Two novels. Two romance novels. Both offered for free as promotions of newer books in the series. Both published in the same year. Both with the same high rating on Amazon. Both set in Texas. Both set in rural Texas. Both involving recent widows. Both have a handsome man return to town.
And by about page 4, you know both are completely different.
I’ve said (admitted) (confessed) that I read the occasional romance novel. And I see a lot of promotions for free ebooks on Amazon (including my own on Fridays during January; that means today). I downloaded two novels, thinking that both of them were Christian romance novels. One of them was. One of them was not.
But it had been some time since I downloaded, and so over my long Christmas vacation I perused my Kindle. And found Cathy Bryant’s A Path Less Traveled, the second novel in her Miller Creek series. It falls into a sub-sub-genre – Contemporary Christian Western Romance (it’s set in Texas and the heroine lives on a ranch, so that makes it western, I suppose). It’s a simple, straightforward story.
Published in 2010, it wasn’t considered for the Pulitzer Prize or the National Book Award. But that wasn’t the author’s intention. Bryant wanted to tell a romantic story, and she succeeds admirably. Great literature, no. A good entertaining story, yes.
A young widow still grieving for her dead husband is trying to make a go of a design business in a small town. She’s not succeeding. Financially, she’s in over her head. She has a young son that she’s trying to be both mother and father to. Each day gets a little more desperate, but she stubbornly refuses to share her problems with family and friends. And then a lawyer comes to town for a wedding, a lawyer with his own personal baggage. He connects with the young boy. He wants to connect with the boy’s mother. She, however, is as stubborn as a Texas mule.
About the worst thing I could think of to say is that the reader sometimes wants to slap the heroine’s face and say “Girl, get with it!” But the story is a family-friendly type of read. It has 141 reviews on Amazon.
Then there was the other romance novel (if you want to know the title, email me; I don’t voluntarily publicize bad writing). I mistakenly thought that it, too, was a Christian romance. By page four, I hit the first “damn!” in the narrative. And I thought, well, I knew some Christian publishers are getting more edgy. By page seven I knew that no Christian publisher I had ever heard of was getting this edgy.
For the first four chapters, unconsummated lust – lust and nothing but lust – dripped off the pages. The writing was stilted. The writing, in fact, was superfluous.
I stopped reading. And then I looked to see how many reviews it had on Amazon.
More than 500.
I thought about what the editor H.L. Mencken once said: “You’ll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” Or underestimating bad taste, I would add. Or our appetite for coarseness.
That’s an old-fashioned word, coarseness. But it’s a good word to describe our culture. Our public rhetoric. The language we commonly use. The language even we Christians are commonly using. I once sat in a training seminar at my own church and heard a visiting pastor use language that he apparently thought made him cool, relevant and millennial. It didn’t. It was offensive.
If you want a nice, entertaining romance novel about rural Texas, read Cathy Bryant. Forget the coarse thing. We all be better off.
Photograph of the Texas state flag by Summer Woods via Public Domain Pictures. Used with permission.