Sunday, July 09, 2006

"She was smoldering, burning, simmering with heat and tension and desire."

Poking around S.W. Welch this weekend I came across yet another book that fits within my conveniently vague parameters for dissertation background reading, Lori Wilde’s License to Thrill. It’s the story of a sassy young private eye who doesn’t take no crap from no body, least of all no man, until one day a dashingly handsome uppercrust type strolls into her storefront office looking for his grandfather. Hijinks ensue. Most were inadvertent flesh-brushing sparks-flying, but there was a decent bout of explicit hot-tubbing. I haven’t read a straight-up romance novel in awhile (the detective stuff was all a foxy front for trapping the two characters in erotically tight situations), and remembered with surprise that those always end happily, which in this genre means marriage – ah, art imitating, well, certainly not life. None of the texts I'm dealing with for my thesis end this way. While chick dick texts certainly involve a healthy dose of sex they more closely align with what Janice Radway terms in her canonical Reading the Romance the ‘failed romance,’ a story that “fails to convince the reader that the traditional sexual arrangements are benign” (133). Part of this stems from the chick dick’s debt to the hardboiled tradition in which relationships are inevitably doomed, yet in these stories the women leave the men behind, frustrating typical romance narratives’ sense of closure – the story never ends with mutual declarations of love, or often even interest. The chick dick’s object of desire may still be the heterosexual male, but a monogamous relationship is no longer a source of pleasure, a key inversion of most texts produced for women. This intrigues me, and so I was dissatisfied with License to Thrill (though I love the title – where do I get mine?). It was, however, just the kind of book to get me through an afternoon of codeine-popping, hot water bottle-clutching cramps. Nothing staves off uterine reality like a fantasy world in which all sex is mind-blowing and all men have a rock-hard… core of true decency. And technically it’s research.


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