“You so crazy / I think I wanna have your baby”
—Salt-n-Pepa, “Whatta Man”
Salt-n-Pepa said it first, but I don’t think that they necessarily meant they wanted to procreate literally with men with some mental issues. But crazy guys need love too, don’t they?
Tony Shaloub as Monk surely needed someone to care for all those things he feared. Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets was so OCD he was compelled to make a certain waitress fall for him—and all his quirks. Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory has issues with touching. I think he’s a little OCD with ADHD with a little narcissist sprinkled in. Even Dexter needs someone to tame his Dark Passenger. I mean he really needs to find someone who can stick with him long enough to live through it. Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man has severe autism, but still had time to flirt with his brother’s girlfriend. Even Bill Murray in What About Bob? has his own diagnosis for all the issues he claimed to have.
But the above list of men, while intriguing and worthy of affection, wouldn’t exactly make it onto the cover of a romance novel, would they? Imagine any of them shirtless with a sexy leading lady next to them and it’s just plain awkward. And that’s not based on their outward appearance; they’re extremely over the top characters, or really caricatures we can’t take seriously, shirtless or not. There are everyday Joes who struggle with their own neuroses. Some romance novels have been brave enough to showcase them.
Barbara Claypole White’s The Unfinished Garden is a gorgeous tale about James, a man with severe OCD and the mother of all phobias, dirt. He can no longer live caged in his own mind of rituals and terror. At forty-five, he is independently wealthy and wanting a garden for his home. A garden may save him from a life of being a slave to his own psyche. He finds Tilly’s garden and he is drawn to it and her while the ticking clock in his head tells him to run and literally bathe in antibacterial soap. He’s also enamored with her son, Isaac. She’s a widow, alone raising a son, and it pulls at something deep within James.
James glanced up as a skein of geese flew over in textbook formation—an imperfect, imbalanced V with one side longer than the other. Symmetry soothes his fractured mind, but the lack of it…
James jerked around searching for a focal point, a diversion, anything.
Stop. Please, just stop. And a picture of Tilly dropped into his mind. She moved with the elegance of a prima ballerina…His insides were heaving with fear, and she made him smile. Her feet, poised for a pirouette, were so small, so vulnerable—so bare. Bare and dirty. And covered in soil. Soil on her feet, soil on her hands, soil she’d transferred to him. Soil poisoning her, poisoning him.
With an inner monologue like that you can see why it’s so hard being James.
Even after he throws tons of cash Tilly’s way, she can’t do it. Won’t. He’s persistent and keeps calling and showing up but it’s not something she can do. Especially when a family emergency sends her home to England, to assist her ailing mother.
How do you think a guy with OCD takes no for an answer? Do you think he’d let a little thing like an entire ocean stand in his way? He is obsessive compulsive, remember. James heads to England, on a plane filled with pesky germs. When he arrives, Tilly is taken back but not surprised, given his OCD. Her answer is still no. With all that’s on her shoulders she can’t be anyone’s landscaper now. James’ reaction surprises them both. He wants to help her. He lost his mother at a young age and empathizes with Isaac and the struggles Tilly has.
So Tilly agrees to give lessons in gardening to James while on the other side of the pond. His quirky ways help Tilly heal and deal with all she’s faced with. He has hopes of capturing her heart, if he can get his OCD under control and beat out the childhood fling for Tilly’s affection. James’ obsessive ways give him an advantage because he’s not about to give up on Tilly so easily. James gives a much needed contemporary face to OCD. Not some over the top character. He’s a hero in everyway, flaws, quirks, and all.
Jillian Stone’s A Private Duel With Agent Gunn gives us an up close and personal look into the life of Scotland Yard Detective Phineas Gunn. And the only way to truly enjoy Stone’s heroes is to be up close and personal with these Ha cha cha hotties. They put the steam into Steampunk. Yum.
It’s 1887 and Detective Gunn is on the trail of anarchists. Problem is, he is prone to panic attacks, though the ailment wasn’t named as such at the time. It’s the result of what we now call PTSD. In the opening chapter he is in a carriage on a job.
Finn gulped for air. A band of tension squeezed his chest.
… Within the smothering confinement of the carriage, his heart rate accelerated. An intense wave of fear ripped through flesh and sinew—right down to his bones.
Damn it all.
His body was playing tricks again. It seemed nothing he could think or do could distract from this sudden assault on his nerves. He inhaled another deep breath and exhaled slowly, counting to ten. The shakes often came upon him without warning or obvious cause. Finn knew very well he sat safely within the confines of his coach, yet every fiber of his body told him he was being chased down a dark alley by a raving murderer, poised to thrust a blade in his back.
He was dying and there was no way to stop it.
All the symptoms were present this evening. Chest pain, shortness of breath, precipitous heart rate. The numbness and tingling were particularly bad.
Gunn is then thrust from this precarious position to the ballet, where he sees Cate, the girl who got away. And got away because her brother was one of the anarchists Gunn had hunted undercover.
Phineas Gunn is so sure in the face of the enemy, but Cate seems to bring on his attacks at the most inconvenient times. She’s a jewel thief, and a good one at that. He is a great detective. This leads to a steamy game of cat and mouse. If inhalers were available Finn would’ve blown through hundreds of them, no pun intended. Years of trying to keep the panic attacks at bay, different therapies from many doctors, Finn knows the tricks to keep going, to do his job. But Cate is his biggest adversary. This tough man who has seen death and destruction is so vulnerable in those moments when he literally feels like he is dying. Cate enrages, calms, and arouses him at every turn. This vulnerability makes him more endearing as a hero. He isn’t just another turn of the century detective. He’s real and really sexy to boot.
The following reads were also recommended to me:
Pamela Morsi’s Simple Jess is a contemporary romance where the hero is literally deemed “simple” by his small town. The quiet, reluctant hero may not be the smartest man in the room but he can love.
Courtney Milan’s historical romance Trial By Desire has a bipolar hero who suffers from bouts of depression. He bravely faces his demons to win back the one that got away.
In Shelly Laurenston's Beast Behaving Badly, the hero is a highly organized introvert with a schedule to keep and a girl to win over in an organized scheduled fashion.
Who are your favorite neurotic heroes? Please list them in alphabetical order, color-coded for ease of use.