Thursday, April 19, 2007

Jennifer Crusie - Crazy for You

Having raised the issues of rape and forced seduction in the context of Elizabeth Thornton's Fallen Angel, I'd like to look at how Jennifer Crusie deals with some of the same issues in Crazy for You.*

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.

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)
Jenny's latest thoughts on the issue of rape in romance can be found here.

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'.

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)
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.

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." [...]
[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)***
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).

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."
"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)
Barbara, who works at the bank, expects Quinn to be pleased.
"I think it's wonderful," Barbara said. "He's taking care of you. You're so lucky."
"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)
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:
"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.
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)
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:
[Nick] "I'll be there. So will Max. She'll never leave my sight."
"Just like Bill," Edie said.
"Nothing like Bill," Nick said. (2000: 250)
[Nick] "[...] I want to take care of you."
Quinn tied not to wince at the echo of Bill. (2000: 302)
Turning now to the rape fantasy, it is Quinn who mentions that this is something she wants:
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."
"He's dangerous," Nick said.
"So are you." Patsy looked him up and down. "But I guess you're hers, right?" (2000: 249)
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 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 ***).
Here what excites Quinn is 'the roughness of him, the darkness of him, the difference and the danger of him' (2000: 278) but when Bill is rough, different and dangerous in the dark her reaction is very different. Bill has turned the 'rape fantasy' into a real assault (not rape, because Quinn manages to escape):
  • "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)
Nick explains that his sense of possessiveness, his feeling that Quinn is his, is
" [...] the reason I trapped you against that wall after you blew me off for those weeks. I took you back." [...] "Sorry."
"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)
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:
"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.
"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)
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
# Animal abuse exposes the deliberateness of battering rather than loss of control.
# Animal abuse and child abuse are closely related.
# Animal abuse is often a tool used by batterers to emotionally control or coerce victims.
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:
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 values
Fictional 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.


  1. Thank you for such an interesting take on Crusie's book. May I correct a couple things?

    I didn't, and wouldn't, invent that tag, "do-me feminism"-- it was a snarky headline created by Esquire's editors in the 80s to describe the wave of sex-radical feminists at the time.

    And I wouldn't argue-- how could anyone, who likes to argue?-- that anything is "good" regardless of political reality.

    I have written about rape fantasies, and if you don't mind, could I offer you the URL:

    And I've also written recently about romance novels and their milieu:

    Thanks again for your close readings!

    Susie Bright

  2. Crazy for You is one of my least favorite Crusie books, precisely because Bill always felt more of a caricature to me than I wanted him to (although I admit I also HATED the scene where he kicks the dog). The exchange you quote between Nick and Quinn felt so nice and nuanced when I read it, but Bill the character just didn't match that for me, in part because the way his denseness became menacing was so easy to spot right away, and also because there were moments when he just came across as dumb to me, which is not what I think I was supposed to feel about him.

    Also, I think CFY is one of those books that's so *obviously* issue-oriented that at times I felt like I was reading a treatise on sexual politics rather than a novel that portrayed those complex relationships.

    Great analysis of the book, though, Laura.

  3. I haven't read the book, but I see no difference between Bill and Nick. To me it seems Bills is made a charicature so that Nick will look nicer next to him, and so that the heroine will "need" his protectiveness. The "reverse" scene obviously doesn't work, since her only power over him is sexual - he can choose to succumb to her - while she cannot choose if he decides to hold her and rape her and hurt her, as he threatens to do (and does?) Now s/m play is one thing, but their relationship doesn't seem equal and trusting enough for that in the first place.

    It reminds me of a Harlequin I read recently which sickened me - "The Blackmail Pregnancy" by Melanie Milburne. Apart from the obvious blackmail pregnancy, the hero was clearly a psychopath abusing the easily manipulated heroine. He controlled her, spied on her, confronted her, had fits of temper, played with her mind, threatened her physically, blamed her for everything including his own occasional feeling of guilt, disapproved of her friends, scolded her, told her what a failure she was, talked her into things, told her what she felt and forced her to confess he was right... In the end, he made her believe all the nasty things he did to her was righteous because he did them "for her own good", and the reader was supposed to believe him too. Just like a fanatic religious leader or an abusive husband gradually destroys the will and strength and self confidence of his victim. It was a sad and sickening read.

  4. Thanks for the clarifications, Susie.

    I think I'd have to disagree with some of the things you said in your blog post about the genre because (a) I get the impression that you were looking mostly at the erotic romance sub-genre, and perhaps particularly e-published erotic romances from Ellora's Cave and (b) in general I don't think it's true that

    Now that every sexual taboo has been broken, they’re [i.e. romance authors are] a little anxious, because if they add any note of realism or literary feeling, they won’t be “romances” anymore, and the genre will crack. [...] I believe romances are stroke books— they are not so much read as used. [...] Another Romance fetish is overt bondage, and domination/submission. Rape/forced sex is de rigeur.

    It seems to me that romance authors such as Crusie demonstrate that romance can include both 'notes of realism' and 'literary feeling'. And one of the reasons that there's been so much controversy about rape in romance recently, following the publication of Claiming the Courtesan, is because rape of the heroine by the hero isn't very common in romance, certainly not as common as it used to be. In my reading I've only come across it very rarely.

    I wonder also if your opinion was shaped by having attended that particular conference. Looking at the website for this year's Romantic Times Booklovers Convention it seems that the focus is on the fans getting to meet their favourite authors, on the fans getting to 'meet some of the industry’s hottest cover models' and on the 'Mr. Romance Pageant'. I suspect you'd have got a very different impression of the genre and the authors' attitudes about the craft of writing if you'd attended the Romance Writers' of America's conference. Their focus is on helping authors to 'Enhance your writing and knowledge of the ins and outs of publishing at more than 100 workshops'.

    Robin, I'm glad you liked my analysis. As you said that

    I think CFY is one of those books that's so *obviously* issue-oriented that at times I felt like I was reading a treatise on sexual politics rather than a novel that portrayed those complex relationships.

    I feel I should point out, for the benefit of anyone who hasn't read the book, that I was focussing on this particular issue so my analysis is only a very, very partial one. And the first time I read the novel I was too busy thinking about the red couch, Darla and her problems, the secondary love affair between Thea (Quinn's student) and Jason (Bill's top athlete), Katie the dog etc to pick on the theme nearly as strongly as you did. Maybe I'm just easily distracted by home furnishings, gossip about love affairs and small animals ;-)

    I didn't feel the same way as you about Bill. He didn't seem particularly 'dumb' to me, but I did get the impression that he was very goal-orientated and used to success. He'd never met with failure before, and so his self-identity and philosophy of life are threatened by Quinn's actions.

  5. I haven't read the book, but I see no difference between Bill and Nick. To me it seems Bills is made a charicature so that Nick will look nicer next to him [...] The "reverse" scene obviously doesn't work, since her only power over him is sexual - he can choose to succumb to her - while she cannot choose if he decides to hold her and rape her and hurt her, as he threatens to do (and does?) Now s/m play is one thing, but their relationship doesn't seem equal and trusting enough for that in the first place.

    Stella, the backstory is that Nick and Quinn have been best friends for years, ever since Nick married Quinn's sister (though the marriage didn't last long). So there is equality there, but, like I said, I was focussing on this particular issue so I was highlighting the similarities (which are definitely there) between Nick and Bill, rather than the instances of Nick showing that he understands Quinn, putting himself out for her (as a friend, in non-sexual situations) etc.

    As for the Milburne novel, I haven't read it. The Harlequin Presents/Mills & Boon Modern line does have 'alpha' heroes, and some of them are towards the extremely controlling end of the spectrum. I have read Milburne's Back in Her Husband's Bed, also a Presents/Modern, and it's got a feminist heroine who argues against the glass ceiling. Her example encourages the hero's sisters to get a university education and the hero breaks with tradition and makes her the first female partner in the history of his very male chauvinist law firm. So probably, as with the Presents/Modern line as a whole, she writes a range of different heroes.

  6. Laura, you've given us so much to think about here, it's hard for me to begin! I suppose my first thought, and strongest response, is that the scenes you discuss in "Crazy For You" are profoundly integral to the novel as a whole. After reading, re-reading, and teaching the book they strike me as growing quite naturally out of not only the characters but the thematic opposition at the heart of the novel: an opposition between the world of instrumental reason (Bill's sense of himself as "reasonable" and of Quinn as "practical," but also of Darla's attempts to change her husband's perception of her, etc.) and the world of impulse, passion, and desire.

    Teaching the novel this winter I actually kept thinking of George Bataille's grim, often misogynistic book "Erotism: Death and Sensuality." Crusie's tone and politics couldn't be more different, but in "Crazy for You" she edges as close as she ever does to Bataille's notion that eros shatters our attempt to live in an "ordered, parsimonious, and shuttered reality" (105): that it is, in aesthetic terms, sublime, which would suggest that it's in some kind degree of tension with the genre of romance, which tends toward Burke's "beautiful," at least by the HEA.

    Says Bataille, on page 170: "We want to feel as remote from the world where thrift is the rule as we can. As remote as we can:--that is hardly strong enough; we want a world turned upside down and inside out. The truth of eroticism is treason." That gets at Quinn's rebellion, or at least one side of it, and certainly the side that puzzles Bill, who is repulsed by what Bataille calls "sexual exuberance" and "animal nature" (158). Bill has pledged himself, heart and soul, to a reasonable, work-based self, a repression that will eventually drive him "crazy" in a way that stands as a cramped, clenched, anhedonic version of Nick's "craziness." They're not polar opposites--they are scarily close to one another sometimes, as Crusie repeatedly illustrates, but they are not identical, either. Nick acknowledges and (eventually) revels in Quinn's sexuality; even more important, Nick does actually listen to, pay attention to, care about Quinn as an equal and separate person. The scene in question, in the darkened theater, is the closest we see Nick become to what Lutz calls "The Dangerous Lover," and the scene is so striking, so memorable, on my reading, precisely because it lets those amoral, sublime elements of eros, which don't give a damn about separateness and respect, surge to the surface between characters who DO know and care about each other as separate selves, indeed as old friends. I think Crusie sets it up and plays it out very, very effectively.

    Is there a way for such energies to last in a marriage, to be contained in it? That's a question the novel raises, too, between Nick and Quinn and between Darla and Max, and Crusie takes some interesting liberties with the "betrothal" element of the romance form (as Regis describes it) in response. Again, I find the link between theme and form in the novel really quite elegant--maybe it's that neatness of fit that bothers you, Robin, as being contrived or imposed, but it works for me. (I have that argument with people about "Bet Me," too.)

    In short, with Stella's comment in mind, I'd say that this novel is a great illustration of how hard it can be to read a scene like this out of context--or, conversely, of how well an author can weave such a scene into the fabric of her book as a whole, so that it's nearly impossible to read it well in isolation. What that suggests about labelling systems and truth in packaging, I'll leave for another comment or post!

  7. P.S.

    Great job spotting the Police lyrics, Laura! I always think of this novel as the Fleetwood Mac book--there's a whole other post to be written on TIME in the novel, or at least on repetition, timelessness, and impulse as they relate to eroticism--but I'd missed that echo entirely. I guess it's time to update my Jenny Crusie Mix!

    The other song that comes to mind, although I don't think it's in the novel, is Sarah McLaughlin's "Possession." For old times' sake, the original video seems to be here:, and a slightly more recent live performance here:


  8. Again, I find the link between theme and form in the novel really quite elegant--maybe it's that neatness of fit that bothers you, Robin, as being contrived or imposed, but it works for me. (I have that argument with people about "Bet Me," too.)

    Bet Me worked much better for me, Eric, because *for me*, starting with the fairy tale structure and elements as artificial allowed Crusie to create a more organic story that both conformed and subverted the fairy tale structure. So the fact that the story's infrastructure was so *present* in a formalistic way acted as its own sort of self-subversion or unbalancing, if that makes sense. That's why I agree with Crusie's insistence that the last chapter isn't an epilogue but part of the rest of the story -- by the end of the book the fairy tale itself is both ordered and disordered, along with Min and Cal's expectations of each other and the trajectory of their relationship, as well.

    It reminds me of that scene from Willy Wonka (the original film with Gene Wilder) where Mike TV explains how something is broken up into particles on one end of the tv transmission and reassembled on the other. Once you break everything apart, and it *looks* like its original form, is it still the same? Or does the fact that it's been disassembled change it somehow (i.e. all that chaos theory thrown into the novel along with over-determined form of the fairy tale)?

    Now that I've confused even myself, I'll stop, but will say about CFY that I didn't feel the same strong marriage of form and content as you did, Eric, because for me, even though I understand that Bill's character was supposed to lack nuance, I didn't see the book as as offering a nuanced portrayal of an un-nuanced character. And as much as I liked some of the discussions on the duality of passion between Quinn and Nick, after a while I got tired of having it all spelled out for me, and felt like Quinn was a surrogate for the reader who needed to learn (or rather be taught) the dynamics of this relationship between eros and reason, aka a feminist reconsideration of Frued's Civilization and its Discontents: "At the height of being in love the boundary between ego and object threatens to melt away. Against all the evidence of his senses, a man who is in love declares that 'I' and 'you' are one, and is prepared to behave as if it were a fact."

    Probably just a personal preference thing.

  9. Interesting! Maybe I just like having things spelled out for me (grin). I like the Freud cite, and the idea of "Crazy for You" as a feminist reconsideration of C & D--in fact, I may borrow that the next time I teach it! (The same for your thoughts, however chaotic as yet, on Bet Me, if you don't mind.)

    A good example, then, of a book that works for some, not for others, even when we agree on what's at stake in it. Which shouldn't surprise anyone; after all, I have colleagues who like D. H. Lawrence. Nice people, even.


  10. A good example, then, of a book that works for some, not for others, even when we agree on what's at stake in it. Which shouldn't surprise anyone; after all, I have colleagues who like D. H. Lawrence. Nice people, even.

    I've never understood the Lawrence-love either, by the way. If I was forced to figure out why CFY felt too much like a sermon to me while Bet Me didn't, I'd probably just have to say that I'd been so steeped in those *same* kinds of thoughts about eroticism and otherness and uncontainable passion from my own scholarship that what you and probably everyone else saw as a nice harmony, I saw as an incredible imbalance of foreground over background (or vice versa, actually). Keep in mind that I work in post-colonial studies much of the time, aka dark passions r us.

    Have at any comments from my previous post; there's plenty more chaos where that came from. ;)

  11. I was wondering how people felt the point of view played into it. If the scene on the stage was done by Nick's point of view, how would that have changed the pseudo-rape fantasy?

  12. Good question, Lindsay. I'm not sure what others think about this, and it had never crossed my mind to think about it before, but now that you mention it, I think that perhaps the scene being in Quinn's point of view does make it clear that this is something she wants. Interestingly, the next Quinn-against-a-wall scene is told from Bill's point of view.

    I'm sure if the Nick and Quinn scene had been told from Nick's POV it would still have been clear that Quinn was happy with what was happening but it wouldn't have been clear what the mental difference was for Quinn between this time and the first time with her and Nick, when she kept getting distracted and her mind didn't feel so much at one with her body.

  13. IMO it would have been really interesting to get *both* of their POV's during that scene. I know some people think of that as too much head hopping but I don't tend to mind POV shifts as long as they don't confuse me and therefore push me out of the moment of reading.

    Laura, your analysis here has reminded me how rarely we talk about the erotic dimensions of power, and about how Romance so routinely seeks to domesticate those erotic feelings. Which might be one reason that books which don't or can't successfully complete that domestication process become highly controversial within the genre. Woo hoo!; I think the final piece of my own analysis of Romance rape has finally fallen into place. Thanks!

  14. "I think the final piece of my own analysis of Romance rape has finally fallen into place."

    If I ask real pretty, will you write it up for us? Maybe for TMT, or maybe for "Mind of Love"? I'm going to post something Monday here about eros and romance that overlaps with this, but it sounds like you have a much more thorough set of thoughts in mind, and I'm sure I'm not the only one who wants to read them!

  15. Eric, what, you don't like my reckless endangerment of intellectual responsibility? Someday the little smarty pants in me is going to know better than to think I can go on endlessly in my drive-by posting without any accountability, but alas it won't be today.

    Uhm, so yes, I'll write something up for TMT (and maybe it'll be a two-fer since this overlaps with a lot of captivity stuff Laura's been after for me to write up, too), but can it wait until mid-May between finals and bar review? And *if* it sounds coherent, I'll submit an article proposal for the book, as well.

  16. your analysis here has reminded me how rarely we talk about the erotic dimensions of power, and about how Romance so routinely seeks to domesticate those erotic feelings. Which might be one reason that books which don't or can't successfully complete that domestication process become highly controversial within the genre.

    Robin, this seems to get back to what Esther Perel said:

    Erotic desire, Perel argues, thrives on mystery, unpredictability and politically incorrect power games, not housework battles and childcare woes. Furthermore, increased emotional intimacy between partners often leads to less sexual passion. "The challenge for modern couples," she writes, "lies in reconciling the need for what's safe and predictable with the wish to pursue what's exciting, mysterious, and awe-inspiring." (Salon)

    You'll probably remember the discussion we had here a while ago, regarding the erotic, Perel's ideas and what Laura Kinsale had to say on the topic.

    Come to think of it, it seems like your favourite romances maybe do involve this sort of erotic conflict i.e. where there are power imbalances or there's something 'un-PC' (in Laura Kinsale's words). I could be wrong about that, but I remember you particularly mentioning Judith Ivory's Untie My Heart and Kinsale's novels as being among your favourites.

  17. Robin, sounds good to me! And I know about the mid-May thing--that's my cut-off date for sanity reclamation as well! We'll absolutely wait and we'd love to have you submit a proposal for our book!

  18. I remember that discussion, Laura. I was even thinking more broadly to some of the theories of eroticism and violence, especially as they pertain to concepts of otherness, social conformity, and colonialist rhetoric. But Perel's argument is certainly somewhere on the continuum of discussion on the erotic, Laura. Thanks so much for reminding me of that.

    And yes, I'm drawn to certain Romances that have certain erotic themes, but I'd actually argue that most Romance is related to the process of domesticating the erotic in one way or another. Which, of course, is hardly a new idea, but it makes even more sense of me when I think of the popularity of rape in the genre.

  19. "I'd actually argue that most Romance is related to the process of domesticating the erotic in one way or another"

    Is that related to the 'taming' of the hero by the heroine? If we take the alpha wolf analogy he ends up as a domesticated dog? Possibly a sort of guard-dog, so only semi-domesticated?

  20. s that related to the 'taming' of the hero by the heroine? If we take the alpha wolf analogy he ends up as a domesticated dog? Possibly a sort of guard-dog, so only semi-domesticated?

    Sure, I think that's part of it, Laura. This is where IMO Romance's literary relationship to the sentimental novel is recognizable. Because at a basic level, Romance is a somewhat conservative genre, in that it seeks to preserve social continuity even as it might otherwise challenge certain social conventions. The HEA is sort of a mini social contract, isn't it, a vote for a socially restorative relationship, for civilization, for marriage, according to many readers. So the taming of the alpha male is part of that, IMO, a certain civilizing process by which the rake or the alpha or whatever (the guy who doesn't want to submit to a woman's love and to commitment) is somehow brought into contract with his lady love, and, by extension, with society.

    Now I think there are all sorts of exceptions and subversions to this pattern, which is what makes Romance fun for me, as a reader (since I LOVE subversion and I think it's everywhere in the genre). And while I don't know where, exactly, Perel stands on this, I don't see the erotic as something we pursue as much as something that pursues us -- that there is an unruliness to all of our passions at some level, and a simultaneous draw to and fear of that disorder. So as we try to contain it, we also express it.

    Think of all the scholarship focused on the erotic dimensions of otherness and colonial rhetoric. NOT that I'm saying that Romance is colonizing; merely that the genre, because it is much preoccupied with the domestic (in a broad sense) reflects some of these same tensions.

  21. I'm not worthy.

    This is an incredible discussion, thank you all so much. I'm still thinking about most of it, but I can tell you that the POV in the twin scenes was a craft decision, not a theme decision. I first wrote both scenes in Quinn's POV because I wanted the reader to know that Quinn wanted what was happening. Doing that scene in Nick's POV would only have convinced the reader that Nick knew she wanted it, which obviously is not the same thing. And even in Quinn's POV, some readers read it as force.

    Then I wrote the scene with Bill and it just wasn't working. When I thought about it, I realized the reader wasn't getting anything new in that scene. Quinn reacted pretty much the way any woman would react when being menaced in a dark parking lot by a man she knew who was much bigger than she was. Because it's such a sudden reaction scene, there's no place there for me to make it Quinn's, she's working at such a primal level.

    But if I put it in Bill's POV, the reader gets a lot of new information and I think the scene becomes more frightening because he's so "sane" in his rationales.

    Of course then I had the problem that the scenes didn't echo, but I couldn't put the scene with Nick in his POV and I couldn't write the scene with Bill in Quinn's POV because it didn't have any impact. So I torpedoed intent and went for story-telling.

    In the original version, there was a third friend who was having difficulties with her fiance--not abusive--who was too controlling. I've always regretted cutting her, but reading these comments makes me think I had a narrow escape. She probably would have pushed me way over the edge into theme-mongering.

  22. Oh, and all my apologies to Susie Bright for misquoting her. I love her work and wouldn't have put words in her mouth for the world. That'll teach me to check my sources when talking on the internet. REALLY sorry.

  23. Think of all the scholarship focused on the erotic dimensions of otherness and colonial rhetoric. NOT that I'm saying that Romance is colonizing; merely that the genre, because it is much preoccupied with the domestic (in a broad sense) reflects some of these same tensions.

    Robin, I'm really looking forward to reading your thoughts on this when you write them up for us. My first thought when you mentioned romance and colonialism was the contrast between the tall dark hero and the soft, pale(faced) heroine. But I don't think that's really what you're talking about here, is it? Or what you're saying goes beyond that? I suppose I'll just have to wait patiently until you've got more time to write this up properly.

    Oh, and when I read back over my comments, I realised that what I'd said about wolves and guard dogs might come across as snarky. It was just trying to take the metaphor to what seemed to me to be its obvious conclusion. But I know that sometimes I get so carried away by a metaphor I end up going overboard (and end up on a strange desert island, where only I understand how I got there). ;-)

    I'm not worthy.

    Jenny, of course you're worthy. As you say yourself, you're a goddess!

    Of course then I had the problem that the scenes didn't echo

    But I like that. Really, that underlines the point about the difference between Bill and Nick. When Nick holds Quinn against a wall, it's about her pleasure, so it makes sense that it's her POV. When Bill does it, it's about him and his power over her and his pleasure, so it makes sense for the scene to be in his POV. And that's one of the big differences between Bill and Nick: Bill always puts himself first, and tries to force Quinn into doing what suits him; Nick is Quinn's friends and although he has his own needs, he never ignores or tries to override Quinn's.

    Also, I think the Quinn point of view in the stage scene with Nick sets up a contrast/comparison with the first Quinn/Nick sex scene when Quinn isn't in her body and remains quite detached from what Nick is doing to her (and it is him doing something to her, rather than them both having sex, certainly by the end). So in both cases it's Nick doing something to Quinn, but there's a difference in that by the second time Quinn is sure of what she wants and knows that she's important to Nick and different from his previous girlfriends.

  24. My first thought when you mentioned romance and colonialism was the contrast between the tall dark hero and the soft, pale(faced) heroine.

    That's certainly part of it, Laura. As are a lot of the "savage" Romances featuring Native American or mixed heroes (and sometimes heroines). I don't read sheik Romance, but I have a hunch there's a similar dynamic there (eroticizing and domesticating the dark and dangerous other).

    I know a lot of Romance readers love Michael Mann's Last of the Mohicans, but both the book and the movie do some really whacky things with race that characterize aspects of the sentimental novel. Cooper, for example, creates Cora Munro as darker, part Indian, and attracted to Uncas, as opposed to her whiter, weaker, but more prominent sister Alice who's attracted to white boy Duncan. In the book, Cooper kills off both Cora and Uncas because the threat of miscegenation and Cora's darker (and therefore stronger) sexuality is too much. Mann, on the other hand, brings Cora forward as the main female, but shifts her romance to one with Hawkeye, the "white Indian," not IIRC, dealing with her racial background at all. So he brings the stronger woman forward, but pairs her with the white guy, a more "natural" racial pairing.

    So yeah, when you think about Romance, it doesn't take long to start seeing lots of these echoes in the books, whether they be through the big dark hero and the light heroine, or the presence of *some* non-white characters as romantic and not others (Native American v. African American, for example), or the captive motif, or the tortured hero, et al, ad nauseum. Whenever I read a passage where the hero has his big dark hand on the heroine's small white (whatever), I definitely think about some of those old, old narratives in which the Europeans were writing about indigenous peoples (who we now call Indians or Native Americans). BUT I think you could argue that the project of Romance, while socially domesticating in some ways, also subverts that project, as well, in its insistence on passion and in a lot of the edgier, darker motifs and the way the couple thrive, as in the dark hero/light heroine pairing, for example.