To Go: 96
1. Best Friends Forever — Jennifer Weiner
2. The Very Picture of You — Isabel Wolff
3. First Impressions — Nora Roberts
4. Blithe Images — Nora Roberts
When small-town girl Hillary Baxter is offered a prestigious six-month modelling contract by Bret Bardoff, handsome, charming, and the owner and publisher of fashionable Mode Magazine, the sky is the limit. Thrust into a glamorous career in New York, Hillary knows she has it all…except for the one thing she really wants: Bret’s love.
Going into reading this book, having already skim-read a little bit, I thought I already knew most of what I wanted to say. I’d planned to discuss my outrage that, near the end of the book, Hillary’s parents are willing to sit with a man they don’t even know and discuss their daughter like she’s a horse: her alleged “weaknesses,” her strengths, and her price. I’m sure everyone will understand why this upset me: WOMEN ARE NOT OBJECTS. For Christ’s sake.
Anyway, despite my preparedness, that isn’t what caught my attention after a full read. When I read I actually take notes so that I remember what I want to say later. By the fourth chapter, I’d accumulated a whole hoard of sticky notes that pointed to phrases/words/dialogue that incited my wrath. Curious to see how much? Well, I took a picture:
So evidently that’s not my best photo, but I’m sure you get the point I’m trying to make here: within the span of four short chapters, I had over 10 sticky notes, often within pages of each other.
I’ve mentioned before (here, here, and here) that, more often than not, I find the leading male characters in a Roberts romance to be…well, basically neanderthals. They’re aggressive, they don’t take no for an answer, and I don’t know how they get chicks; basically, they’re male chauvinist pigs. Blithe Images didn’t disappoint on that front when it delivered Bret Bardoff, quite possibly the King of Jerks. (Crown pending.)
Throughout the book he’s increasingly touchy-feely with Hillary and, while she holds her own for the most part, he’s portrayed to be much stronger than her (because that comes part and parcel with Bret’s so-called “masculinity,” the concept of which is repeatedly shoved down the reader’s throat). When he takes her hand, if he doesn’t want her to let go she won’t be able to — which happens on many occasions. Hillary herself says there’s “something about him that disturbed her. The idea of being in almost daily contact with him made her decidedly uneasy” (266).
If the heroine doesn’t like this guy at first blush, why should I? Convince me: why should I like Bret if he makes Hillary, in her words, decidedly uneasy?
Anyway, returning to the hand-holding. Bret’s a pretty strong guy, as I mentioned before. When he wants something from Hillary he uses that strength, instead of politeness. Instead of simply asking her to call him Bret instead of Mr. Bardoff, he asks once and when she refrains (Hillary’s a professional kind of girl), he takes a hold of her hand and refuses to let go — and ignores when she is all but squirming to get away from him. “‘Try Bret, Hillary,’ he commanded[…] and knowing that the sooner she agreed, the sooner she would be free, she surrendered” (Roberts 270). It was just a small thing, but his way of getting what he wants — by exerting dominance, and forcing her to submit to it — left a sour taste in my mouth.
Earlier in the same exchange, Bret tells (not asks, tells) Hillary that they are going out to lunch, and finds another excuse to take and hold onto her hand. Hillary felt “near to panic at the prospect of having lunch with him, and [wished] with all her heart that he would respond to the effort she was currently making to regain sole possession of her hand.”
Why am I supposed to like a man who incites panic in this girl? Why am I supposed to like him when he blatantly disregards her discomfort, time and time again? Why are these considered attractive character traits in a leading male, when in reality a person who has them is someone all ladies should avoid?
But what I don’t get is, in stories like these, why don’t our leading ladies just turn around and walk away? (I mean, obviously, for the sake of plot, they have to stay, but you know what I mean.) I hate victim blaming as much as the next feminist, I really hate it, but here’s my issue: if a man is making you feel “decidedly uneasy,” why not walk away?
There were several times when Hillary could, and should, have done just that: she had every right to tell him, politely or not-so-politely, to take his hands off her because he made her uncomfortable. She had every right to tell him to get out of her apartment when he’d let himself into it (292-294). She had every right to tell him she didn’t want to dance with him, and she didn’t want to go to coffee with him, and she had no interest in going to lunch with him. In fact, she had every right to tell him to fuck off. I don’t know why she didn’t, and I spent the novel asking myself that question instead of asking myself when Hillary and Bret were going to get together already (which is the question a successful romance should make you wonder).
And since we’re talking about when they got together, that came much closer to the R word than the earlier story in this omnibus. In the midst of a passionate rendezvous, Bret goes for the pants and Hillary tries to get him to stop, but “[h]er protests were ignored” (302). And when that happens, she becomes fearful: “She knew a sharp fear that the decision to stop or go would be taken out of her hands.”
I BELIEVE THAT’S CALLED RAPE. Why am I supposed to think this is romantic?
Anyway, after asking him, repeatedly, to stop, instead of getting the apology she deserves, Hillary gets something else entirely: “I knew you were many things, Hillary,” Bret tells her. “I never knew you were a tease” (302).
Excuse my French, but go fuck yourself. Go. Fuck. Yourself.
The scene comes to a close with poor, humiliated Hillary admitting she’s still got her V-card, and Bret threatening to take it from her. (I don’t mean to be the girl who called rape here, but seriously.) “I don’t think you would ever stoop to forcing a woman,” she says. (Which really contradicts the fear she had just a minute ago, and doesn’t make much sense.)
His response? “Don’t count on it[…]I make a point of getting what I want” (304).
My God, you hunk of burning love, take me now.
Next book: something quality.