Perfect romance heroines—you've got to love them, right? Or maybe you don’t. For many decades I had a preference for the perfect heroine. Gorgeous—check. Kind, caring, generous, compassionate—check. Intelligent, clever, witty plus assertive, but forgiving—check again. And of course it is a given that she loves animals. Having all these attributes seemed like the guaranteed recipe for success and happiness. This was my heroine prototype and influenced my buying criteria, at least in romance books, for years.
Then some favorite authors starting shaking things up a bit. Perhaps it was because the audience’s preference was changing or if the authors just got tired of writing the same thing. Nora Roberts in her romance trilogies tended to write about three types of women, and one was always the gorgeous one. But what happens if the gorgeous one, like Margo from Daring to Dream, has affairs with married men—not because she was madly in love but because of a bit of materialism and self-centeredness? Susan Elizabeth Phillips unsettled me with Sugar Beth Carey in Ain’t She Sweet. Wow, Sugar Beth could have written the book on mean girls. No spoilers, but I can’t imagine going back to school if I had experienced the bathroom scene. Again, this book left me ambivalent and confused. Where were my perfect heroines? But over time, the imperfect heroine got me hooked.
Venturing into other genres and looking for different types of heroines got me out of my perfect rut. There were some that didn't work; for example, quiet, shy and plain characters are not interesting if the conflict is solely about their looks and low self-esteem. Some chick-lit books like Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic series and books similar to Bridget Jones's Diary hit a little too close to home.
What imperfect heroines work best? There's the more whimsical type heroine like Claire and Sydney, the Waverley women, featured in Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. And characters who made me laugh, like Poppy Wyatt in I’ve Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella. There's also more realistic heroines such as plump Audrey Matthews, one of the heroines in Roisin Meaney’s Life Drawing for Beginners. And without spending time reading a variety of books about diverse heroines, I might have overlooked one of my favorite books of 2012—Grace Grows by Shelle Sumners.
Still, almost to my dismay, gorgeous heroines still had an appeal and they became my guilty pleasure. I knew and believed that love was more than skin deep, but what kept me gravitating toward heroines with attributes of beauty? I just finished Once Tempted by Laura Moore. As I was reading the hero’s thoughts about the heroine—
And he wasn’t blind, either. Tess’s dark eyes held secrets; her lush lips help promise. Sweet, mind drugging promise.
And later: “He imagined that once she replaced her death trap of a car, she’d head for some city where she could saunter down wide, smoothly paved sidewalks and dazzle the male population with those killer legs of hers."
—it finally clicked why I feel this type of pull toward the super beauty. It is not so much that the women are beautiful, it is the fact that the men think they are.
It taps into my fantasy, and maybe yours too, that for this one man, you light his fire. He doesn’t notice your cankles or fine limp hair. His attention is pulled to your smile, beautiful eyes or killer legs. Isn’t that what the hero does in our romance novels? He notices the attributes, not the faults. And the perfect heroine—well, that sort of follows the beginnings of infatuation—when your new love pretty much thinks you hang the moon, because you think he is perfect.
So now I don’t think of the books with impeccable heroines as guilty pleasures, because in a way they just mimic the process of falling in love. Do you feel a magnetic pull toward a certain type heroine?
Leigh Davis / Blogger, Reviewer at Window Seat on a Rainy Day