A cheating hero—is this really a controversial subject? Or do we all pretty much agree that a cheating hero is a deal breaker when it comes to romance novels? We don’t need Tiger Woods or Jesse James as reminders that cheating is a part of relationships everywhere, and that trying to pinpoint the universal reasons why someone cheats is impossible, since every case is different and should treated individually.
But as different as each case may be, it’s wrong. Cheating is one of those things that make me feel really uncomfortable both in real life and in fiction. But when you read romance, sooner or later you will come across the subject because exploring relationships is a huge part of the genre, and cheating is something that lots of couples go through in the course of their relationship.
So how do I feel when I encounter a cheater in my book? What do I do when the cheater turns out to be the hero? Had you asked me a month ago my answer would have been an emphatic “I stop reading right there, cheating heroes are unacceptable." But since then, I’ve read two books with two different type of cheating heroes, and surprisingly I enjoyed them a lot.
In Stephanie Doyle’s The Way Back, the hero is a chronic cheater. Much like Tiger Woods, he used to be a national hero and that all came crashing down when his infidelities were made public. But it’s been years since then, and he’s no longer that man. The main conflict of the book is the heroine coming to terms with this and her own issues (her father and fiancé were cheaters), and forgiving, forgetting and trusting are the key aspects of her journey.
As readers, we also have a journey that’s similar to the heroine’s, and this is the most important element of the book: Can a cheater be redeemed? Can we believe that he won’t do it again? Is he truly repentant? This is not a story that revolves around how cheating impacts a couple and how they deal with it; is about cheaters changing and our ability to believe and trust them again, after all, once a cheater always a cheater, right? Maybe not. Ms. Doyle pulls it off by presenting us an older hero who’s had to face the consequences of his actions, as well as the time to learn from it. I think his age and the time that passed between the cheating and meeting the heroine was the main reason why his redemption was believable.
Soraya Lane’s Back in the Soldier’s Arms gives us yet another cheating hero, but in this case he does cheat on the heroine. Danny and Penny have been married for years and have a small daughter. They were both in the military, Danny used to be a Navy pilot and is now retired, but when it was Penny’s turn to retire she was Stop-Loss’d and had to go back, leaving Danny and their daughter behind. Now Danny is basically a single dad dealing with the aftermath of retiring from the Navy and what happened to Penny, and that’s when he cheats.
This book is all about the consequences of cheating and how a particular couple deals with it. The main reason this story works is that you can understand what Danny was going through, but even though he is a sympathetic character, the author doesn’t try to justify his reasons, is about understanding but not about defending him. What he did was wrong and we all know it. The question isn’t about redemption and trust because we know that he won’t cheat again, is about being able to forgive and forget, pick up the pieces and take it from there, which can be just as difficult as regaining trust.
I still feel uncomfortable about cheating and I won’t go looking for books with this particular theme, but now I know that with the right author and the right story I will be able to enjoy it.
How about you? How do you feel about cheating heroes? Is there a book that deals with this subject that changed the way you feel about it?