The Fictional Hockey League

Critiquing hockey romance novels, of which there are many. Overthinking it is the point.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Body Check: Post 1-

Chapter One: The Right Kind of Sex   

(First post! Remember, overthinking it is the point! Page numbers correspond to the Nook version, which I'm reading on a tablet, via the Nook app.)

As with most romance novels, particularly of the Harlequin variety where there are not many pages to spare, the first chapter, in very few pages, sets up the hero, the heroine, and either their meeting or at least the set up for their meeting. Body Check does this quite quickly. After all, the novel’s opening line is

“I really need to get laid,” Hayden Houston said with a sigh (7).

Our heroine and the basic opening plot, introduced in one piece of dialogue. We find out that Hayden is drinking red wine in the Ice House Bar and catching up with her best friend, Darcy. Weirdly, while we learn that the walls are covered in memorabilia for the Chicago Warriors, there’s nothing else said about the patrons or to remind readers they’re in a bar until several pages later, by which time it comes as something of a surprise to learn that the two are actually talking inside a crowd, much of it about sex, as the first line might indicate.

From their conversation, we also learn a great deal of Hayden’s background during this initial chat. Apparently her mother died in a car crash while she was quite young, so she was raised by her father, a hockey coach. She has since become a college art history professor at Berkeley, which must be nice. (She even took the job in order to be far away from her father in the hopes that her absence would make his heart grow fonder. I will say, as a professor, that that’s not really how academia works, at least not while you’re quite a young professor. Perhaps she’s gained enough clout in the art history world to be able to take a job anywhere, but that’s not the indication we get when the hero first views Hayden.)

Evidently, the reason Hayden is obsessing over sex is that she’s not had any in a while, despite having a boyfriend back at Berkeley.

Doug Lloyd … taught a Renaissance course at Berkeley, he was intelligent and witty, and he valued love and commitment as much as she did (8).

A moment, if you please, about Doug Lloyd. First, I think it’s odd that he’s described as teaching “a Renaissance course.” Renaissance what? Renaissance art? Literature? History? I teach Renaissance literature, although I doubt I’ll ever have a course that I can describe so vaguely as “a Renaissance course.” Second, he teaches *a* course? Does this mean he’s not, in fact, a professor, but an adjunct? In which case he’s not making enough money to survive, Berkeley notwithstanding.

Third, Doug Lloyd is set up as a very specific kind of sexuality.

Doug held the same mind-set. He was a traditionalist through and through, a believer that marriage should be valued and not rushed into. Besides, he had a rock-hard body that made her mouth water. He’d even let her touch it… once (8).

Apparently Doug wants “to get to know each other fully before we cross the intimacy bridge” (7). So they’ve been dating for a couple of months without, evidently, touching? At all? Thus, Hayden has told Doug she wants a break, at least while she’s in Chicago, and her friend Darcy opens the book by telling her she should have a one-night stand.

Darcy represents the opposite kind of sexuality from Doug. She ridicules Doug’s choices, calling him a “wimp,” misremembering his name every time she refers to him, and repeatedly referencing his “intimacy bridge.” Darcy is then described as going “through men like socks” (10). Which is not a phrase I’ve heard before (and should I admit I have quite old socks in my drawer? They don’t have holes in them or anything, but I have had them a long time.) Furthermore, Darcy’s sexual exploits apparently make Hayden gape and include “seven orgasms in one night” and a “ménage a trois with two firefighters” (10). So when Darcy suggests that Hayden have a one night stand with someone she meets in the Ice House Bar, Hayden’s reaction has to be tempered. She calls the idea “sleazy” and needs to be talked into it.

This is a Harlequin Blaze novel, which, according to the Harlequin website means:

You like it hot! Harlequin Blaze stories sizzle with strong heroines and irresistible heroes playing the game of modern love and lust. They're fun, sexy and always steamy.

Sure, they’re all of that—but they’re also conservative in the way of most romance novels—the hero and heroine will fall in love and end up happily ever after. This is certainly not a Harlequin Love Inspired novel (where there are ‘Christian’ themes and the characters don’t even kiss before marriage, also they’d never be in a bar since none of the good characters in those drink), but it still has to conform to a certain kind of expectation. Readers must know that this is an unusual choice for the heroine, not, like Darcy, a regular thing.

Once Hayden is convinced that a one night stand is precisely what she needs, they next need to choose a likely partner.

Everywhere she looked, she saw men. Tall ones, short ones, cute ones, bald ones. None of them sparked her interest.

And then she saw him.

Standing at the counter with his back turned to them was the lucky winner of the man wheel (12).

I included that quote mainly because of the phrase “lucky winner of the man wheel” but also to point out that Hayden chooses the hero from his behind. And in this case, I actually mean that “Oh, and the butt. Hard not to notice that tight little butt” (12).

(A note: hockey player asses are not actually “little” most of the time. Sidney Crosby, for example, has his jeans made for him so that his butt fits.)

The rest of Hayden’s section is mostly the two of them drooling over the hero (and he does eventually turn around. He’s playing pool) and Darcy trying to convince her friend to go talk to the man. They compare him to a Hummer (apparently if he was a car, he’d be something “dangerously hot, like a Hummer” (13). Darcy also wonders why Hayden is acting shy, since she routinely gives lectures to classes of hundreds of students. Again, as a professor, may I point out that approaching a man to flirt is a wildly different activity than giving a lecture, and I get nervous to different amounts about each.

Next time, we’ll meet the hero.

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