Led Astray

Led Astray - Sandra Brown I've been known in recent writing to defend the romance genre against its label as anti-feminist. But this book gave me pause.

The plot progression is of average creativity and entertainment value except for in a few, extremely jarring and disturbing spots, which I'm guessing would ruin the story for today's reader. It certainly did for me.

The first is more minor, though it's still a non-starter for me: The hero jokingly calls the heroine a bitch. Specifically, he's offering to hire her to work in his office, and the conversation goes like this:
"'How much would you pay me?'"
"His face broke into a strong grin. 'Mercenary little bitch, aren't you?'"
Because, you know, it's really romantic to hear a guy call you bitch if you ask about work salary, isn't it?

But this is very minor compared to the second non-starter: He begins to rape Jenny. Twice. Then he stops himself. Here's their conversation after the second attempt, starting with Cage:
"'I'm sorry.'"
"'I know.' She touched his hair, smoothing it back from his forehead, but the wind immediately whisked it from her fingers."
"'How could I have--'"
"'It doesn't matter, Cage.'"
The conversation continues, with Jenny comforting him about his parents' earlier slight of him and a discussion of his problems and her previous relationship. The scene ends with a chaste kiss.


Actually, I'm surprised Harlequin re-released this book. This book is one of many from the 80s that turned a generation of readers away from romance. So why re-release it? Yes, Sandra Brown is a big name these days, and I can understand the temptation to cash in on name recognition and sell books. But I think glossed-over rape attempts in a cozy, small-town romance cross one of the very few lines for today's romance sensibilities: consent. Even the few romances that tackle dubious consent treat the topic with a degree of gravity that this book misses, and we readers are often warned about the content before we open the first page with words like "taboo" in the sub-title and dark covers.

But this book's cover gives no hint at its "romantic" treatment of rape attempts.

Contemporary, by definition, reflects the sensibilities of romance at the time the book is written, unlike other romance genres, which either use the sensibilities of the time (historical) or create another set of rules for the world of the book (paranormal, for example). This book clearly illustrates that sensibilities change dramatically, making it difficult to write a contemporary romance that holds up over time.

In this case, it's a good thing sensibilities have changed. And this book should have been allowed to fade into the past, along with the other relics from the 80s.

At least you've been warned now.