I was shaving my legs earlier today, (how funny to be thinking about gender norms and expectations while engaging in such gender normative behavior!) and for some reason, Catherine Anderson’s book, My Sunshine popped into my head.
The heroine, an erstwhile biologist, experienced massive brain trauma while cliff diving and now has aphasia. She falls in love with one of the hunky veterinarians (the sensitive one, of course. His twin is the asshole veterinarian) but they can’t be together because of her various challenges. All she has to fall back on are her supremely gender normative feminine abilities. She bakes! “She made cookies and tarts to take to the clinic.” She decorates! “She had a knack for taking odds and ends, assembling them into groups, and making them look good.” She nags him to eat when he forgets! She takes care of his heart and soul! And let us not forget her “…Snug blue jeans cupped a delightfully well rounded posterior and showcased a pair of shapely legs that begged for a much longer look.” DAT ASS.
Anyway. The heroine suffers from aphasia. Her speech is limited, she can’t say words over three syllables without great difficulty. But, of course, her cherished virginity is intact. She had been “too busy” with her schooling to explore her sexuality, but actually she was “waiting for that one special man.” Which, whatever. If you want to wait, cool with me. If you don’t, cool with me too. Just make an educated decision for yourself.
Tangentially, I have a few issues with the aphasia backstory. I don’t remember where I saw this, but I keep it in mind. It goes something along the lines of, Of all the background research you do for a novel, only show 10%. Anderson was so excited about all her aphasia stuff. Of course, it’s a serious medical condition and not something to just brush away, but, Oh. My. God. Incidentally, I get mild aphasia in the midst of a migraine. It is so fucking annoying. Especially as someone who loves to play with words.
The heroine now works in the hunky veterinarians’ clinic as a kennel keeper. (Another aside. I’ve read enough fantasy novels that I want to call her the kennel master.) She feels she’s not qualified for anything else. She can’t even make coffee without using her counting beans for Christ’s sake!
Her adventures at the clinic continue, there is some sabotage to make her look incompetent, she decorates, she takes care of the hunky veterinarian, but he can’t fall in love with her because of her difficulties. His brother goes off on him.
“Are you out of your mind, Isaiah?… Surely you don’t intend to actually marry the woman. Be smart. Have a flnig, wait for the newness to wear off, and then get the hell out.”
“Tucker, for once would you just butt out? It’s my life. What I choose to with it is my business.”
“Not when you’re about to flush your future down the john. Laura is sweet. I’ll be the first person to admit that. And there’s no denying that she’s pretty. But, for God’s sake, Isaiah, use your head. She’s also a brain-damaged misfit who can’t pronounce three-syllable words or dole out dog food without messing up.”
Oh, I forgot this rapey bit.
“I don’t like it.” Her prerogative. This was not fun. “I want to stop.”
His body was quivering. The muscles in his shoulders and arms knotted. And suddenly his dark face contorted. “Oh shit,” he said.
And the next instant he moved inside of her— only a little, and the pain this time was minimal.
What? Did he somehow manage to nudge the autopilot lever on his dick? Ok, she ended up enjoying it and turns into a raving little sex kitten in the book, but, good lord, at that point, she withdrew consent. I thought it was gross, but, whatever. We could have a whole discussion on consent in romance novels, too. Oh geeze. I forgot about all the other weird rape stuff in the end of this book. Yeah, I’m definitely going to have to write a post about consent.
Her losing her ability to do environmental impact studies and her independence makes her a worthy mate for the hunky veterinarian. If she was off all over the Northwest following her dreams and career, she wouldn’t be making sure he eats, she wouldn’t be caring for the litter of orphaned puppies. All of the things that make her his sunshine are all the things she would not have had time for had she had her career.
Now, I’m not saying you can’t find work-life balance. I see women all around me kicking ass. But, in this book, “it’s about having someone here who makes coming home seem worthwhile.” It seems that it is product of her disabilities that ultimately make her so desirable to him. I can’t see him saying, “Oh baby, you saved the salmon from that highways project!” or “Oh god, you’re so sexy in your waders!” He talks about his goals and plans for his life, but nothing about hers. That now she should just be content that he’s taken her in and now she can have his babies and take care of him and his soul. I just… ugh… it doesn’t sit easily with me.
Being saved from dire straits is one thing. I suppose it could be said Laura was being saved from these dire straits. But, wouldn’t it be so much better to be the architect of your own life? Should all of her goals and aspirations to be the caretaker of this man’s soul? Surely she still has dreams?
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul
Damn straight. I like being pretty. I like taking care of my husband and daughter and dogs. I can make a damn fine puttanesca sauce. But I am so much more than that.
I don’t think that it’s too much to ask for from a romance novel.