, one person's Ick is another person's Delectable. So, do you have something that distracts you every time you read it? Do you have something that makes you go yuck? Is there a book that you will remember always for having an incredibly eye-opening moment, whether it is good or bad?
And special thanks to George Cruikshank, James Gillray and Thomas Rowlandson.