I was able to check out PLEASURING THE PIRATE
from the law school library at the same time as I checked out Анна Ахматова, Полное Собрание в Одном Томе, so that was pretty much the most successful library experience ever.
There was this one day, when I lived in Ukraine, where I was stuck in this town with some friends because another town had exploded, and, unfortunately, it made it so that I couldn’t take the train home. So, we all decided to go to this resort for lunch and really splurge. I decided to play it safe and go for a beet salad and fries, but one of my friends decided to really spend a lot and order a fruit salad. We were all skeptical about this choice. Don’t get me wrong, I pretty much lived on clementines through November and December that year, but this salad boasted of apples, oranges, bananas, and pineapples, all together, as I recall. There’s no way you could put together that combo in Ukraine without something suspicious involved. Nonetheless, the salad arrived, just as promised – apples, oranges, bananas, and pineapples all collected in a little bowl. What the resort didn’t prepare us for was that they were doused in ketchup and mayonnaise. It’s combinations like a mayonnaise fruit salad that make me want to give up on "creativity," and Pleasuring the Pirate was a big ol' fruit salad with mayonnaise.
I admit that it is important to note that my disappointment in this book is in direct proportion to the awesomeness of its title. Also, I wrote a first draft of this review, in which I was prepared to argue that the author was arrogantly ripping off classic works of art, and in making the argument I realized I was completely wrong about that. My apologies to the author for even thinking it. Also, I refused to be put off by the "moist groins"
, the excessive "splaying"
, the anachronisms
, or even the fact THAT THE MAIN DUDE’S NOT ACTUALLY A PIRATE
. What do we expect from romance but moist groins and splaying? I choose to count those things as awesome, despite their off-putting nature. And, as Geoffrey Tennant
says, Shakespeare wasn’t worried about anachronisms, so why should we be? He also didn’t mind throwing in some pre-action seafaring, so I can swallow my disappointment on that, too.
I don’t believe that any entirely original art exists, nor do I believe it should exist. I think that if someone came up with entirely new art people would hate it, or not be able to acknowledge it, because we would have no frame of reference for it. So, maybe it does actually exist, but we don’t call it art until someone else fills in the other rungs on the evolutionary ladder. Anyway, I think art, or at least writing, is more like cooking. We’ve got all these ingredients already and people just mix them up in new ways and reinterpret based on their own taste and experience. And this is how we are able to both recognize ourselves in books and expand our minds to include other philosophies and experiences. Really meaningful books are like when you’re watching Top Chef, and one of the contestants combines two ingredients that would never have occurred to you but ends up looking really yummy.
But some combos are just gross. To illustrate what I mean in a literary sense, rather than a pineapples and mayonnaise sense, I’d like to walk you through the story of Pleasuring the Pirate told by the ingredients I believe the author was combining. Again, it is not the fact of her using the ingredients that gets me (although they all are a little half-baked – hardy har), but the combination. Warning: this is full of annoying links, but they’re only meant for clarification if you’re not sure who I’m talking about.
The story starts out with Joan of Arc
and his faithful sidekick Lefou
in battle. They all head on home to the castle, realizing the whole spat was just a misunderstanding, and nobody gets violently raped. When they all get to the castle, they switch costumes, and the story becomes all Cinderella on you – with the twist that Cinderella has to work her darndest to get the Prince married off to some wealthy debutante or another. Meanwhile, there is a Goonies
side story involving some buried treasure. Not really a booby-trap situation, unfortunately, and Lefou changes hats to become Sloth
. The Prince/Gaston’s old bff shows up, too and it turns out that he loves children
, in a "fire of my loins" kinda way. Blah blah blah. Awkward bed sandwich scene that the author claims was taken from reality, but that many, including bloggers and Wikipedia, say was probably greatly exaggerated
. Prince gets carted off to jail for breaking a minor procedural rule and they reenact The Passion of the Christ
(luckily, off-camera action). Then they do the escape-from-execution scene from Robin Hood Prince of Thieves
. Then, in an Overboard
twist, there’s a vague reveal that our bastard Cinderella is really the king’s daughter.
So, I’m not sure that any of the above makes any sense, and that’s not really the point anyway. I haven’t told you what the wrong ingredient is yet. All of the above pretty much fits. It’s not, like, garden pea cappuccino with foie gras, black pudding, and pancetta, but it’s an average hamburger and fries. It’s predictable. The thing that sent me over the edge was this one chapter that is almost exactly my favorite chapter of Oliver Twist
. So, in PtP, there is a side-character named Mrs. Beadle (yes, immediately reminiscent of Mr. Bumble, the beadle, in Oliver Twist, but I let that go when she first appeared), and she has this awkward falling-in-love scene with Lefou/Sloth. This was completely unacceptable to me. I was prepared to write a review talking about how an omage is so different than a plagiarism with the hopes that your audience is too stupid to catch it. But then I realized that what she did really is more of an omage, and maybe she is hoping that her audience will catch the reference. Here’s hoping. The whole combination of the story, though, was just sloppy and gross to me.
I haven’t talked about the sex because that’s been covered to the extreme by other reviewers and threads. I will reiterate how much I completely agree with Ceridwen
that the part when our bastard Cinderella wants the Prince to be rough with her left me kind of bored. The plot line of the sex was meticulously purposeful, where the story was all over the place. Maybe "meticulously purposeful" isn’t the right choice of words. Canned? Instructional? From the passionate makeout sessions that lead the Prince to politely asking for permission to deflower bastard Cinderella, to the no-no on sex with kiddos, to the superior compassion for the courtesan’s homosexual friend, all of the sex issues read like a pamphlet on how people should be.
This leads me to my theory on mass-market romance. I think it started as instructions for girls on what goes on under the sheets and in the kitchen. Maybe this is obviously true or obviously not true, and I welcome any outside knowledge people have. It seems like its main purpose is to be the spoonful of sugar that makes the health-class and home-ec medicine go down. It feels so . . . obsolete. I’m sure there are kinkier variations that are ahead of the times. I guess I’m partly saying this because you hear people say that mass-market romance is girl porn. It feels more like girl video games to me, though. It’s where you go to learn how to be the manipulative bitch to the video games’ arrogant asshole. Keepin’ the genders in their respective spheres one soulful pirate and buxom treasure hunter at a time.