As usual this isn't a review, so there will be spoilers. You can find reviews here, here and here and there are also Jenny Crusie's notes on the novel and an excerpt.
Crusie has written that one of the reasons that romance has been 'reviled by radical feminists' and been 'called "fiction that promotes abusive relationships"' is that:
romance fiction says that sometimes women like to be overpowered sexually.Jenny's latest thoughts on the issue of rape in romance can be found here.
Politically incorrect though it may be, the rape fantasy not only exists, it's popular. And unless a heck of a lot of women are participating in their own degradation (not impossible given the Fifties), there's something important and valuable that women are getting from it. An examination of rape fantasies shows that for the most part, the fantasy isn't rape at all, it's non-responsibility; that is, somebody [...] sweeps away the heroine's (and the reader's) good-girl objections with the sheer force of his animal nature to give her the best sex of all time, and she's not responsible because she said no. [...] Does this weaken the important "if she says no it was rape" guideline? Only for those who confuse reality and fantasy, and the vast majority of readers can tell the difference.
Not all feminists reject the rape fantasy, either; Susie Bright has argued that the politically correct sexuality demanded in the past is repressive and has proposed a "Do Me Feminism" based on the theory that if a woman likes it, it's good regardless of political thought [...]. Romance fiction has been "Do Me Feminist" for decades. (Crusie 1998)
Clearly the contexts in which rapes occur in different romance novels can vary greatly. Some heroes show far more contrition than others, for example, and the ideological subtexts underpinning the events may also vary. Crusie herself never presents 'true love' as an excuse for rape or abuse, nor do her heroes ever commit rape. Her heroes and heroines appear to have pretty equally matched libidos and her heroines are never innocent virgins, ignorant of their sexuality. What we do have in Crazy for You, however, is a text which explores the boundaries between the abusive and the acceptable.
Angel commented that in many romances which include a rapist hero
The rape of the heroine is but one part of the violation committed against her -- the author, the God of her world, gives all the power to her rapist, organizes every event against her. Creates her only to put a noose around her slender neck and tighten it chapter by chapter.Crazy for You offers the reader a case study of a social context which 'gives all the power' to a man (in this case, however, Bill is not the hero) and gives him the freedom to become increasingly threatening towards the heroine, Quinn.** Elizabeth Blakesley Lindsay, in her review of the novel, catalogues the escalating abuse suffered by Quinn. Blakesley Lindsay admits to 'skimming the last third' of the novel because she was upset by the content, so her chronology is perhaps not completely accurate, but she does give a comprehensive overview of this aspect of the plot. She is right in identifying violence against women as an important theme in the novel, but I think she is wrong to suggest that 'Crazy for You treats violence against women like a joke'.
This is a novel which explores the social attitudes which may lead to denial that real rape and abuse are taking place. Some people believe myths about rape and domestic violence. For example, they may mistakenly believe that it is easy to spot a rapist. In fact, 'Rapists are not physically identifiable. They may appear friendly, normal, and non-threatening. Many are young, married and have children' (Hamlin 2001). Similarly
Domestic violence crosses ethnic, racial, age, national origin, sexual orientation, religious and socio-economic lines as well as class, physical or mental ability and status as a refugee, migrant or prisoner. Women are most at risk of physical and sexual assault and homicide from men they know, often their husband, male partner or ex-partner. They are more likely to be injured or murdered by a spouse than any other person. Although women can also be violent, the vast majority of partner abuse is perpetrated by men against their female partners'.In Crazy for You, 'at six foot five, two hundred and forty-three healthy blond pounds, Bill was a Viking's Viking. All of Tibbett adored Bill' (2000: 4). Because (almost) all of Tibbett adores Bill, the members of the community find it difficult to believe that he could be acting inappropriately and increasingly abusively towards Quinn. Even after Bill has illegally entered Quinn's house and sabotaged it so that she will be physically harmed, the local police chief is 'not real interested' because 'Bill is God around here, all that charity shit he does and the work with the kids. Frank just didn't want to hear it' (2000: 250). Bill is one of those many abusers who is 'respected in their jobs and their communities' and the local community is reluctant to have its belief and trust in him shattered.
USA: approximately 1/3 of the men counselled for battering are professional men who are respected in their jobs and their communities. These have included doctors, psychologists, lawyers, ministers and business executives. (World Alliance of YMCAs)
Crusie doesn't simply show the reader that respected members of the community may be abusers, she also demonstrates that there is a very fine line between some acceptable and unacceptable male attitudes towards women. Bill is in many ways the embodiment of masculinity:
His face was set in the benevolent Captain of the Universe look that had earned him the respect of all of Tibbett. A real man's man, her father had said when she'd brought him home the first time. Which would explain why she didn't want him now. Let the men have him. (2000: 28)Nick, the hero, understands Bill's behaviour because it's based on attitudes/responses that he has himself:
[Quinn] "I don't understand Bill at all." [...]Max, Nick's brother, is having problems with his wife Darla, and his words echo Bill's: "She's my wife," Max said stubbornly. "She belongs to me. I'll just wait. She'll come to her senses." (2000: 240). Bill thinks the same way: 'He couldn't understand it; he was giving her so much time. When was she going to stop this and let him back in?' (2000: 222) and 'I know you're upset right now, but that's really just stubbornness. You knew we'd get back together sooner or later' (2000: 315). Both Quinn and Darla have been bored in their relationships. Quinn said of her relationship with Bill that 'what we have, it's not exciting. I've never had exciting. And with the way Bill plans things, I'm never going to have exciting.' (2000: 20). Darla leaves Max because the excitement had gone out of their relationship and when she wanted to get it back 'He said, "What the hell's the matter with you?" and I said, "I want something different," and he said, "Well, I don't," so I left for awhile' (2000: 172). However, Max and Darla do recapture the excitement, as Max makes changes and, in the process, acknowledges Darla's needs and individuality. Bill never does, and since the start of his relationship with Quinn he's been making her fit in with his needs and wishes: 'When he'd met Quinn, he'd known instantly that she was the one [...] It had taken him a year to convince her to let him move in, and another six months to get her to move to the great apartment he'd found for them, but she'd understood in the end, and now his life was perfect' (2000: 24).
[Nick] "I do. I think he's a jerk and we're calling the police right now, but I understand him. He thinks you belong to him."
[Quinn] "Listen, I have told him - "
[Nick] "You told me, too, and I didn't go away." He sat next to her on the couch, taking her hand, trying to make her understand so she wouldn't look so lost. "For the past two weeks, I've waited, and I've watched you, and I knew you'd come back to me because you belong to me. Every guy thinks that about the woman he loves." [...] "Look, I know it's not right, but that's the way it is. I watch you walk [...] and I look at your butt and I think, That's mine. [...] Even when you were saying no, you were mine. It doesn't go away. You can't talk me out of that. Every move you make belongs to me. I know it's wrong, and I don't care."
"Oh," Quinn said.
"And the problem is, Bill doesn't even know it's wrong. He just knows you're his and you're not with him." (2000: 291-292)***
Ironically, given that it's Bill who's been manipulating Quinn, at first she takes the blame for shaping Bill:
Looking at his smug, sure face, Quinn realized she'd created a monster. Bill thought she was going to give in because she always had; so why should he expect anything else? She'd trained him to be smug. She looked around. This wasn't even her apartment. Bill had picked it out and moved them in, and when she said, "It's too beige," he'd said, "It's five minutes from school," and that made so much sense she'd given up. (2000: 30)The reader, however, can see that Bill's behaviour was not caused by Quinn but is the direct result of his philosophy about relationships. Bill is
a man who'd taken the Tibbett High football team to five consecutive championships and the baseball team to four - fifth one coming right up - almost solely, Quinn believed, by never considering the possibility of defeat. "Know where you want to be and go there," he'd tell the boys (2000: 2).He considers himself to be a leader and his method is to be persistent and let nothing get in the way of his success. As he tells Robert Gloam, the School Principle, this attitude will work in other relationships too:
I make it clear what I want from them [the boys]. I don't get upset, I just expect them to deliver. [...] Take this thing with Quinn and the dog. She knows we can't have a dog, so I just kept reminding her of that until she agreed to give it to Edie. [...] You let people know what they have to do to earn your approval, and they'll do that. (2000: 23-24)Bill never once questions why people would want his approval. In addition, it would seem that he is particularly likely to use his technique on women and children/young adults, perhaps because he expects them to look up to him. As Shulamith Firestone observed, women and children have often been grouped together and treated as inferiors by men but because the 'oppression of women and children is couched in the phraseology of "cute" it is much harder to fight than open oppression. [...] If she responds to his, "Baby you're looking good today!" with "No better than when I didn't know you," he will grumble, "What's eating that bitch?" Or worse.' (1972: 89) Clearly not every compliment is a patronising way of putting a woman or child in his or her place by reinforcing the idea that she or he should want, and be pleased to receive, a compliment from a man but, as with Bill's expectation that others will want his approval, this may be a subtext in some cases. Robert certainly expects women to accept his authority and can't understand his secretary's behaviour: 'I mean, sometimes I think she's defying me' (2000: 23) and 'Edie's another one I'm not too sure about. [...] These older women do not understand authority' (2000: 24).
The idea that women need male 'protection' also perpetuates the idea that males are superior beings whom women and children should respect. When Nick pays part of Quinn's mortgage without telling her, Quinn is furious and compares Nick to Bill:
"It was Bill," she said. "He went behind my back to screw it up."Barbara, who works at the bank, expects Quinn to be pleased.
"That's what I figured."
"And then you went behind my back to fix it," she said. "Pretty patriarchal of you, wasn't it?" (2000: 196)
"I think it's wonderful," Barbara said. "He's taking care of you. You're so lucky."Quinn knows that being 'protected' in this way contains the assumption that she, like a child, is not 'capable of taking care of myself'. Barbara doesn't need a man financially, but emotionally she feels unsafe without one:
"I'd rather take care of myself," Quinn said. "I'd rather he treated me as if I were capable of taking care of myself."
"Why?" Barbara looked at her so blankly that Quinn said, "I don't get you. You have a real career at the bank, and you make good money. Why are you so fixated on getting a man to support you?"
Barbara drew back, two spots of color flaming in her cheeks. "I don't need a man to support me. I'd never depend on a man for money." (2000: 186)
"It's just so hard to find somebody to take care of you, you know? When you find a good repairman, you know you're lucky." [...] "And I feel so safe, and I know who I am because I'm with this wonderful man who knows everything." She came back to earth and said, "But it always turns out he doesn't. It's so disappointing because they always say they do, you know? But they don't, and you can't trust them after all." (2000: 187)Barbara never finds her ideal repairman and Crusie shows us, through Bill's actions, that male protectiveness may at times be more of a threat than a source of security. His knowledge, which might once have been used to keep Quinn 'safe', is now used to threaten her:
On his way up the stairs, he noticed how flimsy the railing was. Just bolted to the wall. It could come loose any time. If he lived here, he'd make sure there was a better railing. She really needed him there.Bill wants to trap Quinn into 'needing' him the same way that Barbara 'needs' a man. But a relationship based on such needs, rather than emotional closeness and mutual support, is one of dependency, in which the power is in the hands of the male who has knowledge of technology and handicrafts. His offer of 'safety' is perhaps more of an 'offer you can't refuse' rather than an offer which is embraced freely and out of love. This new understanding of what might be implicit in offers of protection makes Quinn and Edie wary of masculine use of such language:
He slowed as he neared the top of the stairs. Maybe that was it. Maybe if she realized how much she needed him -
He went back downstairs to the back porch and found Quinn's toolbox. With the screwdriver he loosened the bolts on the stair rail, and then went through the house, loosening other screws, to doorknobs and outlet plates, loosening the wires behind the plates, too. He thought of other things he could do. He could loosen the gas lines so there'd be just a little leak, nothing big. The steps to the front porch were awful. He could weaken one so it would go later, so everything wouldn't be bad at once. He could loosen a porch rail. He could do lots of things. She'd need him again. (2000: 235)
[Nick] "I'll be there. So will Max. She'll never leave my sight."and
"Just like Bill," Edie said.
"Nothing like Bill," Nick said. (2000: 250)
[Nick] "[...] I want to take care of you."Turning now to the rape fantasy, it is Quinn who mentions that this is something she wants:
Quinn tied not to wince at the echo of Bill. (2000: 302)
Maybe if she smiled at him tomorrow night, he could take her on the wrestling mats at the back of the stage, a sort of pseudo-rape fantasy because she'd be too tired to contribute. He could do all the work. Screw equality. (2000: 272)These three sentences demonstrate the complexity of the concept of the rape fantasy. Is Quinn implying that an 'equal' contribution she'd make if she wasn't tired would be for her to pretend to be unwilling? Is the 'screwing' unequal literally (rather than metaphorically) if she doesn't? Or is equality metaphorically 'screwed' in this sort of fantasy anyway? Quinn's thoughts also make it clear that this is not real rape: it cannot be rape if the woman is planning what will happen to her. Shortly after this, Nick, the hero, arrives and fulfills her fantasy (though against a wall, not on a mat). No mention is made of rape during the scene, but Nick does suggest that Quinn is in danger: ' "You shouldn't be here alone," he said. "You know that. It's dangerous," and she said, "I'm not alone. You're here"' to which he responds 'That's even worse' and 'He came closer to stand in front of her, not smiling' (2000: 274). Unlike Bill, who is blond and looks heroic (but is the real danger), Nick looks dangerous but doesn't pose a real threat. Earlier, Quinn had thought that
He'd always been the wild Ziegler brother, but she'd never quite understood that part because she always felt so safe with him. Until he looked at her like that. Until she'd looked back and really seen him, dark and dangerous and full of infinitely impractical possibilities. Really, he was the perfect guy for her right now: a bad guy who would never hurt her. Excitement without risk. (2000: 75)The fine line between real danger and pretence is one which may not be grasped by onlookers such as Quinn's neighbour:
"[...] I thought he [Bill] just had the hots for her, you know? Looking in the window. Big deal."Of course, Bill thinks that he's Quinn's too. The underlying attitudes of the two men are not very dissimilar, as Nick acknowledges. He, like Bill, thinks that 'Even when you were saying no, you were mine. It doesn't go away. You can't talk me out of that' (2000: 292). Apart from Nick's knowledge that his possessiveness is 'wrong' (2000: 292), the other main differences between Bill and Nick's possessive attitudes towards Quinn are (1) Quinn consents to Nick's behaviour because she wants him and (2) Bill is prepared to use increasing force. These differences are highlighted in two scenes in which each man presses Quinn up against a wall. Crusie's said of the scene with Nick that it's one which she 'rewrote and made tamer because my editor said the original version was “icky.” Too close to rape'. The parallels still remain. Here are some quotations from the scene with Nick:
"He's dangerous," Nick said.
"So are you." Patsy looked him up and down. "But I guess you're hers, right?" (2000: 249)
- He came closer to stand in front of her, not smiling. [...] And he came closer. [...] He took another step closer, until he was almost against her (2000: 274)
- He put his hand on her crossed wrists and rested against them, just firmly enough so she couldn't move them' (2000: 274)
- Let me go," she said, and tried to pull her hands from his grip so she could touch him [...] but he tightened his hold, crushing her wrists together, stretching her arms higher (2000: 276)
- "Louder," he said in her ear as he stroked her. "Scream"' (2000: 276)
- "We better stop," Quinn whispered [...] "I don't think so," Nick whispered against her ear. "I think we do this now. Right up against this wall." (2000: 277)
- "I'm going to take you hard against this wall," he whispered [...] Harder than you've ever been had before. So hard you're going to feel me with every move you make for a week. You're going to remember you were mine every time you breathe."' (2000: 277, my emphasis ***).
- "I want to talk," he said, and crowded her closer, liking the way she stepped back [...] so that he moved closer and closer again until she was up against the building, nowhere to go. (2000: 283)
- he caught at her wrists to hold her there. [...] She tried to twist her hands away and he held her tighter, felt the fragile bones in her wrists crunch together (2000: 283)
- Quinn tried to jerk her wrists free, but there was no way, not anymore, he'd had enough, so he pulled her close and then shoved her really hard against the building to make her listen, and her head smacked against the wall, and she cried out and blinked back tears, pain (2000: 285)
" [...] the reason I trapped you against that wall after you blew me off for those weeks. I took you back." [...] "Sorry."Interestingly, in a replay of the sex-against-the-wall scene, Crusie reverses the power dynamics between Quinn and Nick, which perhaps reasserts the underlying equality in their relationship, which has always been based on friendship, not control:
"I'm not." She opened her eyes again and looked at him fully. "I was just overwhelmed by how sexy that was. Politically incorrect as hell, but really, really sexy." (2000: 291)
"You're mine," she told him.------
"Works for me." He ran his hands up her sides until she caught at his wrists and pulled them over his head.
"You are going to feel me for a week," she whispered, moving against him.
"Honey, I already feel you every minute of the day." [...]
Quinn was breathless. "This domination thing doesn't seem to work when I do it," she grumbled [...]
"Oh, I don't know." Nick kissed her neck [...] "We get some leather and handcuffs in here, you could do some damage."
Quinn let go of him. "I can do some damage without leather," she whispered [...].
"Oh, Christ," she heard Nick say [...] "You're right. I'm yours."
Damn right, she thought, and took him. (2000: 299-300)
- Crusie, Jennifer, 2000. Crazy for You (London: Pan Books). The cover photo is of this edition. The novel has appeared with many other covers, often in bright colours, but this one seems to me to convey something of the sense of danger present in the novel. There's some discussion about covers for romances which contain rape here, though the discussion did get very off-topic at times, as it was a continuation of the previous thread, about rape in romance.
- Firestone, Shulamith, 1972. The Dialectic of Sex: The Case for Feminist Revolution (New York: Bantam).
- Thornton, Elizabeth, 2004. Fallen Angel (New York: Zebra).
* One of the differences between Crusie's novel and Thornton's is that Thornton presents the rapist hero as the heroine's fate/destiny. Crusie, however, begins her novel with a rather different manifestation of destiny: 'Quinn McKenzie lifted her eyes from the watercolor assignments on the desk in front of her and met her destiny. Her destiny was a small black dog with desperate eyes, so she missed the significance at first. [...] It looked cold and scared and hungry and anxious' (2000: 1). Over at Jenny's thread about rape in romance, she agreed that 'animal torture is beyond the pale' for a hero and it's Bill's attitude towards the dog which first cues the reader in to the fact that Bill is not the hero: he wants it removed and isn't terribly troubled by the idea that the dog might be euthanised if taken to the pound. By contrast in Fallen Angel the hero may be a rapist but he's good with animals. Prior to the rape there's a scene in which a
ball of black fur [...] came streaking round the corner of the house. The ball launched itself at Maddie's feet where it lay panting.I suspect that the parallels between the training of children by Bill, the 'gentling' of animals by Deveryn and their beliefs about training/gentling women are not accidental. Ascione, Weber & Wood (1997), for example, have noted the 'potential confluence of child maltreatment, domestic violence, and animal maltreatment'. Similarly, The Humane Society of the United States warn that
"Good grief! I think it's a dog," exclaimed Deveryn.
Maddie sank to her heels and embraced the shivering creature. "Kelpie!" she cried. [...] It was then that she observed that the animal at her feet, under the coat of matted hair, was painfully emaciated.
Deveryn squatted beside Maddie and gently scratched Kelpie's ears. "Easy girl, I won't hurt you," he said in a low soothing voice, and his fingers splayed out as he probed beneath the filth infested coat of hair. ( Thornton 2004: 84)
# Animal abuse exposes the deliberateness of battering rather than loss of control.The UK's NSPCC state that 'There is increasing research and clinical evidence which suggests that there are sometimes inter-relationships, commonly referred to as ‘links’, between the abuse of children, vulnerable adults and animals'. I wonder if, in some romances (certainly not all, because the way in which rape is depicted in romance, and the subtexts present in each text can vary greatly), the implicit subtext present when a rapist hero is kind to children or animals is that he isn't an abuser but, rather, is carrying out a sort of 'training' of the heroine, teaching her to accept her sexuality in the same way that Deveryn makes sure that the dog Kelpie is given a bath, whether she wants it or not, for her own good. The converse certainly seems to be true: individuals in romance who abuse animals or harm children may also rape, but they are not cast as heroes. The Smart Bitches recently reviewed an erotic romance in which the hero rapes/forces the heroine. There is also a villain who's a rapist and, as Sarah observed 'It’s usually the scene [of] animal abuse that serves as the first clue to a villain. In this case, it’s not animal abuse but sexual abuse and murder of children'. In that particular case the comparison between the actions of the hero and those of the villain was so obvious that Sarah wrote:
# Animal abuse and child abuse are closely related.
# Animal abuse is often a tool used by batterers to emotionally control or coerce victims.
the contrast between sexually explicit exploration of female domination and the use of sex as a tool of violent domination over children. I get it - sexual domination isn’t always good or always bad but has a place within consensual activities - but no need to hit me over the head with it.** In her comments about community Crusie has observed that
the reader will bond to the community in the book if the community appears to share her values, which means the characters would recognize her as one of their own if she came into the story and would invite her to sit down and stay. This one is pretty much out of your hands: the reader chooses the kind of book he or she likes to read, the type of book that has the kind of community that shares her valuesFictional communities, as Crusie notes, tend to have shared values which find expression in 'a common goal [...] and a common language of experiences and catchphrases'. Tibbett, as we shall see, is a place where there are common values/attitudes and a common language. Clearly some individuals within the community take the shared Tibbett language of possession/protection very much more literally than others. I wonder whether some readers who reject the book do so because they associate the whole community with attitudes which potentially permit abuse.
*** These words are also to be found in the lyrics of Every Breath You Take, by The Police.
P.S. In the review at the Smart Bitches site, Sarah took issue with the conclusion in which Katie the dog behaves 'as if she knew Bill was locked up for at least her life span' (2000: 323) because 'Stalkers do not go to jail for years and years. [...] Stalking is not punished to nearly the degree that it should be, and to make an exception for a happily ever after yanked me right out of the fantasy and pissed me off'. Bill has, of course, been stalking, but during the course of the story Quinn also alerted the police to his attempt at rape, and her father told them about the sabotage of her house (which could be construed as attempted murder, given that it included a gas leak and making her stairs a danger to her). During the final attack the police are able to witness the fact that Bill is guilty of breaking and entering Quinn's property, he perpetrates cruelty against an animal and there's also the issue of the assault on Robert Gloam which leaves Robert needing facial surgery. I don't know how the law in Ohio deals with such crimes, but I'd imagine that they would lead to Bill receiving a lengthy prison sentence.