Changing the boundaries and pushing the envelope

A friend of mine is a huge fan of Karen Marie Moning’s Fever series. She’s anxiously awaiting the release of Burned, book two of Dani O’Malley’s trilogy, and we’ve been going back and forth on the men of Iced (book one). You may remember Dani is only 14 years old in Iced, surrounded by men older than her (and in some instances, much older than her), and because this is the Fever world we’re talking about, sex is rampant. Moning’s said her plan all along has been for Dani to lose her virginity by the end of the trilogy (and yes, she will be of age by that point; a time jump will be taking place at some point in the second or third book). My friend’s hoping for a pairing between Ryodan, one of the Nine, and Dani, while I’d prefer Dancer, the kid who is only a few years older than her.

See, the thought of Dani gettin’ it on with Ryodan is just all kinds of icky and creepy and no, no, absolutely not. Even though we’ve been assured Dani will be at the age of consent and it wouldn’t really matter who it was, it’s just…ick. Ryodan’s so much older than her, and I can’t picture it without getting skeeved out.

But here’s the thing: if we were talking about literary fiction, instead of genre fiction, I doubt people would be as appalled.

I feel that authors of literary fiction have a certain amount of license to push boundaries, and indeed, are almost expected to. Was there a fuss when Lolita was released? Sure. How about The End of Alice? Oh God yes. But at the same time, it wasn’t the fans who were distressed about it. It was certain critics and groups, as was the case for A.M. Home upon the release of Alice (when the book was released in the UK, the NSPCC, an organization devoted to ending child abuse, banned the book).

Moning herself has asserted that she doesn’t write about pedophiles (because it’s been tossed out there that both Ryodan and Christian are lusting after Dani), and I’d have to agree. When we see the men from Dani’s point of view, her reactions are on par with how any young teenage girl would react. She’s curious about sex, but at the same time, the thought of it, picturing it, doing it with any of these men, these older men, draws a big, fat, ewww from her.

And since Iced is part of a series, Moning also has her fans to answer to, to an extent. While she can, and should, choose to end Dani’s story the way she sees fit and not bow to the pressure her fans are exerting with their ‘shipping, she also stands to lose readers if things don’t turn out the way they want. Do literary fiction authors face this same problem? Not so much. Yes, they may lose readers over a particular book, but since, in general, literary fiction doesn’t run to series, the loss could be negligible. Readers of literary fiction may also be more apt to give another book by the same author a try (I keep trying to read Barbara Kingsolver’s books because I enjoyed The Bean Trees so much and yeah, none of the others do it for me). Add in that in Moning’s case the genre is romance, which claims over 50% of sales, and yeah, that loss could be felt a lot deeper.

I feel like us, as readers of genre fiction, ought to cut the authors some slack. We’re guests in their world; we don’t make the rules, they do. I want them to push us out of our comfort zone, like Moning’s done. It’s the only way for the genre to evolve. They should make us uncomfortable every once in a while, they should make us think. We should trust that they’ve got a road map and know exactly where they’re going, and while we may not like the final destination, that shouldn’t be a reason to boycott all their books until the end of time (I’m looking at you, Charlaine Harris fans).

We give literary authors a longer leash (and sometimes let them off it entirely) because we know to expect the unexpected. Shouldn’t genre authors receive the same courtesy?

2 thoughts on “Changing the boundaries and pushing the envelope

  1. Are you dissin’ Ms Charlaine? That’s brave…
    Seriously though, your post reminded me of the Octavia Butler book “Fledgling”. The main character is a vampire, a member of a race of vampires who age slowly. She looks like a ten-year-old, but is really 70, with an adult woman’s desires. At the beginning of the story, she has no memory, except for a rudimentary sense of how to survive. She connects with a twenty-something guy because she needs to feed, and realizes her physical appearance is a handicap. He responds to the adult in her (even though he’s icked-out when he realizes all of what she wants from him), and as a reader, I responded to the adult voice of the narration, and only later was like, ‘okay, that was weird’. Have you read the book? If so, what did you think? It certainly proves your point that literary fiction can get away with stuff that would never fly in genre fiction. Ms. Butler had a track record as a serious writer, including a Nebula Award, before she wrote “Fledgling”.

    1. I haven’t read it (though you’ve mentioned the book before, I think). And I’m not dissing Ms Harris! I’m dissing all her fans who forced her not to do a book tour because they were so pissed off Sookie didn’t end up with Eric (which I’m totally okay with, because you can’t have kids with a vampire!)

      I think the other part of the problem is genre readers, particularly romance readers, really get involved with the characters lives. We need to take a step back and remember these aren’t real people, and really, we’re just voyeurs.

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