SPOILER WARNING: In my Cliche Round-Ups, I often tend to go into explicit detail about plot points that occur at or near the end of romance novels, even more so than in my reviews. If you read Sophia Nash, Elizabeth Hoyt, Maya Rodale, Celeste Bradley or Eloisa James - I spoil a few of their books. You have been warned.
I don't think I can say any longer than I am new to romance novels. I still have a TBR pile full of new authors I haven't read yet, but I've established a few favourite authors (Julia Quinn, Mary Balogh, Jo Goodman, Sophia Nash), and have developed certain expectations of the genre. I have also, to my dismay, begun to notice how certain romance cliches get bounced around. After reading several romance novels consecutively, sometimes the more heinous chestnuts and repeat offenders stand out, so at infrequent moments on my blog, I plan to bitch about them. That's about it. Enjoy!
The first one on the docket? The Barren Baby Epilogue.
What is it? It pretty much speaks for itself, but I'll elaborate - in a romance novel where the heroine is proven to be barren, the epilogue shows her many years later, happily surrounded by kids with her hubby.
Recent Offenders: The Raven Prince, by Elizabeth Hoyt; A Dangerous Beauty, by Sophia Nash; The Duke Next Door, by Celeste Bradley (okay, not quite, it's more of a Barren Pregnancy Epilogue, but still the same sort of thing).
Why I Hate It: First of all, it's unrealistic. As Celine Dion has often sung, love can move mountains, but it cannot make you fertile. But some romance novels seem to uphold the theory that romance heroines possess a Magical Observant Womb that shrivels up like a Nazi staring at the Arc of the Covenant when in the presence of a Abusive Asshole Husband only to inflate to uber-fecund proportions once the heroine is married to the Man of Her Dreams.
A Dangerous Beauty, while a very enjoyable novel in all other respects, is the most egregious recent offender. The heroine, who never got pregnant once in her entire eight year marriage to a man whose previous wife died in childbirth (proving, at least in theory, that he was capable of impregnating women), conceives TWINS barely a few months after her marriage to Luc. There's miraculous, and then there's just overcompensating.
Secondly, this cliche is condescending. In both The Raven Prince and A Dangerous Beauty (but especially the former), the heroine's barrenness poses an obstacle to the romantic relationship. In the particular case of The Raven Prince, Edward, who lost his entire family to smallpox, needs to marry a woman capable of having children in order to repopulate the family tree, fill his palatial estate with the pitter-patter of happy feet, and fulfill his duties to his aristocratic ancestors. There's a particularly painful and beautiful scene somewhere past the middle point where Edward and Anna share an intimate moment, only for Edward to wrench away in anguish because he needs a wife who can have children.
One of the most significant points in the novel, character-development-wise, is when Edward finally chooses Anna over children. Ultimately, he realized that his determination to produce heirs was just a way of trying to recover his own lost family, and that the only way to move forward from his own tragedy was to make a new family with Anna. Great! Wonderful! Romantic! True love means sacrifices! Flash forward to the epilogue - Anna and Edward have a son, with apparently another bun baking in Anna's miraculously repaired oven.
I mean, WHAT? The epilogue basically just magics away the biggest obstacle in the book with NO explanation and for NO reason. Imagine, for a moment, that the most significant barrier between Anna and Edward's relationship was his hideous smallpox scars - and that in the epilogue his scars just evaporated off his face, leaving him perfectly handsome, smooth-skinned, and ready for a roll in the hay.
It's this element of the Barren Baby Epilogue that really gets me - because it's a betrayal of the story. With The Raven Prince (and A Dangerous Beauty, and others) we have this relatively unconventional couple who agree to live together in love despite unconventional circumstances (in this case, an inability to have children, which in the romance world is as bizarre as having three hands) - only to have this tacky, conformist, white-picket-fence, have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too, fairy-tale ending tacked on at the end. It's a cheap cop-out, is what it is.
Examples of This Cliche Done Well: As much as I hate cliches, there are always ways to write them well. Eloisa James' Duchess By Night is an example. In this case, the heroine assumes she's barren because her four-year marriage resulted in no pregnancies. In the epilogue, she and Jem have a baby son - after ten years of trying. Now that I can believe - this isn't a story about two sterile people who are rewarded by the Romance Plot Device Fairy with a honeymoon baby. This is a story about two people who accepted realistic circumstances and happened to get lucky.
Second on the Corny Cliche Docket: Those Three Little Words
What is it? When a romance heroine refuses to believe her hero loves her because he won't actually say "I love you," in those exact words, to her face. Yes, it occasionally happens to heroes as well, but the worst offenders in my experience have been women.
Recent Offenders: The Heir and the Spare, by Maya Rodale; The Duke Next Door, Celeste Bradley.
Why I Hate It: Well, the biggest reason I hate this cliche is that the heroes in romance novels who refuse to say Those Three Little Words have no problem performing just about every other kind of action or gesture that expresses "I Love You" short of actually saying Those Three Little Words, and this often makes the heroines look a) stupid, b) blind, or c) ungrateful as fuck.
I mean, Emilia from Heir and Deirdre from Duke have husbands who shower them with presents, defend them from naysayers and attackers, make passionate love to them every night (and morning, and afternoon...) while muttering "I need you" and "I can't live without you," and these bitches keep whining up until the final chapter about how their men can't get the word order right in their proclamations of adoration so it must not mean anything. Has no one told these women that actions speak louder than words?
Deirdre, in particular, needs to get her preternaturally gorgeous head out of her unbelievably tight ass. Her husband Calder abducts her favourite dressmaker to personally sew her a wearable orgasm in silk and lace and muslin, plays with her boobies in the middle of a working factory, beats her attempted rapist into attempted-rapist-flavoured-jello, and carriagejacks a vehicle to ride to her rescue, and through it all Deirdre mopes about how terrible it is to get presents from, have life-changing sex with, and be rescued by a heart-stoppingly handsome man who doesn't love her. How tragic!
Example of This Cliche Done Well: I haven't actually come across one - feel free to point one out to me.
I'm not completely obtuse, I can recognize the kernel of truth trapped in the centre of this gooey cliche - men have a hard time expressing their feelings, and women aren't mindreaders and can't assume what a man feels if he doesn't express it. The thing is, in most of the books I've come across where the man can't say Those Three Little Words, he's already expressing his feelings in physical, emotional, and (heh) financial ways that are perfectly obvious to everyone except the heroine. If they kept the cliche general (hero is too afraid to express affection) instead of specific (he won't say "I love you"), there are many ways in which this could work, in which the hero, afraid of being made vulnerable, acts brusque or wry or cold with the heroine, only to reveal his softer side later on.
If the guy's already genetically engineering you unicorns and painting every wall in his mansion your favourite shade of magenta and showing you the myriad ways in which tender savagery isn't an oxymoron, then saying Those Three Little Words is kind of redundant, isn't it? Which makes getting mad that he won't say them about as understandable as bitching at Wolfgang Puck for not folding your napkin for your complimentary seven-course banquet into a peacock like you asked.