Both of these books fall into the “New Adult” category. Both feature gorgeous college-aged protagonists who dress slutty, drink too much, and dance provocatively with total strangers, while simultaneously maintaining they can take care of themselves and know how to control themselves. Both of course are nearly raped. And both are rescued by the Seemingly-Bad-But-Actually-Good hot guys who want them.
But the thrust (so to speak) of these books is not to interrogate the appeal of “bad boys,” nor to expose the problems of the “she asked for it” premise. Rather, it is to make hay (so to speak) with these conceits, and appeal to/reinforce stereotypes of erotic desire:
1. A Byronic hero – mysterious and tortured past, magnetic, sexually irresistible, strong (yet gentle), attractive, cynical, with a smile that is “wicked” or “devilish” or “crooked” and looks that are “intense” or “smoldering.”
2. The hero is attractive to all women, but conquered by none of them – until, that is, he encounters our heroine.
3. The hero is physically bigger than the heroine, making her feel protected and “dominated” (it helps, as in these two books, when the guy refers to the girl as “baby.”)
4. Sexual turn-ons have evolved to feature orgasms for women, but what would they be without pleasure through pain?
But let’s get back to the “she asked for it problem.” On the one hand, you have our heroines maintaining, as does Emerson, in Tease:
“…I never lost control. I just made it look like I did – hooking up with different guys every week – but I was always fully cognizant of my actions.”
At the same time, “The only thing that made me feel any better was slamming back a few shots and wrapping myself around a guy who knew what to do with his lips – and it wasn’t talk.”
[Okay, trite writing, perhaps, but it was a bit better than the writing in Torn, which, ironically, I enjoyed because it took me back to the very long ago days of sneaking issues of the incredibly poorly written magazine “True Confessions” and reading them behind my closed bedroom door.]
When both girls get into trouble, as mentioned above, they are rescued by their bad boys, but the authors don’t have the characters reflect on what happened to them and why. The point seems to have been to give the heroes the opportunity (a) to rescue the girls and (b) to show their secret gentlemanly natures. None of the characters had any interest in discussing what happens to women who want to express their sexuality; or whether these expressions were a function of their own identities or merely a reflection of the male definition of what women should be; and why being “sexually appealing” was the goal to which these girls aspired. Also, while both authors clearly made the would-be rapists out to be villains (but mainly to serve as foils to the good bad boys), the victims seemed to be blamed for their “provocative” behavior. This of course to a large extent exonerates the perpetrators, or at the very least, takes the focus off of them and their predatory behavior and relocates it onto the females and their behavior. The message is loud and clear: girls act “slutty”; guys are just “guys.” They can’t help it! So girls, if something bad happens, you know whose fault it is!
[It should also be noted that Janice Radway, Professor of Gender Studies at the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences who studied the appeal of romance writing, found that “the romance readers in her sample group considered the depiction of rape only slightly less objectionable than a sad ending.”]
Then there is the girl-should-be-smaller-than-guy issue. Take this passage from Tease:
“He came down over me on the bed. I felt small and delicate as he kissed his way down my body. He was so much bigger than me, hard and muscled, and I felt fragile. Cherished. Loved.“
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. That sentence above should have read: “He was so much bigger than I….” No, not what you’re thinking? Maybe you were thinking that associating “smallness” of females vis-a-vis males with eroticism might lead to eating disorders among women, or preying upon younger and younger girls by men, or that the whole concept of sexual dominance and submission might lead to the adoption or at least acceptance by women of lesser economic, social and political influence in order to facilitate and/or enhance sexual attractiveness. Or, of course, maybe you were just thinking about the grammar issues.
Just in case we somehow miss the idea of the female needing to be taken care of by the male, the girls are repeatedly referred to as “baby.” For example, in Tease, the bad boy Shaw makes Emerson beg for penetration, commanding, “Tell me, baby.” In Torn, Logan (one of Chloe’s two lovers (well, she’s “torn,” after all), keeps calling Chloe “Baby Girl.” Drake, her other lover, also calls her baby, as with his insistence that she “come for me baby.”
[Why is Chloe “torn”? Well, Logan is “so gentle and caring,” but we know what that means, right? DULL. Drake, on the other hand, is all “raw passion and danger.” We like that danger, don’t we, baby girls?]
And finally, there’s that matter of pain. First of all, both girls drive their men to ecstasy by being “so f-ing tight.” Or, perhaps it’s just that the heroes are so f-ing HUGE. But it’s that roughness of sex with a guy who can’t hold back with the heroine that generates pain that becomes pleasure:
“Without me asking, he felt my need growing and drove deeper, harder. I shattered underneath him as he continued to pound into me to the point where pleasure was mixed with pain. It was the most amazing pain I had ever felt.”
Yes, there’s a problem with grammar in that passage too (it should have read: “without my asking”). But the point is, baby girls, if he hurts you, that just means he is so wild for you he can’t help himself, and that’s a good thing! The thrill of possession and protection may entail pain, but it’s a pleasing pain, right? Get to love it!
Evaluation: Well, the writing in these books is less than inspirational, but it was pretty fun reading for an airplane, where fun can be in short supply. Both of these books are just the beginning of series… If I had to pick one series over the other, I’d go with Tease. While there were a bit too many references to the hero’s “eight pack abs,” hard arms, and huge hands (not to mention huge other parts), the writing is a bit better. A couple passages in Torn drove me over the edge (but not in the same sense that Drake drove Chloe over the edge) – the “best” [sic] being when Chloe, in her tiny shorts, was bending over the oven to take out the dinner she made for Drake, much to his admiration. Holy Confluence of Male Fantasies!
Tease is published by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2014
Torn is published by Atria Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, 2013