Your Cheatin’ Heart – Books with a theme of infidelity (MEC reviews)

Your Cheatin’ Heart – Part 1

Nobody captures the pain of betrayal, longing and despair like Patsy Cline – she is pure musical angst.  Just about any of her songs provides the perfect backdrop for angsty lesfic reading; but, this time I’ve been warbling along with “Your Cheatin’ Heart”.

Infidelity is quite prevalent in lesfic books, but tends to be off the page and used to set up the circumstances for the new romance.  It’s often in the back story with one or both of the characters whose previous partners have cheated on them.  It’s a quick and easy way to build sympathy for the wronged partner, now the main character, and paves the way for romance conflicts like mistrust or hesitancy in looking for a new relationship.  Having a character whose last partner has cheated on them is like having a shorthand character sketch – they’ll either turn inwards with mistrust or outwards and become the stereotypical player – either way the character is angry, alone and hurting, with no intention of allowing their hearts to be betrayed again.   It automatically sets the expectations and gives a bit of credulity to some of the more ridiculous arguments or conflicts that the main characters may have to weather.  If the cheating ex makes an appearance in the story, the reader will have already tagged them as a villain, usually not very smart (for god’s sake, who would cheat on the main character of a lesfic romance) and you automatically know that she’s going to be trouble – even if she is remorseful, the main character and the reader isn’t going to let her back in.  For the most part the unfaithful ex is the least developed character in a book – with little or no reasons behind their actions provided or needed – as the author just hangs the “cheater” sign around their neck and lets the reader hate them unreservedly.

But what about when the infidelity takes place during the book or is instigated by one of the main characters.  You know – the main character that you’ve developed some connection to, that you like and are rooting for and then they do something so stupid, so wrong, so unforgivable.   It’s like a betrayal of the reader as much as a betrayal of the other character that they are actually supposed to be in a relationship with.  The knee jerk reaction to hate a cheater is hard to overcome –  and many readers will just skip the book completely if there’s even a hint of it.  Is there ever a good reason for infidelity – no.  But sometimes an author can include the theme of infidelity in such a way that the black and white of the issue shifts into the grey.  For me, the plot and the characters have to be strong and compelling to get the reader past that immediate gut punch and follow the story through.

Micky Knight series by J.M. Redmann

No matter what, this series and the characters will always remain close to my heart as Death by the Riverside was the first real lesbian fiction novel I ever read (and reread and read again, and again and again).  You have to understand – Micky Knight, the ultimate player who careens through the books charming the pants off every woman – took my lesfic virginity. And I will always love her so very much.

That being said, Micky Knight is a complete and total train wreck when it comes to relationships – be it friends or lovers.  She just seems to be pre-programmed to self-sabotage the good things in her life as she thinks she doesn’t deserve it or that others deserve more than what she has to offer.  She’s such a complicated character.  On the surface she’s a charming and easygoing flirt with rather low morals; a smart-ass who just naturally lands in trouble; a hard drinking, tough as nails private eye who operates on the edges of civility; and someone who would go to any lengths for her friends or clients.  But beneath is a lost and vulnerable soul, someone whose walls and self-doubt prevents even her best friends from seeing the scared child who is reeling from a horrible childhood.  She’s got a heart of gold (and a blood alcohol level that’s way above the limit), and doesn’t hesitate to help a friend or solve a case.   In the first three books, Redmann develops Micky beautifully and I dare anyone not to like her.   After the third book, Micky settles into her sense of self and the security of her relationship with Cordelia.

When the series began, it was the early 90s and lesfic mystery series were more like a TV show – each book was the case of the week with a different love interest (serial monogamy).  With Mickey, there was a different case every book but over the first three books, the relationship between her and Cordelia developed with a number of rocky bumps.   When it comes to the theme of infidelity – Micky was a heel, she just couldn’t say no.   That self-destructive behaviour ended up with her cheating on Cordelia (sometimes when they were not officially together, and other times when they were) and as a reader, you would be shouting at the paperback “Micky – No!  Don’t you dare”.  But she did it anyways, hating herself for it all the while, but not able to stop.  Cheating was a punishment – of herself – or a way of connecting with someone as angry and vulnerable as her. In the bounds of the series and the early character of Micky, it was realistic and the pain and hurt that resulted just made the series all that more authentic and compelling.  Micky’s infidelity was a natural to her as breathing in her early days, not something that you want to condone, but in the realm of this series it is real and necessary in order to keep the character true and leading to a fantastic character arc.

Once Micky started to get her shit together, the relationship with all its flaws became solid and secure.  Until Death of a Dying Man and Watermark.  Omigod.  Redmann basically raked me over the coals and I have never hated a character more.  What happened was bound to happen, but the way it was laid out was phenomenally well done and left me close to tears.   (okay, I cried dammit … it was devastating … damn you Ms Redmann)

I strongly recommend the series – both for the characters and the story lines.   These are mysteries – so there’s suspense, action and investigations galore and Redmann addresses some really serious issues.  But, for me,  it is the characters and the humour that really shine.

Strongly Recommended

Never Too Late by Julie Blair

This was quite an enjoyable read  – definitely a romance with the theme of true love will always prevail and that is is never too late – either to pursue your own course or to find the one you are meant to be with.

I suppose I would classify this as a second chance romance – the main characters meet randomly when their flight is delayed and end up spending the evening and night together. One night only, but it made enough of an impact in both of their lives that they never forgot and always regretted that they parted ways. Twenty years they reconnect and the connection is still there … as are a number of obstacles before they get the HEA. This is definitely a slow burn – the reconnecting of both women and their coming to terms with the fact that the attraction and connection is still there.

Although this is predicated on an insta-love premise – the time apart as each character grows and matures as well the slow build up of their present relationship make this work. There’s a pretty palpable chemistry between them and also a fair bit of tension as Jamie is married – and is so focused on trying to fix all the messes in her life.

The idea of infidelity in this book is a bit tricky – the author portrays Jamie’s current relationship is such a way that there is no doubt in the reader’s mind that it is a one way street with Jamie taking on all the responsibility and making all the concessions.  Her partner is a particularly unlikable woman  – selfish, calculating, materialistic and without a drop of empathy. This kind of depiction makes the reader root for the main character to cheat on her because it is so very obvious (to everyone but Jamie who keeps trying to re-ignite their relationship) what a horrible person she is and just how wrong she is for Jamie.   Through Jamie’s eyes, you do see the relationship that it was in the beginning –  and Jamie’s attempts to reignite it are laudable, but ultimately wasted.  It puts the reader into the position of being prepared to give Jamie a pass as Carla represents the love and support that she desperately lacks.   Is she really cheating if her relationship is pretty much dead?  Is it cheating if your partner cheats on you first?

So … does she?  Read the book and find out yourself.  🙂   This is a pretty solid read – I enjoy Blair as an author, and I was surprised that the book was so polished as it is her first novel.

The overarching story revolving around insurance fraud and investigations adds nicely to the romance and a bit of a twist – it helps to temper the angst factor and is a great method of “showing” rather than telling the character development through their actions and reactions.

Recommended

Coming Home by Lois Cloarec Hart

I actually read this book when it was first published in 2001 and 18 years later I still remember it.  I have re-read it in the last ten years, but haven’t re-read it as part of this review.  For this one I am going from memory and the indelible impressions it left me with.

Okay, so this one is a three hanky extravaganza.  There’s so much angst in this, the book drips tears of remorse if you squeeze it hard.   In Coming Home, Cloarec Hart has set up an impossible situation with a heartbreaking love triangle.

Jan and Rob are a happily married couple who are dealing with some very tragic realities.  Rob, a former pilot, is confined to a wheelchair due to rapidly progressing MS and Jan is his primary caretaker.  Their relationship is strong and there is no doubt of love and respect that they have for one another – Rob’s gregarious attitude and Jan’s more introverted character compliment each other.   The very fact that Rob’s MS is progressing and there is no cure in itself is a tragedy – he’s a bigger than life kind of guy and refuses to let that deter him. He’s a really good guy – which makes the story all that more heart-wrenching.

Enter Terry, an aspiring writer and actual postal worker, who meets and helps the two when Rob has an accident.  From the beginning, a friendship is struck between the three  – with Rob encouraging Jan and Terry to spend more time together, knowing the toll that dealing with his declining health is taking on Jan.  There’s a wonderfully slow burn development of Jan and Terry’s relationship and you can see the connection as it grows.  As they spend more time together, Terry starts to fall in love with Jan but she’s resolved to remain their friend and be there for them as much as she can.  As it becomes more apparent that Jan is struggling with her feelings for Terry – while still being in love with Rob, things get even more complicated.  The emotional connections between the three characters and the emotional connection you develop with each of them elevates this book.  There are no bad guys or villains nor is anyone too noble for their own good – Cloarec Hart develops all three as real, authentic and messy characters trying to deal with a really horrible situation.

Omigod -friendship, respect, love, betrayal, grief.  Angst, angst, angst, angst, delicious angst.  This is remarkably well written book that just leaves you in a puddle of emotion by the time you finish.

Strongly Recommended 

Just One Moment by Dena Blake

This is actually the book that got me thinking about infidelity and how seldom you see it directly in a lesfic novel.  Blake took a rather novel approach to the dilemma of how to balance a reader’s sympathy/connection with a character who cheats on the other main character.  In Just One Moment, Shae’s infidelity is actually all off the page – it’s already happened and the ramifications on her and Chloe’s relationship have reached critical mass with a separation and Chloe trying to move on.   This is more of a second chance romance – whether Chloe can give Shae a second chance after such a betrayal.   So the angst is pretty much dripping off the page in the first chapter … and then Shae is in an accident that results in amnesia and she doesn’t remember her transgression, what led up to it and what resulted from it. She wakes up with no clue what a butt-head she had been and confused at Chloe’s distance.  So now Chloe has to struggle with whether she can forgive something that Shae doesn’t know about and whether this is a chance for both of them to start again with a clean slate as the Zoe in the present is the same Zoe she loved in the past, before the betrayal.  I had a few issues with the book but I thought, melodramatic as it was, this was an interesting way to sort through a plot based on infidelity.   There’s a more detailed review here

But wait – there’s more!

I started this round up thinking I’d only find a few books and ended up with a list of about ten, with six that I hadn’t read before.  So I’m splitting the Your Cheatin’ Heart  post into two parts.  Your Cheatin’ Heart – Part 2 (I’m thinking the subtitle might be “Look what the cat drug in”) will be out once I have a chance to read and draft my thoughts on the rest of the books I’ve earmarked.

These are the books I’m looking at for Part 2 – if you have any suggestions or recommendations to add, please let me know.

  • The Shape of You by Georgia Beers
  • Unforgettable by Elle Spencer
  • Behind the Green Curtain by Riley LaShea
  • Bittersweet Homecoming by Eliza Lentzski
  • More Than Friends by Erin Dutton

 

2 comments

  1. Hmm – haven’t read that one but it just happens to be in my ever-increasing TBR pile. I’ll add it to the list for Part 2. Thanks for the comment – it’s nice to know someone is reading my babbling posts.

    Like

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