I’m forcing myself to take some chances on fiction lately. I haven’t in quite a long time. The first one I read is an old book called “Neither Five Nor Three” by Helen MacInnes written in 1951 about the evil of Communist propaganda and those brave people fighting it by spreading propaganda about the evils of Communism. Dear Lord. What’s great about the book are the characters which are all pretty well drawn and the descriptions of New York which make me feel like I’m there. What’s annoying about it is the passionate anti-communist propaganda that permeates this story to the point of nausea. It is the McCarthy era so it was reaching a fever pitch where people were told to tell on their neighbors and family members and friends should they suspect even the smallest whiff of communist leanings. Which includes nearly all free thinkers or people who question anything that their country does. Kind of like now. Only much worse.
I was also disappointed with the end. This is NOT a romance novel at all but the main character ends up with someone at the end and after all the machinations that bring them together – they don’t even kiss at the end. What a let down. I love romantic story lines that aren’t sexually explicit (you all know I loathe the rubbings and throbbings of sexual organs in fiction) but I do expect some kissing. I mean – just because I don’t want a blow by blow pornographic report about my main character getting it on with someone (or by themselves) doesn’t mean I want a completely chaste book either. Giving me something, just don’t give me everything.
So that leads me up to the book I’m reading now called “The Typewriter Girl” by Alison Atlee. So far I’m enjoying the story. The main character is likable for the most part. Two words have so far stood out as blatantly not in keeping with the general tone of the book that the author has set. “Fuck” was the first one. As in “A fuck made him a sound sleeper…” This book is set in the turn of the 19th century. The main character isn’t upper class and is somewhat course but the narration isn’t coarse until that sentence. Nothing prepared me for that. It jarred me and has stuck with me ever since. It’s not that I have any actual belief that Edwardians never get down and dirty but the use of that word in the narration is – I just hate it. HATE IT. “Cock” was the next word, a chapter later, that made me cringe. It wasn’t in the character’s dialog. Once again, it was in the third person narrative. “…Avery laughed and groaned as if he quite enjoyed the sensation of her chilled fingers curling around his cock” was the next bit that made me recoil. I skipped over the next bit, unwilling to be further accosted by coarse sexual words. It’s like if you were to make Henry Miller write an Edwardian romance novel. It’s trying to be modern and tough and frank and liberated – but really it’s just porn words to elicit arousal. Admittedly, in this particular scene the person curling her fingers around the cock goes on to make that cock hurt and no sex ends up happening. But this is the sudden tone when the main character comes within arm’s length of men.
The main character is definitely being shown to have no reserve when it comes to sleeping with inappropriate men. So now I can’t trust her to behave around any men. And as I’m reading, I can’t relax into the story completely because I’m worried about being jarred out of it by mention of hands slipping into Betsey’s* slit and stroking her clitoris. Because when you’ve already got fucking and cocks in action (soon to be fucking with cocks, no doubt) – it can only get more graphic from there. I think I accidentally picked up a romance. Modern romance novelists always include racy sex in their historical settings. Apparently most women prefer this. Considering that the only thing my friend Dave wishes my first novel had more of is sex, I am probably in the vast minority on this issue of taste. I don’t think Atlee will have many other readers dislike having FUCK and COCK shouted at them from an otherwise genteel sort of writing style.
***later, with more chagrin***
So, on to the next chapters of “The Typewriter Girl” and it soon becomes apparent that this book is soft porn. The story line is only there to provide a back drop for two people to be constantly experiencing breathless swelling of achy sexual WANT. The two main characters are just going to constantly be experiencing taught breasts and hard cocks that are so hard they HURT. Honestly! I am clearly supposed to be hot and bothered. But there’s no sexual tension if the reader (me) is constantly aware that the two main characters are going to stroke each other at every possible moment. YAWN. Who cares? Just have sex, get it over with, and move on? But no, this is all about two people having sex and the reader is supposed to be excited to be with them every second while they’re doing it. There’s no real story at all.
There could be a compelling story here. I could be rooting for Betsey if she could be more aware of herself, her potential, and her goals and less aware of all the men around her. Even when she’s working she’s always aware of the men around her. I hate women like that. I really do. Women with no true interests or calling outside of men (or other women, same diff) and sex. What of Betsey’s real ambition? What about her work ethic? Why does she have to be aware of her attractions to her many male coworkers and consider using it for her benefit? Why can’t she be proud of not needing to be attractive to the men around her to get ahead and prove her worth? She’s supposedly an independent and modern sort of girl for an Edwardian – so why isn’t she acting like it?
The minute I got to the part where the genteel broke man who is determined to marry a rich girl but is so attracted to Betsey that his cock HURTS when they touch – I gave up. I don’t read soft porn. I don’t read romance where the plot is mostly about when and how the two main characters will hook up and there’s nothing to look forward to near the end because the main characters have already pretty much done everything to each other they can do without the story being called “Judy Gets Poled” or “Betsey Makes Cocks Hurt”.
How do you know you’re reading porn of some kind? When the narrator (if it isn’t in first person) uses the word cock or fuck. If it’s in the dialog of characters it might just be a coarse character and not the character of the book.
Anyway. This is what makes me scared of taking a chance on new fiction. This is why I read Mary Stewart over and over and over. I’m not actually saying The Typewriter Girl is a bad book. I’m just saying it’s not general fiction. It’s soft porn. Which I don’t read. And I’m disappointed that there was no way for me to know this based on the cover or the synopsis. If anyone wants my copy of this book I will happily send it to them.
It’s important in having read my report on this book that to consider it a bad review is unfair. This is not the kind of book I enjoy. I am not who the book was written for. I am not the intended audience. It’s like if a spy thriller ended up in the hands of a Proust fan, the Proust fan would get weary of all the chase scenes pretty fast and be longing for flowery nostalgic descriptions of cookies.
*Yes, that’s how the author spelled Betsey.
**Well, mine has no graphic sexual scenes in it, so no one can make the exact SAME complaints.