Literary shorthand

Some time ago, I wrote an article about romance novels in which I pointed out that many authors, to telegraph that their lead male character is reliable, strong, honorable and handy in a tense situation, give that character a military background.  In the same way, I’ve noticed when reading romance novels written by those on the New York Times side of the political block that the way to telegraph that a character is rotten is to make him or her politically right wing.  (And I really mean it about the New York Times thing, since these same authors will always announce their characters’ intellectual chops by alluding to them reading the Times on Sunday morning — especially in post-sex romance mode.)

For example, I’m reading Toby Devens’ My Favorite Midlife Crisis (Yet), which is a pretty decent book about menopausal woman navigating their way through divorce (or widowhood) and dating.  It is most definitely not a political book.  Nevertheless, by the first third of the book, Devens twice resorts to politics to make character points.  The first time comes when she describes one of the partners in her narrator’s medical practice, a man who points out that the practice’s bottom line is not going to support too many pro bono surgeries:

“The times they are a-changing,” Neil said.  “We cannot afford liberal largesse.  We are not a welfare provider.”  I’d heard this too many times before.  Neil is way to the right politically.  (p. 47.)

Given that the book came out in 2005, maybe we can forgive the author for being unaware of post-2005 studies establishing that it’s those who are way to the right who are more charitable, not those to the left, who sit around and wait for the government to provide.

That wasn’t Devens’ only attack on conservatives though.  Her most loathsome character is a hate-filled, manipulative daughter who forces her widowed mother to choose between a new love and her grandchild.  You get the picture, right?  In case you don’t, though, Devens drives it home by reminding us that the daughter is practically Hitler-esque in her horribleness:

Summer was a stiff-necked little prickette who supported the most outrageously right-wing political cause with the money she and her equally tight-assed husband had reaped from the sale of their dot-com.

Quick, fellow readers!  Get out the garlic.

I’m still reading the book, despite its political mean-spiritedness because it is, otherwise, a decent novel about “women of a certain age.”  I’ve decided that, just as I ignore Dorothy Sayer’s periodic forays into antisemitism, excusing them on the ground that she was an upper class person in Britain in the 1930s, and (a) those attitudes came with the territory and (b) she is often sympathetic to, as opposed to genocidally inclined towards, Jews, so too will I ignore Devens’ outbursts.  She’s obviously a woman of her class and time (New York, early 21st Century) and has to be forgiven her foibles.  But I wouldn’t let my daughter read the book, and that’s entirely aside from the R rating I’d give it on account of the sex scenes.