Thoughts on the Week That Was

UnREAL

So, last week I was lamenting my lack of TV shows. Well, I found one and I’m obsessed with it. I watched all 7 episodes in 24 hours.  I want to write a paper on it. I want Monday’s episode NOW. It’s UnREAL, the Lifetime show about the making of a Bachelor-type TV show. It kind of a comedy-drama, extremely dark, cynical, and often over the top. My favorite thing about the show is the lead character, Rachel. She’s a producer on the show. She rarely washes, changes her clothes or combs her hair. She’s a master at manipulating the contestants in exceptionally ruthless and often harmful ways. Yet she’s extremely self-aware, often caring, and conversant in social justice discourses, from gender, to sexual orientation, to race, to class. She’s a horrible person but she’s also vulnerable and conflicted about her job, and I really want her to be happy.

Rachel has two suitors, one being a cameraman with whom she had an affair before a breakdown during the finale of the last season. The ex is a good, solid guy. He’s moved on but is still deeply attracted to Rachel the complex trainwreck. The other is the star of the reality show, a blond rich English guy who is a fame-seeking cad with unexpected depths. These are two of my favorite romance tropes. The solid guy who can’t stay away from the effed up girl, and the irresistible cad and the woman who calls him on his bullshit. 

My major reservation about the show is its portrayal of mental illness. But please give me an intelligent, competent, female protag who never smiles, gets dressed by turning her panties inside out, and masturbates with a vibrator while watching porn on her phone any day. 

Brush with Greatness

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I tweeted about one particular scene between Rachel and her old flame, and the actor himself (see pic) faved it! I’ll never wash that tweet again.

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The keep it casual trope

I see this used so often for conflict in contemporary romance. I’m kind of over it. It’s hard for me to read about two people who have amazing sex, lots of laughs, mutual respect, really enjoy being in each other’s company, and maintain, after weeks or months of this, that it’s just sex. Even worse is when one person knows she (usually it is a she) is in love, but, instead of just saying, “Hey, this was supposed to be just sex, but I’ve fallen in love with you”, hides her feelings for fear of driving him away, and in the meantime, wrongly reads all of his actions and wrongly interprets his words as indicating that he only sees her as an f. buddy. 

I’m not saying that fear of commitment isn’t real or common, but I think it unfolds differently in real life. To me, it’s more realistic for the charade to be given up earlier, the relationship to begin, and then trouble to happen as the actual relationship unfolds. Sadly, that doesn’t easily fit the HEA format of the romance genre.

I long for the Susan Elizabeth Phillips/Anne Stuart days of the hero and heroine hating each other.

Speaking of conflict…

If you haven’t, you should read Getting All Pistols at Dawn Over Reading by Vassiliki Veros

I feel that reading discussions need to have more passion. I want to hear indignation and conviction and go all “Captain, my Captain” over the written words that have impacted my life. At times, being measured in our responses means that our reading has not stirred us, it has not incensed us enough to be overcome with emotion, we have not lost ourselves in a moment of passionate defense where we would rather risk offending another person by remonstrating the merits of words that reach into your soul. Writing that leaves me unmoved, dispassionate, bored and filled with ennui does not interest me. I seek out the books that fill my mind with fireworks and give me cause to shout out in their defense.

On Book Riot

I published one post, Why I’ll Wait to Read Go Set A Watchman

Everyone is probably fatigued by the Harper Lee discussion, but I do want to say one thing. I admire Atticus Finch, the same way I admire Sir Thomas More of A Man For All Seasons. Characters like that exemplify something worthy, namely integrity. But integrity is compatible with a range of morally reprehensible views. Neither the book nor the character is a great example of anti-racism, in my opinion.  

Also at Book Riot, Brenna published The Truth: A three Star Review is Not A Bad Review. I loved her post, and then I thought “this won’t convince any authors” and my next thought was that posts like this are still a good thing because they reinforce community norms for readers.

One More Link

Rebekah Weatherspoon has a great post on helping diversify romance.

What I’m Reading

50 Shades Darker. Don’t ask me why I waited years to pick up the second book in the unholy trinity. But I’m reading it and liking it.

Saving the CEO by Jenny Holiday. I really like the heroine in this one.

In both Darker and Saving the CEO, there a main protag has a  drug addicted mom. I really hate the way Christian’s mom is referred to (so far) in Darker, basically “that junkie whore.”  The portrayal of drug addiction is more nuanced in Holiday’s book. 

Tailings, a Memoir by Kaethe Schwehn: A friend recommended this short work focusing on a formative period in the author’s life, when her fiance left her, she lived at a Lutheran retreat center in the Cascade Mountains, and she decided to pursue an MFA. In case you’re rolling your eyes at the MFA part, the prose is effortlessly lovely. It’s a really interesting take not just on a specifically Christian yearning, but on a desire for meaning and transcendence many of us seek. (I originally wrote that for BR)

That’s it! Next week I’ll be posting from RWA in NYC. Happy weekend.

5 responses

  1. I’m sure Weatherspoon is right that helping make diverse books more discoverable is useful. But I wished her post had mentioned actually READING the books, not just buying them. Both because I value reader recommendations over cover pic tweets, and because surely reading different kinds of stories is the point. I’m sure she just took the reading part for granted, but it was all about promotion, not about the reader’s experience.

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    • I see your point. I suppose that comes from her author point of view: no one can read the books if they don’t know about them, and books by and featuring POC get less promotion. Personally, and maybe it’s just the sites I read, when it comes to POC romance, if I didn’t follow POC romance writers promoting their books on Twitter I probably wouldn’t know about them.

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  2. UnREAL sounds like just about the last thing I’d want to watch…but you make it sound so interesting!

    The keep-it-casual trope is a little too well worn, I think. Though it kinda depends on how and when the author moves on to the next conflict; at least usually there is a next conflict in my reading?

    Tailings sounds very good.

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    • It is really interesting. But it is full of vile people. They use social justice language to further their own ends and victimize members of disadvantaged social groups (everyone does this, even the members of those groups). They know what they are doing is wrong and they rationalize it in ways that range from almost kinda believable to absurdly self-serving. It can be very painful to watch. It’s like Andy Kaufman comedy — not that sublime or envelope pushing, but in the way it makes me feel uncomfortable. then there’s the oddity that I haven’t seen anything else lately that has a full on, non-cynical, sexy romance plot. I love the way the “real” backstage romances are juxtaposed to the “romance” of the reality TV show.

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  3. UnReal sounds wonderful. I’ve have become a fan of the matchmaking reality TV show of late so this sounds perfect. Though it will probably be a few years before it is shown here (I’m one of those rare Australian creatures that never streams illegally AND I’ve never had cable TV). I’m with you on the f.buddy trope. I want “fighting to not love the one I hate” back.

    And thank you for the mention 🙂

    Like

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