Last year I wrote a post titled New Authors Write SciFi With A Smirk discussing the objectionable habit of smirking in print, or at least, in Kindle eBooks. Since that time, science fiction has almost vanished from the Kindle bestseller lists, both free and paid, in favor of romance novels running the gamut from Puppy Love (lycans), to Seriously Moody, which has apparently given rise to the sobriquet S&M.
I’ve never been a romance reader, other than the 19th century Sir Walter Scott variety of romance, so the last few weeks have been eye opening, and occasionally eye popping. The closest I’d come to reading modern romance novels in the past was watching movies, especially romantic comedies, the best of which are made in Korea. For some reason, I always smile when the Korean women slap the men on the top of the head when the men act inappropriately, at least from the women’s viewpoint. I think I might have benefited from similar social instruction when I was young, but maybe it just means that Koreans can be seriously moody.
What I never expected to find in romance novels was excessive smirking. It made a certain amount of sense in science fiction, since a lot of it is written by younger people who may have gotten confused between smirks and smurfs. But smirking took me by surprise in romance, where I anticipated reading about about smiles that light up the room, melting hearts and knees. One novel billed as a romantic comedy had so many smirks that I took a break and used the Kindle search function to count them – 20 in all. But I’m still wading through it.
Another romance featured an elderly woman smirking, something I don’t ever remember seeing in real life. I think after a certain age, people gain enough wisdom to know that smirking is the poor man’s version of spitting on the carpet. Either that or they lose the fine muscle control required to smirk - or maybe it has something to do with dentures.
Excessive smirking isn’t the only editorial bone I have to pick with Kindle romance. One supernatural novel that evolved into a vampire romance of sorts was set in the first decade of the 1800′s in the American South, but the heroine, who spoke in somebody’s version of slave dialect, conducted her inner dialogue in the metric system. Just imagine the American reader stumbling over something like:
I was about three meters from the safety of the woodshed when he grabbed me, his fifteen millimeter fangs shining in the moonlight like tiny ivory tusks.
If the vampire had chosen to smirk, or better yet, put on a crooked smile, the metric system would have been ideal for describing the uneven reveal of his canines. I thought for a while that she might have been an illegitimate child of President Jefferson, who admired decimalization as much as the eponymous hero of Trollope’s Palliser novels, but it turned out her father was the local plantation owner. Coincidentally, the nickname of Trollope’s prime minister was Planty Pal. Makes you wonder.
In another romance, I stumbled over the heroine’s love for whip cream. I always thought the dairy product was whipped cream, describing cream that had been whipped, and that cream that was suitable to be whipped was known as whipping cream. But an Internet search, followed by a Google Books search, shows that some authors are using “whip cream” in print to describe the product you get when you whip cream. I wouldn’t be surprised if seriously moody authors are also using whip cream in a non-food context.
While I was at Google Books, I decided to do a little research on smirking through the ages, and I came in for a shock. No less than Sir Walter Scott in the Waverly Novels gave his hecture to smirking:
So my memory was in error when I wrote that I never saw any smirking in classic literature, though I probably skimmed a teensy bit while reading the entire Waverly set a few years ago. And Scott is using “smirk” in an earlier sense, as a forced or artificial smile. A character named Mr. Smirk, an auctioneer, also appears in a play by Samuel Foote that makes it into several 19th century collections. A groom named Smirk (described as a humbug) appears in Sewell’s Black Beauty, and a character in Dicken’s Nicholas Nickleby describes a portrait as smirking (which rang a bell when I found it), but that pretty much wraps up the 1800′s.
So if there’s a moral to this story, I’ve lost track of what it was. The only romances I’ve consistently finished so far would be characterized as Christian romance, typically historical novels where the actions of the protagonists, including their falling in love, saves the farm, raises the orphans and rescues the old horse. I suppose the occasional whip does appear in Christian romance, but it’s there to make the buggy go, or perhaps in extreme cases, to punish the ruffian who steals a kiss from the girl who had to ride into town alone to get medicine (at best a placebo) for her dying father. Which would be enough to make any girl seriously moody.
I’ve also had reasonable luck with the detective RomCom genre. For some reason, these tend to be well written, and as comedy, are more focused on the heroine (because it’s easy to make fun of yourself in first person writing) rather than endless descriptions of a man’s flat abs and bulging whatevers. I stopped reading the bedroom scenes altogether after skimming one or two, they all seemed so anticlimactic. Especially since the couple generally hooked up well before the last chapter, or if I may say, prematurely.
Almost all of the romances shared one common feature, in that the heroine believed she had to compete with another woman for the man, although it generally turns out that the man never thought of the other woman that way. In many novels the other woman, who does think of herself that way, slaps or assaults the heroine, in addition to calling her nasty names. It’s not funny, at least to me, and I suggest that romance writers who feel the need for gratuitous violence in their novels follow the Korean formula and have the woman slap the man on top of the head. Then they can both smirk and get seriously moody with some whip cream.