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Rereading Jenny: Welcome to Temptation

February 2, 2014

[Spotlights contain spoilers.  This post also contains TMI about my past, so stay away family members and friends who hate to think of me as a person who has ever had sex.]

The problem with WTT is that it’s so readable. You pick it up, and then hours of your life are gone. Which is great for reading, bad for writing about afterward because, frankly, I stayed up wayyyy later than I should have with this book, and felt incredibly fuzzy afterward. I’ve got a good memory, but not when I’m tired.

But as I’ve said before, WTT might be the one I’ve read the most times, so this should be a cakewalk, right? Right?

WTT was the second Jennifer Crusie book I read, after Tell Me Lies, and it’s the one that cemented Jenny as “my new favorite writer” back when. (Maybe 2002, 2003? I know where I got my Jenny books, but I can’t remember if Faking It was the first one I picked up at the store because it had just come out, or Bet Me.) It was a great book: funny with so many movie references, with likable and hatable characters as needed…and then there were the sex scenes.

As I’ve said before, I’m not really one who cares about sex scenes. Never have. Perhaps part of that is because most of them are boring, or at least same-y. Maybe it’s because once I started having sex I realized how unrealistic they were, or that they made me feel inadequate. (Sorry, no multiple orgasms exactly at the same time as the guy here.) Maybe it’s because most of the time they are a digression from the plot, for what seems to be fulfilling a necessity of the genre. Maybe when I was younger, I cared, but by the time I got to Crusie, I was a full-on skimmer.

The scene at the dock changed that.

“What the…??” Okay, I probably didn’t say that aloud but I was taken aback by what was happening. A female orgasm. Without reciprocation. In such a way that has something to do with the plot.

Okay, I don’t think I realized back then that it’s a necessary part of Sophie’s character development, that she gets to be selfish for the first time in so long. What I actually saw then was something rare, rare in real life and just never before seen by me in romance: (female getting) oral sex was the beginning and end of the sex scene.

Crusie has done this before in other books, but it was the first time I saw it, and it’s crazy stuff.  It really does go against everything we’re taught.  First, that sex is something that happens between two people and secondly, and more traditionally, sex is something for men.  Then along came “I’m responsible for my own orgasm,” which is a quote from Tootsie but it’s also something women live with.  Men have orgasms easily; women are work.  See also: Clerks.  “Making a male climax is not all that challenging: insert somewhere close and preferably moist; thrust; repeat […] A girl makes a guy cum, it’s standard. A guy makes a girl cum, it’s talent.”  (From the script; I’m not usually one to use the word “cum” as a verb, ick.)  In romance novels, women having orgasms no problem was the standard, and that felt terribly unrealistic and upsetting because, you know, some women work at having orgasms.  Crusie characters, for instance, often have to let go–of the running dialog in their heads, of their fears, of their inhibitions–and that feels more like reality.  For that, you need characters like Phin Tucker, who get how women work, who recognize that they need to be distracted from the bullshit that society puts on us all our lives so that when we get into bed, we’re not just with the person we’re with but our reputations, how we’re perceived.  Obviously, that’s not true for every woman, but enough that Crusie sells it just by having it exist.

But to get back on track, in romance especially, sex is never a selfish act on the woman’s part, at least not since Queen Victoria.  To be “feminist,” the partners have to be equal, which means both have orgasms.  But Sophie’s never selfish, and no one gives to her, takes care of her.  She’s always–until we find out about Davy’s revenge–taking care of those around her.  (And even Davy’s revenge seems less about taking care of Sophie than it does him working out his own issues.)  And yet here comes Phin, who is a seemingly selfish guy capable of an unselfish and, in its own way, feminist–or pro-female?–act.

And thus Crusie becomes revolutionary.

One of the reasons this struck such a chord in me is because I can seriously count on one finger the number of times I’ve had an orgasm, the guy didn’t, and the guy didn’t complain about it being “unfair.”  THAT IS FUCKING HILARIOUS, you guys.  I once dated a guy who had five orgasms to every one of mine.  FIVE.  To ONE.  That’s an extreme, but if two people have sex and one doesn’t have an orgasm, how often is that one a woman?

(God, being personal on the internet is weird.  I’m not sure how I’m going to do it for the Harlequins.)

Crusie writes what she calls “aspirational” sex.  It’s great sex, but it’s not unachievable.  I wish I’d read that book and said, “I want that in my life, the kind of person who can be like, ‘This can be about you and you don’t have to feel guilty.'”  Too bad I didn’t demand it then.

But yeah, equality is tough when when you’re working on an unlevel playing field, especially in relationships.  I know some people think that asking for something selfish is beyond equality, it’s a tip toward bias, but then if you say, “But the bias has been toward men all this time!” you’re suddenly being…whatever.  A how-dare-you or you’re-wrong.  But when it comes to orgasms?  How can you even debate that bias?  And how can we tell ourselves it’s too selfish to want to be the focus every once in a while?

But we do.  Because it isn’t EQUALITY.

But what if we can both give without needing something in return? Can’t that be equality too?

The scene on the dock doesn’t make Phin seem less manly.  It makes him seem more like he gets women and how we’ve been programmed.  But he never stops being a GUY for that knowledge.  Which is also interesting to read.

Hey, you know what I haven’t done?  My usual breakdown.

Sophie: Not a doormat, but a giver.  We see a shift from doormats to givers in this middle period of Crusie’s, which I think is great.  It seems very realistic, very much working out the issue with “having it all.”  Many of these middle period women are mothers–or, in Sophie’s case, a de facto mother, in that she’s helped raise her brother and sister, especially her sister, who’s still very much acting like her child.  Sophie is also the youngest of the Crusie heroines thus far, at 32.

Phin: A “townie,” which is just another version of “a suit,” I think, but a better one.  Also hitting another of my buttons, because I was the only kid in my school who was a bastard (rather than someone whose parents were divorced) and it took me a looong time to be okay with dating guys with intact, happy families.

Sex where they can be discovered?  Can and ARE.  So awkward.  I’m sure some people found it hot, but since I can’t separate the ick of who discovers them from the discovery, I feel awkward about it.  That’s on me.

Female orgasm–well, I just said all that.

A dog?  Yup.  One of the more forgettable ones.

Great bff?  Nope.  She has a bratty sister/daughter instead.  In fact, Sophie is one of the most isolated female characters in Crusie literature, but that’s part of the point.  Although at the end I guess she still doesn’t have a BFF, and that makes me kind of sad.

Bad bank employees? Nope.

Evil mother?  YESSSSSS.  What a GREAT evil mother, too, in Phin’s mom.  Not just Phin’s mom, of course, there’s also Rachel’s mom, but still.  Phin’s mom is a complicated lady and you hate her when she’s being hateful and you feel sorry for her when she’s sad and you’re like “FUCK YEAH!” at the end.  Love Phin’s mom.

Cast of thousands?  Yup.  Although I think a couple of characters get a little lost because of it, especially Zane, but not plot-killingly so.

Great secondary romances?  Yup. I mean, I could take or leave the Amy thing (and Amy herself), but Rachel?  I got a little teary there, gotta say.

I did love Dillie too, but I gotta say, that kid does not act her age.  She seems a bit young.  Although if I were as oddly cuddled/smothered/ignored as she was, maybe I’d be immature yet devious too.

Oh, and did I mention it’s a mystery?  I always forget to say that up front.  The mystery feels secondary but isn’t, which is kind of neat and sometimes you’re just like, “Hey guys?  Someone died?  I know that person sucked and all, but…murderer?”

Okay, so other than covers, which I’ll get to last, there’s one more thing: Porn.

WTT is about porn.  The characters watch porn, one character produces it, one character has made it, one writes it, other characters are filming or performing in it, etc.  Because most of how we see the book is through Sophie, who has little to do with the filming and is probably burying her head in the sand a bit, and Phin, who is purposely not told what’s going on, the porn is background until it can’t be anymore, and then we’re so wrapped up in the plot that it becomes difficult to see that hey, wait a second, is Crusie making some sort of point here?

Romance novels are, to some people, porn.  Crusie gets pretty explicit with her sex scenes.  Is WTT meta-porn?  I think in some ways it is.  But it’s also a commentary on pornography and censorship and sex and romance, as well.  Sex becomes porn when you involve other people, and this book is about involving people in sex, from the movie Amy makes to Sophie being caught multiple times in the act or right after the act or whatever.  Gossip is porn, this book tells us.  And I wish I felt better (why am I worse??) so I felt like what I was saying was clearer, but I think there’s so much going on here with sex and perception that I could write another 2000 words on it.  Ultimately, Rachel talks Leo into a softer, more romantic version of porn–exactly what you could argue romance novels are.  How can we disagree with her if we’re reading the book?

Finally, the covers.  The one above is the reissue, and I don’t like the green apple and way too much of it is eaten.  The other two covers are simple, but the cherry and the red, one-bite apple are enough to get the point across:

4 R

wttredapple

Did I miss anything?  I probably missed a lot.  There’s that fight at the end, where I don’t think Sophie’s being fair and, oh yeah, NO SOPHIE TUCKER JOKES?

Oh, right, and the food (Dove bars! lemonade!) and the music (Dusty!) that’s common with the middle era.  There you go.

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