Thursday, July 13, 2017

Book Review: Daughters of Texas

Title: Daughters of Texas

Author: Annette Broadrick

Date: 2000

Publisher: Silhouette/Harlequin

ISBN: 0-373-20170-2

Length: 600 pages

Quote: “We'll treat it like a business arrangement...say one year...At the end of that time we'll review the situation, decide if we want to continue the partnership.”

In three “complete novels,” meaning romance novels, Broadrick introduces an unusual American family, the O'Briens. Each of the three orphan sisters is an adult, they have a little property and some money, and they're not especially religious, yet each is willing to enter a temporary contract marriage without having first “fallen in love.” Megan marries a rich young man she never used to like for his money, Mollie marries the newly widowed father of a child she wants to continue baby-sitting, and Maribeth marries the boy who was always her and her boyfriend's sidekick when they were teenagers.

And, because this is on the Lost Planet of Romance, they all live happily ever after. The relationships play out differently from the formula novels Silhouette cranked out before merging with Harlequin, but they're all fairly explicitly about sex, with minimal details about the other things the characters supposedly want, Megan's managing the ranch or Chris's investigating charges against his father or whatever else.

There's not even a strong sense of place. There's an occasional windmill, pickup truck, or Stetson hat on the scene, but it wouldn't take major rewriting for a jaded romance author to replace these props and transfer the stories to Bombay. I caught myself wondering whether Broadrick had actually rewritten romances that originated in Bombay, or some place where “love develops after the wedding” is a more popular romance plot.

I don't usually review Silhouette Romances; it's this alien plot device that prompts me to review Daughters of Texas.

Some feminists have claimed that the function of “romance media” is to distract women from improving themselves and their lives by encouraging them to dream about ideal husbands. Being unconvinced that romances work that way, I think of this genre of fiction as more of a marital aid, a way for tired middle-aged wives to remember the feeling of being young and hormone-ridden. Whether this type of novel is more likely to help young people's “felt needs” resolve themselves in dreams, making it easier for young people to practice abstinence, or aggravate the “feeling of needs” and tempt young people to commit fornication, is probably an individual question older people should not try to answer for the young.

There are also those who feel that romance novels sabotage marriages by encouraging unrealistic expectations. Again it's an individual question, but I personally don't think it should be very hard for real live men to make themselves more pleasing than Heathcliff or Rhett Butler...much less Broadrick's character Travis, who plunges blindly into his proposal of temporary-marriage-for-money before Megan has had time to see that he's outgrown the bratty behavior of their childhood.

Daughters of Texas, however, meets an actual need. Most North Americans do not expect to “fall in love” after marriage. Many of us, male and female, ask questions that become tedious to friends from countries where arranged marriages are standard. “What's it like to, how could you possibly have,” etc., etc. This set of stories provides some possible answers to those questions. Megan, Mollie, and Maribeth are adults who contract their own marriages rather than teenagers whose parents arrange marriages for them. Nevertheless some of the expectations that go with contractual marriages serve people well, and Broadrick shows us how a responsible adult attitude toward even an arranged marriage can sometimes work better than an unrealistic faith that hormonal “love” will solve all problems.

Nobody but themselves has pushed Megan, Mollie, or Maribeth to say “I do” while they're uncertain that they do, will, or can. Still, the fact of their uncertainty has forced them to work out some things in their own minds: whether they'll have the pleasure of “falling in love” with their husbands depends on them. Fortunately they're not Saudi women who would be socially and financially ruined if their contractual marriages didn't lead to “falling in love.” Broadrick fails to write them as if they were real American women who could have satisfactory lives without sex or marriage, but she does spell out that they belong to that type.

The sort of women who read romances might benefit from more attention to the self-contained personalities, dedication to work, and self-liberation from emotional moods, that allow these Daughters of Texas to make their unusual marriages work. Silhouette doesn't do that kind of thing. This publisher never encouraged novelists to waste time illustrating how real people think and talk to each other. Just get'em into bed and make sure to remind the reader how the characters' pulse rates rise when they see each other, used to be the rule—Silhouette used to have different brands, with precise rules determining on which pages the couples kissed, quarrelled, caressed, made up, and made babies, so the weary middle-aged wife who had time to read only a few pages before her weary husband came home would know where to open the book to activate the emotional mood she wanted. Daughters of Texas doesn't follow the rules of the brand novels I studied in the 1980s, when I considered writing one, but the cardinal rule of getting the characters into bed and keeping their minds on sex thereafter hasn't changed. Megan “had fallen in love with Travis” without realizing it, readers have to be told—we don't see her listening when he talks, training him to give the ideal back rub, installing tissue so it unrolls in the direction he expects it to unroll, or any of the other little things Broadrick expects us to remember that people do when they “fall in love.”

Perhaps it's more important that she reminds us that people have to do those things, whether they felt that they were “in love” before the wedding or not, if they want to be “in love” afterward. Hormone levels rise and fall. Sexual acts seem impossibly thrilling, moderately pleasant, or just plain impossible, depending on hormone levels. Love, the discipline not the emotion, can grow even when the hormones are gone. I don't think Broadrick's characters are very well done (Silhouette romance characters never were; the publisher actually advised writers that "readers want them to be larger than life") but I think, in a sketchy way, Broadrick has at least suggested characters who are likely to grow past the mood swing of “romance” to the discipline of love. I suspect the challenge of giving American characters romances that follow foreign patterns of timing has helped her do this.

Annette Broadrick is still alive, so this is a Fair Trade Book: Buy it here and you not only get three novels for the price of one ($5 per book, $5 per package, $1 per online payment) but you make a $1 payment per order to Broadrick or a charity of her choice. (At least two books this size would fit into a package; if you conserve packaging material, and trips to the post office for me, by ordering multiple books at the same time you pay only one $5 shipping fee, and also ensure that I'll personally verify that each book reached me in good condition rather than just forwarding it from Amazon to you, as I've been known to do.)