What is the Male Equivalent of Trashy Romance?

Perhaps it is a bit narrow-minded of me to make broad generalizations about gender. Particularly in this day and age, when there is a heightened awareness in the genre community regarding gender diversity. Sexual diversity. Ethnic diversity. And so on…

But the fact remains, by and large, that the romance genre is primarily produced and written for women. The genre itself is hard to define, spanning Puritan love stories to BDSM erotica. A portion of this genre is what we could call trashy romance — novels that have little redeeming quality in terms of character/plot development, literary merit, or meaningful themes. These novels serve more to entice the reader with wish-fulfillment and gratuitous sex scenes.

I think men read a lot less widely in the romance genre. Maybe because men are visual creatures, often seeking images rather than emotional connections to fulfill their passions. But that certainly isn’t a rule, nor is it a claim that men have higher tastes in literature than women (I actually suspect the opposite is true).

lonesomeThe subject of a male equivalent of trashy romance came to me while reading the novel, Night in the Lonesome October, by Richard Laymon. This horror novel tells of a twenty-year-old college kid who is dumped by his first love who then embarks on a series of nightly journeys. His travels confront him with some of the most vile humans and most alluring women. Female characters play little more than the role of fulfilling the protagonist’s inner desires while the male characters are stumbling blocks, preventing the protagonist from achieving his goals. The novel is far from erotic and it certainly isn’t romantic. Sexual exploits are purposely visual (blunt) in description and serve to titillate the reader amidst the several try-fail cycles that burden the protagonist.

Despite the paper-thin character sheets, I found this novel impossible to put down and I read it in less than a 24-hour span. Based on my comments, I cannot recommend the novel, but found myself reading page after page after page. The main character, Eddie, is a young man that many can relate to, from the onset being rejected by the woman of his dreams. He is a little reckless and seems to have little trouble finding a replacement for his ex. Even when threatened by more powerful opponents, Eddie is able to demonstrate resourcefulness to escape their hold on him.

Overall, this novel has no prevailing themes worth mentioning and frankly speaking, I cannot give it a higher status than trashy. But it still appeals to the base emotions of the reader. There are some brief attempts at wit and scholarship, but one cannot ignore the fact that Eddie is an imbecile, even if we do care for his livelihood.

So to answer the question at hand, what is the male equivalent of trashy romance? I would posit that it is adventure/horror stories where women are objects of affection with little to no agency. Violence and sex are often gratuitous with little effort in trying to suspend the reader’s disbelief. I suspect that it is this type of novel that many of the leading voices in genre fiction are trying to purge from its repertoire, but alas — they still manage to gain a readership.

I don’t mean to bash on Richard Laymon. In fact, I found his novel, The Traveling Vampire Show, to be a great coming-of-age story that I still recall with fondness years after reading it. Furthermore, I have never stopped reading a novel of his that I started and I doubt it ever took me longer than a week to finish one. I wish I could share the same affection for Night in the Lonesome October, but there comes a point — for me, at least — where I need intelligent actions on the part of the protagonist and deeper character development (and plausibility) on the part of the romantic interests. If you are looking for a fast-paced, cheap-thrill horror novel, this one is addicting. But after gorging myself on the literary equivalent of Hostess Twinkies, I must search for something a little more nutritious for my next read. I wish I could tell you that I am giving up on Twinkies, but hey — everyone has their weaknesses.

Review: Island by Richard Laymon

201644Title: Island

Author: Richard Laymon

Rating: 4 star

Publisher: Leisure Books

Format: Paperback

Review:

Rupert Conway is on a deserted island with his girlfriend Connie’s family when their boat blows up. Then one by one, the men on the island start to be knocked off, leaving Rupert, a sex-crazed college kid, alone with three beautiful sisters and their exhibitionist mother. It sounds like paradise for Rupert aside from one thing — the killer’s still loose and Rupert is next on the hit list.

Like most Laymon novels, Island is good, campy horror. The entire novel is actually a first-person diary entry of Rupert, but reads more like a novel than an epistolary collection. Rupert is sort of a loser and even his “girlfriend” can’t stand him. He gets caught ogling the most attractive sister, Kimberly, on several occasions and even the sisters’ mother. Connie pulls no punches in her snide criticisms of Rupert, adding to his pathetic persona throughout his journal entries.

What Laymon does particularly well is create characters that the reader cares about. I am reminded of Stephen King’s The Shining in this novel. You see, the island (like the Overlook Hotel) seems to make everyone a little crazy that we are never fully convinced who is good and who is bad.

What begins as innocent lustful desires in Rupert gradually turns into sadistic horror and the last third of the book is not for the squeamish. But this lust is not just gratuitous and it becomes a prevailing theme throughout the novel. Rupert’s sexual fantasies are hyperbolically brought to life in the actions of the killer and as he confronts this evil, he sees his own thoughts betraying him.

This book was very difficult to put down, but near the end, very difficult to read as well. Once one makes it past pages that might have been better off left unread, there comes an ending that is completely surprising, yet fitting.

While there are no literary awards going to what really amounts to an escapist horror novel, Island is an exciting, fast-paced read. The characters are likable and the twists and turns left me on the edge of my seat (figuratively speaking — I am much too lazy and read while lying on the couch).

For those who like horror, especially in the style of Bentley Little or Richard Laymon, Island will not disappoint.

Review: The Traveling Vampire Show by Richard Laymon

Title: The Traveling Vampire Show

Author: Richard Laymon

Rating: 

Publisher: Leisure Books

Format: Electronic

Review:

It has been over a decade now since The Traveling Vampire Show won the Bram Stoker Award for best novel. I had never acquainted myself with Laymon before, which is surprising considering that in my teens I devoured any Stephen King or Dean Koontz novel I could get my hands on. Evidently (if one believes Wikipedia) he was popular in Europe at the time, until he signed on with Leisure Books in 1999. So here I am, twelve years later, reading my first Richard Laymon novel.

The Traveling Vampire Show is a coming-of-age story about three sixteen-year-old friends: Dwight, Rusty, and Slim (Frances). It is told in first person through Dwight, a good-natured, albeit horny, teenager. The object of his affections is a girl names Slim, who is a tomboy in every sense aside from her looks. She is gutsy and loyal, even to their annoying friend Rusty, who is overweight,  insecure, and constantly spewing out inappropriate remarks.

The story begins when the three teens encounter a flyer advertising an over-eighteen traveling vampire show. Even though they suspect it is a farce, the show features Valeria, a gorgeous and stunning vampire. Believing that they won’t be able to get into the show, they head over to Janks field in mid-afternoon to see if they can catch a glimpse of her before the midnight show. A stray mongrel attacks them, injuring Slim and separating the three. Little did they know, it was only a portent of things to come.

The Traveling Vampire Show is the kind of novel you can read in a day. The action is non-stop and the pages are filled with dialog. For me, this is a good thing, although I normally find books written like this to be a little shallow. I don’t make any claims that this novel is an exception, but in terms of writing horror, Laymon does an excellent job of building suspense. He is patient in unveiling what is truly behind the vampire show and leads Dwight on a winding path of discovery. We get some back history of the troubles at Janks field and learn of Slim’s difficult upbringing. Throughout the course of one day, the true natures of each kid is revealed when they are confronted with danger and their companions go missing.

The novel is as much about growing up as it is about the vampire show. Dwight is in love with Slim and through the adrenaline of their day, he discovers that the feeling is mutual. They are left alone for much of the day and there is an awkward sexual tension that continues to build throughout the novel. Dwight is extremely shy in this endeavor, but Slim is more forward and takes advantage of his bashfulness with coy seduction. Maybe for a teenage boy these descriptions would be tantalizing, but for me, much would have been left better unsaid. They are teenagers after all and their forbidden lust is not approached with the skill of an author such as John Updike.

As a coming-of-age story, it is easy to draw comparisons. Robert McCammon’s Boy’s Life and Stephen King’s The Body (Stand by Me) are two that come to mind, but I do not think that this novel reaches the same level of excellence that these two achieve. Slim is a character that is easy to fall in love with — she is cool, attractive, and dependable. Rusty, on the other hand, is an annoying third wheel and when his younger sister, Bitsy, enters the picture, the twosome becomes tiresome.

I can’t applaud this novel as being the stuff that should be award-winning, but it is an easy, enjoyable read. I actually would rank it about 3.5 stars, but since I don’t do fractions it gets rounded up. If you can put up with the incessant leers and deviant thoughts of teenage boys, the buildup of dramatic tension makes this a true horror novel (it’s not the presence of a vampire that defines it within the genre). If you enjoy reading authors like Dean Koontz or Stephen King, give Laymon a try. I will likely be checking out some of his older works.