Review by Steven M Scotten on Sun, 05/18/2014 - 21:22
Thanks to Deirdre Saoirse Moen for recommending this book. It’s not my usual fare but I was looking for material for structuring a romance plot. I asked Deirdre to point me toward some good examples from the genre. Looking to a romance novel seemed like a good place to get a start on the tropes of the form—both the ones to use and the ones to avoid.
Writing a romance plot into a science fiction novel isn’t the same as writing a romance novel. It’s easy for a developing romance in the book to take over a plot, and just as easy for the relationship to appear contrived and superfluous. That balance isn’t something I’m going to find in a romance novel. Further, the twists and turns of a novel dedicated to the love story tend to be unrealistic in ways that a science fiction reader won’t find palatable (just as the reader of a romance novel would be put off by some of the conventions and structures of science fiction.)
Nevertheless, reading Lead Me On was instructive and even enjoyable. It takes a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief, but it’s a fun ride. I found the sex scenes to be gratuitous, but I could look past that; they seem to be a big part of the purpose of the novel. I’m no stranger to sex scenes in novels, including ones that are even more explicit than the ones in Lead Me On. I’m not sure what it was that put me off about them; perhaps because I expected it to be about more and because it had the pretense of being more.
I can’t say that Lead Me On in any way inspired me to read more of the genre.
Ms Couper is a decent writer, though she has some irksome habits. I can’t tell whether these are differences in usage between American English and Australian, so I don’t want to judge them too harshly, but some of her phrasing was awkwardly foreign to me. There too were some issues with her characterization of San Francisco, but there I think what she got wrong troubled me only because of what she got right. Having done enough research to know certain details it was irksome to see other details she clearly made up or guessed at.
The story itself does follow a formula, and I found it somewhat disappointing that it didn’t offer me surprises. That itself may be a difference between the kind of writing I aim to do and the conventions of the romance genre. Creating a narrative tension for the purpose of resolving it can be highly satisfying; anyone who has watched a Hollywood movie can tell you that.
Nevertheless, I hoped for and even expected the story to do more than set up a situation solely for the purposes of having the tension resolved. There were herrings painted brightly red as well as unreasonable actions and assumptions made by the protagonists, which seemed unrealistic to remain uncorrected for a few minutes—never mind a few days.
There too was the problem of the automatic love between the protagonists. Perhaps love conquers all, and this is supposed to be an idealized fantasy, but the idea that a couple could fall so deeply in love as to be ready for a lifetime commitment within a few days is either unrealistic or indicative of poor enough judgment to provide an unstable foundation for a long-term relationship. Probably both.
These, however, are the kinds of criticisms that can probably be leveled at any example of the genre. I’m certain that there are similar criticisms that can be made of the genres I prefer, to which I turn a blind eye when reading.
Therefore I shouldn’t judge too harshly when saying that reading Lead Me On was more instructive about what I don’t want to write than it was in giving me ideas about how to go about writing a developing romantic relationship. I should just say that it seemed to be a competent example of something I don’t really want to read.