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Saturday, December 22, 2012

Why Western Noir is Incompatible With The Romance Genre

My latest review for The Bookplex is of  Wild Desert Rose by Van Holt which is marketed as a Western Romance.  Most Western Romances are written by Romance writers and they are predominantly Romances intended for the audience that reads Romance novels.  Van Holt must have hoped that this book would have crossover appeal, but his noir approach really doesn't work for Romance readers.  I'll explain why it's unworkable in my review.

There are differences in the audience profiles for Westerns and Romances, and differences in the expectations of these two groups of readers.  So I wondered how Western writer Van Holt could make a Western Romance work.  It seemed to me that one of the two genres would need to predominate. I feel that Wild Desert Rose succeeds as a Western.  Van Holt understands the Western demographic and has a great deal of experience with meeting their expectations.  Unfortunately, I don’t feel he understands the Romance genre, its readers or their expectations. 

Van Holt’s Hellbound Western approach is edgy, cynical and dark. This is not like one of those old Hollywood Western movies in which it’s very clear who are the good guys and who are the bad guys.   Even the more heroic characters are ambivalent. There often seems to be little difference between those who represent the law, and the outlaws or other marginal characters who have no use for the law.  A Romance hero can be complex in the sense of having internal divisions or angst, but there has to be no doubt in the Romance reader’s mind that he is a real hero.  Otherwise these readers will reject the idea that the heroine would fall in love with the hero.  They will not believe in the relationship between the hero and the heroine.  In a Romance, it is crucial that this relationship be a central focus of the plot.  Romance readers will feel shortchanged if that is not the case.  The current generation of Romance readers love a strong erotic element in their fiction.  Sexual attraction is definitely part of Romance, but Romance readers believe in the ideal of true love.  They want to see true love embodied in a Romance novel.  Wild Desert Rose contains some strong examples of sexual attraction, but true love is entirely absent from this book.  I also don’t feel that there is a central focus on any particular relationship. The most positive relationship in Wild Desert Rose almost seemed like a tacked on afterthought.  Since there didn’t seem to be any love involved, it’s hard for a Romance reader to imagine that there would be HEA.  This is a Romance acronym for Happily Ever After.  HEA is one of the defining characteristics of Romance.  Van Holt’s characters don’t appear to be made for HEA.  Their Hellbound West isn’t a world where HEA is possible.  Happily Ever After is a phrase that comes from fairy tales.  I don't think that Van Holt believes in fairy tales. 

 So this book isn't recommended for readers expecting a Romance.  Those who love a shoot 'em up Western, but think that Westerns for 21st century readers should have a dark disturbing edge and be more realistic would definitely enjoy this book.  While I can admire the author's fresh contemporary approach on an intellectual level, I don't find the amalgamation of excessive violence with a jaundiced world view at all appealing on an emotional level.  Yes, the old fashioned Western was romanticized and the Native Americans were unjustifiably villainized.  I will say that the Cherokees, Comanches and Apaches depicted in Wild Desert Rose are neither demons nor noble savages, but they are nevertheless victims.  When I look out at a bleak Western landscape drained of hope, I can't help but think that the preference for anomie in an iconic American genre seems very much like selling one's birthright for a mess of pottage.



  1. I'm wondering if the romance was something he was forced to add... Speaking from experience here. If it doesn't have some darned romance, no ebook publisher will take it, none with the reputation or sales, anyway. I'm curious now. But I do believe this is why many books are now becoming romances that were not really intended to be romances. Simple so someone will accept it and thus, publish and market it. The romance genre right now is so confusing, I don't get it myself. I don't see how a woman being stalked and controlled by a man is romantic, but look at how that garbage is doing. LOL

  2. Women being stalked used to be labeled as crime thrillers. Now they're called romantic suspense. I don't like that either, Tara.
    Calling something a romance when there really isn't any romance is poor marketing.