posted at Tuesday, March 15th, 2016 at 9:40 AM | Discussion Posts, Other Bloggishness
I just DNFed a book by a male author, which has a small romance component. The novel is third person multiple POV about two boys and a girl. The girl definitely feels like an MPDG, with her quirky style, snappy comebacks, and the fact that she’s oh-so-high-and-unreachable. The interesting twist the story seems to put on that is that the other boy, not involved for the romance, also ends up being there just to help push the MC along a road to striving for more than he was born into. They are both plot points to promote his development: she’s aspirational and he gets fridged so as not to hold the guy back. (I’m not going to name the book here or in the comments because I had to spoil some things; stalk my GR or DM me if you want to know.) This whole mess got me thinking about romance written by men more broadly.
I started digging through my GR to look at male authors’ books to see how I felt about the romance. The first thing I found is that I don’t read very many male authors, which, I suspect, is because there tends to less reliably be romance at all and, if it’s there, the odds increase that I won’t like it. Romance, for me, is almost crucial in a book. Sure, I don’t need it in absolutely everything (I mean, I loved The Martian, and that doesn’t have kissing), but I love interpersonal relationships and ones with kissing happen to be my favorites to read about. For a romance to be good, the characterization has to be on point, which is why I love them so much.
Looking through my favorites shelf for male authors, I didn’t find too many, and most of those books I love for something that’s not the romance. Let’s take The Perks of Being a Wallflower: great book, but the romance was my least favorite aspect. Same goes for Jay Kristoff’s Lotus War books; I don’t dislike the romance but I also was not invested in it at all. The Rest of Us Just Live Here and John Green novels are MPDG city. I loved all of these books (well, not ALL of the John Green), but the romance let me down in every case.
In my brief survey of books read in the last year or so written by men, as well as my favorites shelf, here’s what I found:
- Many books did not feature romance in any way.
- In a number of the books with romance, the romance was my least favorite part of the book.
- A lot of the better done ships never sailed; they remain a potential ship at the book’s close. These romances could be super shippy but romance is mostly just off to the side and not given much time.
- Of the ones that I did ship, they are almost exclusively m/m relationships.
Now, to be perfectly clear, it’s not that I think male authors can’t write a good shippy romance because obviously it’s possible. But it does seem like that happens less often. I talked with Meg about this, as I do most things.
Men (in America anyway) get totally shafted by one particular double standard: they’re not supposed to have gushy feels. But they do. Feelings happen. Men, however, often aren’t raised to know how to deal with them and are taught (by society’s gendered marketing and bullying) that anything about hearts and flowers and kissing is not for menfolk. Which is fucking ludicrous. If society didn’t tell men they shouldn’t be into that shit, most of the guys I know would be all over shippy stuff too. I mean, just look at the whole Brony thing: men have squishy insides that want to be released (that’s what he said).
The way that the romances in male-authored books often rub me the wrong way seem really telling about how society teaches men to view women. The women are simultaneously so hiiiiiiiiigh above them and not particularly pertinent to the story except as a sex object and life changer. The way that female characters look through a male character’s eyes is often so damn frustrating. It’s really no wonder that the romances that worked for me were m/m, because that has a whole different set of dynamics.
Both Grasshopper Jungle (which I enjoyed) and Cut Both Ways (which I loathed more than just about any other book ever) feature bisexual love triangles, so they make really interesting case studies for this. In both cases, the m/m relationship is complex and vibrant and shippable; the m/f relationships are bland, lackluster, flat. In both books, you don’t get to know the girl as well, because the guy is mostly interested in her as a sex object, where he’s into the dude for both sex AND actual bonding. Interestingly, Cut Both Ways is written by a woman, but she writes exclusively (so far anyway) in male POV, and Mesrobian prides herself on getting that voice right, so basically I’m including it anyway because her goal was to write a romance like a male author had written it.
Because men are told not to be into romance, they probably have less experience reading and watching romances to be able to figure out what makes a good one. To pick on a series I do not like, The 5th Wave feels like it grabbed every terrible paranormal romance cliche like oh okay I hear this is what women are into. Men can enjoy books with a strong romance element, though I generally don’t get many young guys to admit to it. I mean, come on, my dad ADORES the Throne of Glass series and basically every romantic comedy film ever created. I also recommend reading Sunil Patel’s post about his experience trying romance novels. There’s no reason I shouldn’t have a bunch of favorite romances written by men. But I don’t.
If you have recommendations of really excellent dude-authored romances, I’m very down for that. Otherwise, please share any insights or thoughts you have.