When I was thirteen, a friend gave me my very first gift certificate – a $10 ticket to happiness at a local bookstore. I bought Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. So last week, when I happened on Susan Elizabeth Phillips’ tribute to gothic romance, Heroes Are My Weakness, I was thrilled to write a book review of it.
Gothic romances are, by their nature, prone to clichés. It’s one of their charms. Also one of their dangers. It’s a short step from a broody, alpha male hero, to an insensitive jerk.
So I couldn’t wait to see what Phillips would do with her story. It was like anticipating a high wire act starring an elephant wearing high heels.
But Phillips takes what could have been a catastrophe and turns it into a triumph. She incorporates all the beloved motifs of gothic romances, the castle on the hill, the slightly off townsfolk, the mysterious man with dark and painful secrets, and gives them the respect they deserve. But she also tweaks them to work for contemporary sensibilities.
As a result, the reader doesn’t have to struggle through page after page of tortured Yorkshire dialect.
Yes, Wuthering Heights, I’m talking about you.
Nor does the obligatory child character make precious remarks in French a la Jane Eyre. Oui. I still remember penciling in the translations in that paperback. It was the first time I ever wrote in a book, a practice so unacceptable in my family as to be almost illegal.
The most fun character in Heroes Are My Weakness is the heroine. Annie is wounded, sure. She wouldn’t be a proper Gothic heroine if she wasn’t. But like Catherine in Wuthering Heights and the eponymous Jane Eyre, she has a sharp wit and a strong sense of self.
Romance plots require a certain enforced proximity. It’s the only way to ensure the two main characters are forced to deal with each other. But in old Gothic romances the heroine is more trapped, more beleaguered than we expect a contemporary heroine to be.
Authors of contemporary Gothics have to work around things like cell phones, fair labor laws and the lack of societal censure for an unmarried woman who hangs around with an unmarried man unchaperoned.
Phillips managed to pull off the best contemporary Gothic I have read. Her elephant not only stays on the tightrope, it never fumbles the chainsaws it is juggling.
Rose Grey has written three romance novels and is hard at work on a fourth. Wednesday is generally book review day. Unless it isn’t. If you liked this post, come visit the rest of the blog at www.rosegreybooks.com. Hot Pursuit and Not As Advertised are available as ebooks and as paperbacks online.