Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Whitney, My Love," by Judith McNaught

The Chick: Whitney Stone. She's in love with her neighbour, Paul Sevarin, and will do anything in her power to get him.
The Rub: Too bad there's a guy out there willing to do anything in his power to get her - and because he's got boyparts, his stalking is far more effective and romantic.Dream Casting: Ashley Rickards.

The Hero: Clayton Westmoreland, Duke of Westmoreland. He gets what he wants.
The Rub: ...But he doesn't always want what he gets.Dream Casting: Rufus Sewel. Or the Devil. Whichever.

The Plot:

Clayton: One way, or another, I'm gonna find ya,
I'm gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha.
One way, or another, I'm gonna buy ya,
I'm gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha.

One way, or another, I'm gonna wed ya,
I'm gonna wed ya, wed ya, wed ya, wed ya.
One day, maybe next week,
I'm gonna own ya. I'll own ya! I'll own ya!

But I'll suspect you're a whore,
So I can mistreat you some more.
What are apologies for?

One way, or another, I'm gonna deflower ya,
I'm gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha.
Then I'll discover I'm wrong,
And then I'll woo ya. I'll woo ya! I'll woo ya!

One way, or another, you will forgive me,
You will forgive me, give me, give me, give me.
And then, I'll re-suspect you,
I'll re-mistreat ya. Mistreat ya! Mistreat ya!

Whitney: Wow, you're a total jerkface.
Who wants to keep me in my place.
I should spray you with mace.

Clayton: WHO SAID YOU GOT YOUR OWN VERSE?

Whitney: I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I just love it when you get all shouty!

Clayton: Love you. Now go make me a sandwich.

Whitney: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist:

1 Evil Misogynist Wrathful Abusive Bastard Hero

1 Hoydenish Doormat Self-Blaming Deserves Better Heroine

2 Sexual Assaults

1 Rape Forceful Deflowering

Several Enabling and Victim-Blaming Relatives

1 Wimpy Romantic Rival

1 Less Wimpy But Still Ineffective Romantic Rival

1 Bitchy McBitchFace
The Word:
How does one begin to review the most offensive, frightening, repulsive book one has ever read?

Well, I suppose I could begin with an apology to Fern Michaels, who previously held that esteemed title on on this blog. I may have hated your writing, Ms. Michaels, but the worst you ever did was inaccurately use the English language and include too many dogs.

And before you get all up in arms, I read the sanitized re-issue of Whitney, My Love, where the hero almost whips and almost rapes Whitney. How almost romantic.

But this really isn't a romance. This is a dark, psychological horror story of how a mentally-unhinged stalker and psychotic mastermind emotionally, physically, and sexually abuses a teenage girl into loving him. And he wins in the end. Hooray.

But maybe I should back up, and talk about Clayton's victim sexual obsession romantic interest: Whitney Stone. She starts out the novel as a pretty hateful little hellion with a budding stalker career of her own: she's determined to pursue and catch her hot gentleman neighbour, Paul Sevarin, with or without his consent. Her antics have already resulted in considerable damage to Sevarin's pride, personal property, as well as his person when one of her more brilliant attempts leaves him with a broken leg.

The entire neighbourhood kind of hates her because she takes her Angst and Daddy Issues out on other people in the form of "harmless" but actually quite dreadful and humiliating pranks. Finally, Dear Old Daddy has had enough of Whitney's crazy and decides to pack her off to France with her kinder and more tolerant uncle and aunt. There, Whitney comes to her senses and decides to clean up her act and win over Sevarin the old-fashioned (consensual) way.

Unfortunately, in France, she comes under the gaze of Clayton Westmoreland, who, after three years of silently watching her and one conversation during a masked ball, decides he must possess her. Despite the fact that he doesn't love her because he doesn't believe love exists.

Our Totally Rational Hero then hands Whitney's debt-ridden father a crisp cheque for one hundred thousand pounds in return for Whitney's hand in marriage, under the condition that Daddy Dearest keep Clayton's betrothal and true identity a secret so that Clayton may have a chance to court Whitney and give her the pretense of having a choice.

However, while Clayton has no problem putting a hundred thousand pounds towards new servants, dresses, and jewels for Whitney - he's not paying for backtalk. When they first meet, Whitney takes an immediate dislike to him, since he spends a great deal of their first conversation talking to her boobs. When they meet again at a ball, Clayton tries to get handsy and Whitney tells him off. Clayton responds by sexually assaulting her for the first time, on page 137:

It happened so quickly, there was no time to react. A hand like a vice shot out and seized her wrist, spinning her around back into the shadows, and jerking her into his arms. "I think," he enunciated in an awful voice, "that your problem is purely a matter of inexperienced teachers."

His mouth crushed down on hers, mercilessly bruising her lips, forcing them to part from sheer pressure.

Whitney writhed futilely in his iron embrace while tears of impotent rage raced down her cheeks. The more she struggled, the more insolent and punishing his mouth became, until she finally grew still, defeated and trembling in his arms.
Clayton really knows how to put the sensual in non-consensual. This sort of behaviour continues for much of the first half of the novel - he continues to spar with an increasingly-irate Whitney until his store of Amused Tolerance for Feminine Defiance runs dry (which doesn't take that long), after which he swiftly resorts to force, manipulation, or outright violence.

As I mentioned in my article over at Heroes and Heartbreakers about "How Alpha is Too Alpha?", an overly-aggressive hero is only tolerable if the heroine is capable of taking care of herself, and if the power in their relationship is evenly divided. The lack of this is exactly this novel's main problem. Through the entire novel, Clayton has all the power in their relationship. He's bought and paid for Whitney, and he's a hugely powerful and influential Duke. Whitney never wins a single argument or confrontation with Clayton, because Clayton has no qualms with crossing the line and using force once the argument doesn't turn his way.

What's worse, and what made this novel tear at the insides of my heart and brain, is how Whitney - and every other "good" character - slowly comes over to Clayton's side of things through copious amounts of victim-blaming. The worse he gets, the worse Whitney blames herself. Oh, if only she could control her fiery temper, then she wouldn't try poor Clayton's patience so badly he tried to beat her with a riding crop! Oh, if only she hadn't hurt Clayton's feelings, he wouldn't have sexually assaulted her for a second time! Oh, if only she'd put a stop to other people's gossip, than she wouldn't have embarrassed Clayton into trying to rape her! Oh, if only she hadn't been so stubborn and just capitulated to Clayton's advances, Clayton would never have had to get angry and force himself on her.

Woe is Whitney, her uncontrollable uppityness just keeps getting her into scrapes! GOOD THING SHE FOUND A MAN STRONG ENOUGH TO KEEP HER IN HAND.

Book - meet wall. Literally.
But enough about violence against women - let's talk about how this book fails as an actual book. For a novel that really is all about Clayton Westmoreland, we get little to no backstory or character development for him. He just shows up as a Big Dark Duke and we're supposed to go, "Oh, that's cool. Don't bother telling us any more about your life and personal interests and foibles and fears. You're hot and rich, which is clearly all that we care about when it comes to romantic heroes. No personality necessary."

In later books, Judith McNaught at least tries to give her asshat heroes some sort of backstory or motivation for why they're total assholes about and around women - like a slutty mum or a slutty ex-lover or several slutty mistresses (seeing a pattern here?). Clayton has none of that. He's the product of a love match and he has a fond, positive relationship with his mother. His ex-mistress is not only not a Raving Psychotic Bitch, but she's actually kind of awesome and nice. There's absolutely no development or reason given for why he's so incredibly suspicious and cruel towards Whitney. None.

And this book needs a reason - because the primary source of drama in this novel is Clayton's Mindbogglingly Irrational Ignorance and Distrust of All Things Whitney. Clayton's mind follows a pretty simple pattern:
  1. Clayton loves Whitney totally and utterly, until,
  2. Clayton comes across a scrap of iffy circumstantial evidence,
  3. Clayton jumps to the absolute worst of conclusions (Occam's Razor? What's that? Whitney totally cheated on me with zebras! Not horses!)
  4. Clayton knocks Whitney around and acts like a jackhole
  5. Clayton finds out that whoops, he was totally wrong
  6. Clayton apologizes and is quickly forgiven, and is totally in love with her again, until,
  7. See #2.
The biggie, of course, is when he overhears gossip of Whitney and Paul's engagement (that Whitney had been unable to quell) - and he immediately assumes that Whitney has been cheating on him and by the time he tracks her down he's also convinced she banged a hella lot of other dudes, including stableboys. This, of course, precedes the scene where he drags her off to his estate, literally rips her clothes off, and takes out his trust issues on her hymen, consent-optional. He then apologizes by showing up at a wedding she's attending and looking sadly and soulfully at her until she feels sorry for him.

Whitney, My Love would have been slightly more palatable if this had been the worst and last thing Clayton did. But no.

At that same wedding reception, Whitney's rude to him while they dance - and he then assumes she's an uncontrollable slut again and dumps her again and starts dating some nasty bitchy rival and has to be dragged back, kicking and screaming, by his brother and Whitney herself to see fucking reason. Yes. Whitney, sixty pages after being pretty much raped by Clayton, has to go and BEG Clayton to take her back.

You'd think that would be end. You'd think that discovering he stole his soulmate's virginity for the wrong reason (because there is a right reason?) would make a guy a little more careful about interpreting ambiguous signals, BUT NO.

After he wrongfully accused Whitney of Ho'ing it up and was proven wrong ON TWO SEPARATE OCCASIONS, after they're married and Whitney's preggers, he comes across a scrap of a letter Whitney had written about possibly being pregnant months ago and a) assumes Whitney's kid ain't his, b) decides Whitney's a dirty, dirty whore who never loved him and c) conveniently forgets THE FIRST TWO FUCKING TIMES HE CAME TO THE SAME CONCLUSION AND TURNED OUT TO BE TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY WRONG.

And by this point, Whitney won't even let him apologize - the book implies it's because she wuvs him too much let this proud glorious manly man debase himself by admitting he could be wrong about anything, but I like to think it's because even Whitney doesn't want to stretch the story out any longer.

Again - there's no character development, backstory, or motivation given for why someone like Clayton would jump to all these heinous conclusions about Whitney. His actions also beg the obvious question of why Clayton would bother paying 100,000 pounds for a woman he's clearly afraid to leave alone with a vibrating showerhead. But whatever.

This book - ugh. I've never felt so angry reading a book. I also wrote an article about it over at Heroes and Heartbreakers - but even now, I still feel so full of words and emotions about how terrible, how hurtful this book was. It said so many wrong things about men (particularly, how men who are respectful and take "no" for an answer are weak and simply don't "want" it enough) and incredibly, offensively wrong things about women (particularly a scene where a secondary female character finally uses her "natural feminine wiles" - to lie in order to manipulate her man into proposing marriage. Wonder why all McNaught's heroes suspect women are lying, conniving, sluts?).

ROMANCE: YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG.
F-

29 comments:

  1. *whispers* Can we still be friends if I admit I love W,ML, and re-read it once a year?

    Pleeeeease?

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  2. Anonymous7:07 PM

    Great review, both time. :-)

    "Oh, if only she hadn't been so stubborn and just capitulated to Clayton's advances, Clayton would never have had to get angry and force himself on her."

    You want to know something trule frightening? There's a review over at Amazon of The Rebel Bride b Catherine Coulter, a book of somewhat similar horror. And in it the reviewer basically says exactly that about the fact that the poor hero has to FORCE the heroine to marry him and then rapes her. If only she hadn't been so silly and resisted him, that never would've happened! -- willaful

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  3. 'Clayton really knows how to put the sensual in non-consensual' HA HA HA HA OH GOD *dissolves into sobs*

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  4. Great review AJ! *shudders* This book was so awful and you should be glad you didn't read the original version as I did.

    This is one of the first romances I've read and i concur with every single thing you said. I am glad i was able to not let this book influence me into not reading romance or else I would have missed the good ones.

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  5. Well done, Animejune - though I admit I didn't dislike it quite as much as you did.

    This is the first F- I've seen since Marianne Stillings trashed a Connie Mason book on AAR (http://www.likesbooks.com/cgi-bin/bookReview.pl?BookReviewId=3366). At least no horses were harmed in this one.

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  6. Yup, I don't believe I've read this one, but I've read other Judith McNaughts. I think I'd remember this level of craziness. I think also that not having the hero really beg for forgiveness and pay for his crap would drive me crazy about this story. He's quickly forgiven every time? Ug, blurg.

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  7. Never read it, never going to read it.

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  8. Vorkosigrrl2:49 PM

    Nobody can trash a horrible book like you can! You are my hero! Um, heroine!

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  9. Kinda makes me wish for a "Z" grade option! I read this book (the original unaltered version which I was "lucky" enough to find in a used book store) a couple years ago and I will NEVER cleanse the awful taint of it from my brain. I have LOVED other McNaught books right to little bits --"Perfect" and "Almost Heaven" -- but WML has to be the most worstest awful romance novel I've ever read. Thanks for summing it up so very succinctly!

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  10. Anonymous1:24 PM

    Thanks for this review, it made me feel better after reading 3/4ths of this depressing book. :)
    Inside Whitney's head is a scary place to be. Clayton is horrifying and they're both mentally unbalanced. This book is just WRONG.

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  11. While I loved Judith McNaught in the day, this book has always been an exception to that love. I never liked it though I didn't have as strong a hate on as you did - maybe because so many of the books I read in the day had the same issues of a$$hole heroes and doormat heroines. So to read one like that in this day and age, I think I'd hate Whitney, My Love as much as you do. What boggles my mind is so many readers love this book. Not to be rude or anything - but I always want to ask that age old question - WHY???????????????????

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  12. Wow! You know times have changed and so have tastes in romance reads when Judith McNaught gets an F-!!!

    Like KristieJ, I read this book "back in the day" when ALL the books were sagas with these types of heroes. My first romance novel (in English) was Sweet Savage Love by Rosemary Rogers... if you hated this one? You would hate that one too, lol! I, however, was hooked and still think of it with nostalgia (although I won't ever read it again because I don't want to spoil it for myself, *g*) But, yeah... somehow I guess those books don't stand the test of time.

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  13. Anonymous8:00 PM

    I Love WML and Judith McNaught. And your review leaves out a lot. First of all the book took place in the early 1800s when social etiguite and rules were much different then now. Secondly, Clayton rightfully accused Whitney of engaging herself to Paul! The only reason she didnt marry him was because Paul wouldnt have her once he found out she was broke. Thirdly, the reason that Whitney went back to beg Clayton to have her was because Clayton tried to apologize for his wrongs and since Whitney blew him off (and as he thought, rightfully so) he tried to get on with his life and let her live hers. However, Whitney realized that she loved him and knew that the only way to be with him would be to go to him herself. When you read the book you have to remember that it took place in the 19th century and that the type of courting described was socially acceptable.

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  14. Anonymous --> You're entitled to like what you want. But since Judith McNaught plays fairly fast and loose with "historical" and "period" detail in this book to begin with (such as the clothing, good Lord, I'm surprised she didn't make Whitney wear shoulder pads) I personally don't see why I should regard this book entirely through the lens of 19th century society.

    Also please show me the 19th century law that said a man could beat a woman with a riding crop and then rape her because she became engaged to another man.

    Besides, I dislike and find entirely untrue the idea that all men were perpetual rape machines before the advent of the 20th century. There actually were, surprise surprise, men who existed in the 19th century who did not beat their wives, did not sexually assault them, did not rape them OUT OF REVENGE - those men? They were heroes. And heroes are what I personally want to read about in my romances, regardless of genre or time period.

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  15. Anonymous10:17 PM

    Did you ever hear of the "rule of thumb"? It is derived from a law that states a husband is not allowed to hit his wife with anything thicker than his thumb. I'm not saying that I agree with the law but it is the way it was.

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  16. Anonymous10:57 PM

    omg I just watched your video. you are so weird. I thought your site was cool but you're not so I'm out.

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  17. The origins of the rule of thumb are a myth. http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2550/does-rule-of-thumb-refer-to-an-old-law-permitting-wife-beating

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  18. Anonymous5:10 PM

    LMFAO I couldn't stop laughing at this review <3

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  19. Anonymous12:44 PM

    Hey, I haven't truly examined my reaction about Whitney, My Love, but reading this review brought it all up so I can say I totally agree with you, but I also (half)loved Whitney, My Love. Not because of Clayton, he's just too quick to judge without pausing to think clearly. His reasoning seems skewed and rule of thumb or not, I would never condone a man who hits a woman, regardless of the provocation, with the exception of life or death maybe, but anything less is inexcusable. I've read the original and let me say it was hard to continue reading but I persevered because I wanted to know what will happen to Whitney. Although, some parts of the story was good, it's just not enough.

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    1. Same here. The story was never boring, I'll give McNaught that.

      Also apparently the "rule of thumb" concept is apparently false, no such law existed.

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  20. Allison12:27 PM

    oh my God, my thoughts exactly, i laughed so hard with this review after reading a couple of others calling this book a classic and breathtaking. I know that people have the right to read whatever they like but i cant help feeling a bit angry when i hear people praising this book.

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  21. Elisabeth4:41 PM

    Fantastic review, thank you for writing it. Over at Amazon a 1-star reviewer said that as a portrayal of an abusive relationship the book deserves 5 stars, but as a romance it's a 1. I finished the book and felt (and still do) somehow betrayed (thinking this is a romance..), dirtied and abused myself. I don't doubt that this could be an accurate portrayal of a sick relationship, but a 'romance' it is not. Surely there is something wrong when women think that this "hero" is romantic - it's more a gothic nightmare than anything.

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  22. AnimeJune11:31 AM

    Oh exactly. And the book is filled with bizarre messages - like when Whitney realizes that Clayton is "too powerful a man" to apologize. The book is filled with ideas that only weak men respect consent and only weak men admit wrongdoing.

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  23. Tim Kern8:52 PM

    ...and it's a grip like a vise, not a "vice." Sheesh.

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  24. Tim Kern8:54 PM

    Never happened. No such law as presented.

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  25. AnimeJune10:16 PM

    …even I did not know that. I will log that away for when I write so I don't make a similar mistake.

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  26. Amisha11:43 AM

    Well, it's a pity that the book makes you angry. There are certain things you haven't considered though. Agreed that Clayton Westmoreland's character wasnt shown in more depth, that was the valid part.
    As for the rape issue, if you read it carefully, Whitney was more than willing to go to bed with him, all the while. He did it in a forceful way, but he knew all along that she wanted it too. I dont know if it justifies what he did, probably doesnt, but its certainly not as bad as you made it look in the article. She did want him.
    And yes, Clayton was too quick to judge her, and blame her, but doing enough character analysis will tell you that he did that because she was the only one for whom he crossed his personal limits of caring.. and he questioned it to himself more than once. He realized he was in love, he was a fool in love, and he didnt like the idea of deriving his happiness dependent on someone else. She had that kind of power over him, and he hated it, which is why he was quick to blame himself for being a fool. Over reaction, but understandable for a man who had trusted absolutely noone.

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  27. anonymous1:28 PM

    I totally AGREE!!! With the review that assshole dump of a man is the worst heroes of a romantic novel that I ever read. And I hate mcmaught for making so much worked up that I wanted to throttle Clayton and shove a freaking stick down his asss

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  28. AnimeJune11:30 AM

    Amisha - I read the "cleaned up" version, and she was willing to go to bed with him - because she was terrified of him. He essentially kidnapped her and took her to a remote location where she couldn't escape or call for help. It's exploitation - he has all the power, she has none.


    And a hero who takes out his anger on other people and makes them suffer because he doesn't want to appear "weak" - that's not a heroic mindset. IMO.

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