Thursday, October 13, 2011
Infidelity in a hero is a tricky topic, isn't it? And one that many readers just cannot stand to read about, to the extent that they DNF any book with a hint of infidelity. This has always been the case but recently I've seen a bit of an upsurge in general outrage over infidelity on sites such as Good Reads. I've read comments where people have outright condemned a whole book, no matter how well written, because one of the characters has cheated on the other. I've had readers email me to check whether there is any infidelity in a book I have reviewed because they wouldn't read it if there was, even if I had given the book a glowing review.
I've come to the conclusion that I must be a person of dubious morals because I'm willing to give a cheating character the benefit of the doubt and would never dismiss an entire book based on the flaws of one character. Yes, even one who is unfaithful. Now that doesn't mean to say that I condone infidelity, and certainly if a hero consistently cheats on the other hero/heroine throughout the book then I wouldn't like that man very much - indeed a man like that would be more akin to villain material than hero. I would also question why the person being cheated on would keep standing for that behaviour from their lover. However, there are occasions in a book when I enjoy an infidelity storyline because they often show a significant character growth, and I'm also very partial to a flawed character who makes mistakes.
This is the crux of the matter really: Is the infidelity a mistake, a product of a flaw in a character which needs to be addressed and resolved for love to flourish? If it is, then I'm willing to set aside any reservations and see where the book takes me.
Another thing to consider is the definition of what cheating is. This varies from person to person as can be seen from the following example:
I read a m/m romance book recently which a few people called a 'cheating book'. Now, I have to admit, I was scratching my head a little over why people felt it was a cheating book because I couldn't remember there being any cheating in it! Then I remembered the following scene: To set the scene, the hero is a man who in the past was used to sleeping around a lot. He meets another guy whilst on holiday and they spend a week together, promising afterwards to keep seeing each other long distance. Whilst back at home the hero is lonely, plus he and his lover have argued. He goes out with his friend with whom he used to have a 'friends with benefits' relationship, gets completely plastered and they end up at his friend's flat, kissing and getting naked. However, before the deed takes place, the hero comes to his senses and puts the brakes on.
Depending on your definition of cheating, then hero could be a cheater or not. The way I saw it was that the hero's natural inclination when going out was to pick up a guy and have sex and so the temptation, when back in his regular life away from the long distance lover, is to do what he's always done, especially when there was bad feeling between them at that time. The fact that he didn't go through with it, meant that he didn't cheat - therefore he had overcome his essentially flawed nature. However, I know that many of you will read that description and say that because he kissed and got half naked with someone other than the hero, then he is a big, fat cheater and deserves to be condemned as such.
What I will say is that there has to be a reason why a hero cheats for it to be effective in a book, and it either has to further the plot or show us something of the character of the cheater. One of the most controversial cheaters I've come across in m/m romance is Jake Riordan from the Adrien English books by Josh Lanyon. Jake cheats on Adrien and his wife but still manages to remain sympathetic in my eyes because the author shows how much of a mess he is. The emotional fallout from his actions are what drives the romantic narrative and keeps me reading. I know not everyone agrees with me on this matter!
One final thing to say is that for me to truly forgive a cheater there must be a significant amount of grovelling done by the person who cheats towards the person cheated on. Preferable on their knees or prostrate on the floor with promises of endless chocolate/back rubs/blow jobs. Also once the cheating is done and all has been forgiven, then that will be it. The hero remains faithful to their dying day. Unless, of course the other hero/heroine suggests bringing a third into their bed, which is a different matter entirely!
Do you agree with me? Are you one of those readers who cannot tolerate any hint of cheating in your romance, or are you like me and have a certain fluidity when it comes to this theme? Do tell.