A Rant on a Review


I was thrilled to see this weekend that the Houston Chronicle book section chose to run Maureen Corrigan's Washington Post review of Nora Roberts' new romantic suspense novel, Black Hills. I'm a big fan of Roberts' hardcover romantic suspense, especially past winners such as Montana Sky, Angels Fall, and Northern Lights along with the futuristic police procedurals she writes as J.D. Robb. That's not to say I love all of Roberts books; I haven't, so I was eager to read the reviewer's opinion on this outing.

And more than that, I was thrilled to see a romantic suspense novel (the genre I write) seriously reviewed. Though newspapers occasionally deign to offer print space to reviews of mystery/suspense/thrillers, the other genres are treated like publishing's red-headed stepchildren... embarrassments that must be kept locked in the basement so they won't rot readers' brains.

My celebration didn't last long. Corrigan not only didn't like the book -- which is her perfect right -- her disdain for the entire genre came through at every turn. Phrases such as "smooch-and-shoot saga," "tussling in the sack again," and the offensively-outdated "this latest bodice-ripper" tell me this reviewer set out with a bias, with her hypersensitive Bowdler-calibrated radar quivering for the slightest hint of (insert gasp here) S-E-X.

Funny, how love scenes (which are often present) rarely come up in reviews of books by male authors writing thrillers, mystery, or horror. Funny, how in reviews of female-written, female-targeted romance, that's just about the only thing the critics ever notice.

Though Publisher's Weekly and other reviewers have praised Black Hills, I have no problem at all with the fact that Maureen Corrigan didn't. What chapped my hide was the condescending language and the implication that female fantasy is somehow inferior to male.

Comments

Joni Rodgers said…
I read that this morning and totally agree. Wish someone would explain to me what is the value of a review that says "People predisposed to hate all books in this genre will hate this book."

Basically, Nora's getting horsewhipped here because she has the audacity to be incredibly successful. And I thought that comment about "most of the female population of the planet" reading the book was sexist in itself. What's that supposed to mean? "This is a stupid book, but you know how women love stupid books?"

Boo.
Anonymous said…
Maureen Corrigan sucks
Nancy J. Parra said…
Sad, isn't it? sigh.
Rhea said…
Reading the review, to be honest I didn't sense the sexism but I am far from being familiar with the experiences of being a woman writing romances (but only the biology). Aside from that, it didn't seem like Maureen was taking the genre itself to task, so much as taking to task Nora herself for putting forward something she regarded as being formulaic.

I could have missed the nuance, but it seemed like her frustration was more geared toward a key figure in an under-appreciated genre whose latest contribution only served to further the stereotypes that make it easy for passersby to look at the Romance/Thriller section and think to themselves "most of it is only flash and trash."
Thanks for stopping by and sharing your opinions, Anon, Nancy, and Rhea. Rhea, respectfully, I disagree. To me, the tone of the review was really negative, as shown by the pejorative vocabulary. Again, I have no issue with the fact that she didn't love the book, only with the way she worded her views.

A lot of educated women seem to fear they'll be stripped of their degrees in the night if they admit enjoying something that's not capital-L Literature. In general, men seem more likely to embrace James Bond, noir, and other pulp-style fiction with an affectionate wink instead of fearing they'll lose all credibility if they have fun with the core fantasy. I realize I'm speaking in the broadest generalizations and there are plenty of uptight professors out there, but it's an issue of being secure and embracing the idea that for most women, relationships really *are* the story.

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