Friday, May 13, 2011

How Much Can you Get Away With In Romance?

I'm reading a new novel right now and loving every single page. I'm not going to mention the title because I'm not finished and I'm not going to review it anyway. But this isn't a romance novel and there are no sex scenes at all. It's more contemporary fiction leaning toward literary, with a strong character study. At least that's how some would classify it in a bookstore.

What I really find amazing is that the two main characters...a married couple...are first cousins. It's not a sexy book, but they have a child so they've obvious had sex. Like so much in literary fiction, when it comes to sex, the sex between these two characters is assumed with caution and never mentioned aloud.

I've never done this in any of my books. But I've seen m/m romance novels where brothers fell in love with each other. I've seen m/m romance novels where first cousins fell in love. I've even read reviews and blog posts about whether or not it's taboo for a widow to marry her dead husband's brother, and they aren't even related. If it's treated with care, it can be extremely emotional. But I've also seen mixed reviews for these books. They seem to leave some readers absolutely frustrated beyond belief. And these readers (and reviewers) aren't shy regarding their disgust for incest in their reviews.

In this post, I'm not commenting on brothers falling in love with brothers, or first cousins falling in love with first cousins. I'm not even commenting about the reviewers who are appalled at incest in romance novels. Everyone has a right to an opinion and I'm remaining objective. But I am wondering why the focus, for some readers, would be on incest in a romance novel, and in the literary fiction I'm reading right now I haven't read one single review or comment about the incest. This is an older book and there are tons of reviews for it. The fact that these characters are first cousins is completely ignored. The focus is on the storyline and nothing else. If anything, first cousins sleeping with each other is treated more like a peculiar quirk than a taboo.

Which leads me to wonder how much a romance novelist can get away with compared to an author who writes contemporary/literary fiction. Evidently, as long as you don't have any sexy scenes between relatives in fiction it's okay to write about it? Is there a double standard?

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