Cheerfulness (Crusie)

A couple weeks ago, some of us were discussing romance novels, and Twig loaned me another Jennifer Crusie book, Faking It. (Longtime readers may recall that a couple years ago I read Welcome to Temptation—still my favorite of Crusie's so far—followed by Crazy for You, which I didn't like so much.) Mary Anne zipped through that before I finished it, so when we found ourselves at a bookstore a couple days later, we went in and picked up a used copy of Fast Women.

I did eventually finish Faking It, and now I'm halfway through Fast Women. And I'm finding again, as I found when reading Welcome to Temptation, that reading a little Crusie in the morning or before going to bed almost invariably cheers me up. Every few pages there'll be a funny or charming moment, a bit of near-perfect dialogue, a nice plot entanglement. And I'm fascinated by her handling of sex: she has sex scenes in which the man goes ahead with things despite quasi-objections from the woman, the woman is dubious and not really interested but not actually vehemently opposed to the idea, and afterward it's neither ignored nor turned into a big deal. I think if a male writer had written these scenes, or if they were from male points of view (and Crusie does switch PoV regularly), I would be a little put off by them; but Crusie manages to handle them in a way that feels realistic rather than creepy. I think in most fiction if this sort of scene happened it would be treated as rape; and I think it would be easy for such scenes to give the impression that the author is saying that no doesn't mean no, or that it's not a big deal if a man forces a woman to have sex with him against her will. But that's not how these scenes read.

There are other common elements among her books that I don't like as much—I get a little tired of basically the same dog appearing in all of them, for example, and even though I like various aspects of her handling of the romance aspects, they are a little formulaic, in keeping with what little else I've read in the genre. And the female lead is usually someone who's always taken care of things/people, always been sensible, but thinks too much and doesn't let her emotions go; and she and the male lead fight with each other, because he's kinda take-charge (though not always in the same way), and neither one will admit their growing attraction for each other. But I don't really mind; the writing is good, the characters are engaging, everything moves right along, and it's funny and charming enough that I'll probably keep reading whatever she writes.

In fact, I sorta feel like I ought to keep a Jennifer Crusie book half-read at all times, so I'll always have something to cheer me up. But it's hard to pace myself, and I imagine I'll run out of her books fairly soon at the current rate. Ah, well.

So far, I would rank the ones I've read (or am reading) in this order, from favorite to least favorite:

  1. Welcome to Temptation
  2. Faking It
  3. Fast Women
  4. Crazy for You

I find it interesting that each one seems to me to be in a slightly different mixed genre. For example, Faking It seems to me to be something like a screwball comedy/caper/romance, while Fast Women is a mystery/romance, and Crazy for You is more of a thriller/stalker/romance. I'm not sure how I'd characterize Temptation.

3 Responses to “Cheerfulness (Crusie)”

  1. Twig

    I’ve read most (all?) of her easily available books (she has written several titles for Bantam & Harlequin). I think I’d point you to Strange Bedpersons (opposites- attract + ??). I enjoyed Bet Me (but it’s got that possesive ex thing), and Anyone But You (the CMV library has it).

    Ms. Crusie has an interesting web page. Check out the “crusie facts” for a laugh, and the individual story descriptions if you wish to know her inspirations for various details, including pets.

  2. Jennifer Stevenson

    Jed, it’s interesting you notice the “semi-consensual” sex scenes–Crusie has mentioned that the scene in Welcome to Temptation, for example, where the heroine is “not even close [to orgasm]” and the hero experiments and successfully uses the fact that she has discovery fantasies, Crusie was deliberately writing a “coded rape fantasy.”

    Rape fantasy is not when you get mauled, bloodied, crippled, and left with a fatal disease. Rape fantasy is when you are forced to have sex with Brad Pitt, who knows exactly how to make you come like crazy and who has had a bath. The keys are “not responsible” and “can’t stop it.” Women who have to exercise a lot of control in their lives love to give it up sometimes, but only to somebody good.

    You see it more in historical novels, where literary convention has it that “rape was more acceptable in the past,” so the hero isn’t a jerk for doing it. (Not really true, but this is a literary convention about sexual fantasy, not historical scholarship.) These scenes are harder to pull off in a contemporary novel, where we know better. Crusie has a rule-breaking itch, so she tried it. I think it works in this WTT scene.

  3. metasilk

    she has sex scenes in which the man goes ahead with things despite quasi-objections from the woman, the woman is dubious and not really interested but not actually vehemently opposed to the idea, and afterward it’s neither ignored nor turned into a big deal.

    I think there’s a lot of this kind of sex (as you describe here, as I haven’t read these books) in real life. Goes either way, really, as libido levels are not as in synch with real couples as books would suggest. Sometimes you roll over, sometimes you try to hide the sigh and go ahead… Folks figure that a little “ehhhh” sex is better than not having it and the resulting grumpiness/disappointment. I wouldn’t call that kind of activity rape. But then, I’m only working off your descriptions, not the text.

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