Or alternatively titled: An in-depth explanation of why I HATE paranormal romance.
Let me clear this up right now: I enjoy a good love story.
But nowadays when I see any book advertised as romance, I cringe. Especially if it is in the teenage section of the bookstore. If the word “sexy” appears anywhere on the cover, I start backing away. If there is a mention of vampires, angels, immortals, or mysterious handsome boys with secrets, I run for the hills.
This isn’t just because I’m a prudish Catholic girl (that’s about 25% of the reason). It’s because these books are 14 out of 15 times, childish, shallow, unrealistic, and unbelievably puerile in their portrayal of ‘twoo wuv’. In fact, I’d say half the time The Impressive Clergyman has a better grasp of true love than half of the paranormal romances in the teen section of Barnes & Noble.
Obviously Twilight is the poster child for this phenomenon. There are many rants and criticisms about that particular series readily available, such as this (http://reasoningwithvampires.tumblr.com/). I won’t rehash everything that’s wrong with the writing here; but the biggest and most disturbing problem of this series is its validation of the most damaging insecurities to which teenage girls are prone. The protagonist derides her appearance and abilities, sees herself as lacking any kind of outstanding quality, and doesn’t think she’s worthy of anyone’s notice. And she doesn’t try to do anything for herself.
This isn’t a good way for teenage girls to identify with your protagonist- unless you plan on showing her becoming a stronger and more confident person as the series goes on.
As anyone who’s read the series knows, this doesn’t happen. I’d say a good 3/4 of New Moon and Eclipse consist of Bella telling herself how she’s not good enough for her two love interests (the last 1/4 is spent describing Edward’s stone-cold chest in loving detail). Having your insecure protagonist focus solely on two guys (NEITHER OF WHOM TREAT HER WELL) isn’t a good message to send to young teenage girls, especially those who are insecure to begin with. I’m speaking from experience here, and it took the mess that was Breaking Dawn to finally knock me out of my stupor. I had a lot of the self-esteem issues in high school that Bella did, from the self-deprecation to the secret longing for anyone to notice me romantically. And I know from experience that it wasn’t a man or a love triangle that ended up getting me out of this idiocy (it was reading good literature and Monty Python. *)
But as I’ve said, Twilight is somewhat famous for its inanity. So are the other paranormal romance books as bad?
The honest answer is that I couldn’t tell you. I’d skim the books in Barnes & Noble and get bored. Every protagonist was either fiery-tempered™ or shy ™. And they were all girls. In real life, girls who acted like the fiery-tempered™ variety would require counseling for anger management. And for shy™ girls in real life- well, we don’t attract as many guys as you’d think from your average high school romantic comedy. That makes it hard for me to suspend my disbelief whenever these protagonists encounter their vampire/fallen angel/disenfranchised-otherworldly-being and somehow instantly attract his attention (and he always attracts theirs. They see him and KNOW there’s something special about him ).
These girls are almost always incredibly whiny, moaning about parents, other classmates, or the fact that they’re different. And yet when the otherworldly guy comes in, they’re almost always portrayed as knowing how to handle the emotional needs of/reform said beings; when I wouldn’t trust these girls to adequately simulate a relationship between Barbie and Ken dolls. What makes this even worse is that their love interests are supposedly really mysterious in temperament and have a Dark Past™.
Now I actually like a mysterious love interest- done well. I think Jane Eyre does a nice job of this; when I first read that book, I’ll unashamedly admit I fell hard for Rochester. But the thing I don’t like when this is used in these paranormal romances is the fact that we’re supposed to believe that the high school girls are equipped to deal with the kind of difficulties that would arise when you embark on a romantic relationship with a being of a potentially dangerous and hostile nature, and who usually has 100+ years of Dark Past™. There are minimal difficulties about differences in nature, outlook on life, and, in the case of immortals, the age gap. According the story, it’s all smoothed over, because they love each other!
To which I respectfully say, “Bullsh*t.”
Having recently finished a fanfic where I blissfully ignored all the difficult implications of such a relationship until midway through the story, I can safely say that you SHOULDN’T IGNORE THESE DIFFICULTIES. Problems will rise when you’re dating an ancient being like a vampire or an angel (angels seem to be rising in popularity for some reason. I’m not sure how, given that an angel is a pure spirit and therefore impossible to have a sexual relationship with, but never mind.) Age gap is going to be a factor. The younger girl/guy has to somehow have something in common with someone hundreds of years his/her senior. Think about it. Different experiences, differences in the way life and the point of living are viewed. That’s not something your average high-school kid can handle. It would take a hell of a lot more maturity than most protagonists have.
If the love interest is a vampire, how do you deal with the fact that s/he’s very likely killed people in his past? Take a look at Count Dracula- the guy in the original story by Bram Stoker. He is not good boyfriend material. Yes, he may be single and all-powerful. He’s also bent on turning the human race into vampires. He attacks innocents without regret or angsting. He is far more powerful than any human and he does not give a damn about morals or the fact that he used to be a human.
Not somebody I’d want to date.
Love interest is a werewolf? (rarer, but not unheard of) Then take a look at how difficult life is for Remus Lupin in the Harry Potter series. Every month he has to deal with the fact that he turns into a savage monster, and it makes life incredibly difficult for him. He can’t get a job, he can barely support himself, and he’s shunned by most of the wizarding society. The love interest doesn’t care about the danger; fine. Can the love interest handle the difficulty of such a life partner?
I think overall my biggest issue with paranormal romance is that a lot of the time the implications are simply not thought through very clearly. The main conflict is almost always some kind of external force or destiny, never the relationship itself. I think it would be possible to write a good paranormal romance, but it would be very hard to come with one in which either the love interest or the monster wasn’t holding the Idiot Ball or acting sappy in some way or another, and both things tend to annoy me at this point. A good romance should involve more struggle than love at first sight, and when the object of affections is of another species entirely, the coming together should involve a hell of a lot more than “twoo wuv will fowwow you foweva.”
*Okay, maybe not Monty Python, though it certainly didn’t hurt.