At the Back Fence Issue #275

August 27, 2007 

From the Desk of Laurie Likes Books:

Pure Joy

Stephen King writes a monthly column at the back of Entertainment Weekly, and in his most recent, entitled Jumping for Joy, he writes about a video he watched on the Ellen DeGeneres Show that he found “so striking” that he stopped his daily treadmill walkand just watched, first grinning, then laughing and actually hugging myself with delight.”

And just which video prompted such unfettered enthusiasm? A middle-aged guy in a Best Buy captured on a security camera rocking out to, as King calls it, “one of the greatest rock songs of all time”, Smokey Robinson’s Going to a Go-Go. King was so happy to see this public display of dance fever that he looked up the longer version online that I’ve included below. As King describes it: “Shopper dude with the thinning hair starts to move a little. Checks out something on the counter of a momentarily unattended checkout station. It’s of no interest to him, but the music starts to hit him. He pops a hip. And then — great God A’mighty — he starts to dance. Before long he’s really busting moves; I mean this guy is doing his duty and shaking his booty. If your Uncle Stevie is lyin’, he’s dyin’.”

King continues:

“For more than a minute the guy is giving it his best there in Best Buy, having the time of his life. At the end of the vid, someone comes into the picture and accosts him. It might be store security, sent by the grinches in management to make him stop — the clip ends before that’s clear — but I’d rather believe the two of them ended up dancing side by side, doing the Chorus Line thing. I know I would have joined him if I’d been there.” (emphasis added)

“The whole deal might have been staged — so many of them are these days, lonelygirl15 being a case in point — but it doesn’t matter. The crazy guy dancing in Best Buy, be he fake or fact, demonstrates the real purpose of these things we write about — to cause a sudden burst of happy emotion, a sudden rush to the head, the feet, and what may be the truest home of joy: a butt that just has to shake its happy self.”

King goes on to list some TV shows, movies, and CD’s that enthralled him, arguing, “I don’t know if these things are art, and I don’t really care. All I know is that they make me want to laugh and dance in the aisle at Best Buy. And that’s enough. Because, dammit, that’s what it’s for.”

That’s what this column is about…those things we read that elicit moments of pure joy, that cause us to want to laugh and dance in the aisle at Best Buy. I asked my two ATBF co-columnists for their help, and each of us went back through favorite reads to describe – not books – but scenes within them that fit this description. We’d love for our reminiscing about these great scenes to spur your sharing your own “pure joy” moments of favorite romances. Anne and I stuck to more recent reads while Robin’s choices are more spread out over time. But we encourage you to look back through your entire romance reading history when it comes time to post on the ATBF Forum.

It’s actually easier said than done to pick scenes such as these because immediately what comes to mind are scenes from funny books, epilogues, and/or love scenes so filled with joie de vivre that they made me ever-so-happy. Again, you are certainly encouraged to talk about such scenes on the ATBF Forum, but we’re going to make it tougher on ourselves by trying to choose more unexpected scenes.

A Few Moments of Pure Joy from Laurie:

The first scene I’ll mention is from Anne Stuart’s upcoming Ice Storm. It may seem as though finding a “pure joy” moment would be difficult in such a dark series. It is rather bitchy of me to do this given that you won’t be able to read the book until November, but I’ve simply got to gush about the ending to Madame Lambert’s story. In the space of less than a full page, Stuart wrote not only the quintessential “Stuart” ending, but out-did herself. It’s truly the “über Stuart ending” – pitch perfect, totally in tune with the characters, and so spare I wondered in amazement how she managed it in each of the dozen times I’ve re-read it. Any time I re-read a scene or a page over and over and over again, you can be sure I’ve loved it…and found great joy in it. Even better where this scene is concerned; it gave me such a vivid mental picture that I can easily see it as the final scene in a movie, so strongly were the characters and their behaviors delineated.

It’s true that I was pre-disposed to like the dandily dressed Simon, Viscount Iddesleigh, when introduced to him in Elizabeth Hoyt’s The Raven Prince, but books these days rarely live up to my expectations. The Serpent Prince not only lived up to my expectations – it exceeded them. The book, which is just about to be released, features a revenge sub-plot. Although it never threatens to overwhelm the romance, it does threaten the couple’s relationship. Hoyt’s book is filled with many wonderful moments, but here’s a small moment of pure joy I’d like to share: ever since the heroine insisted on allowing the naked and unconscious hero to recover at her house, her father held a healthy distrust for the man regarding his daughter’s virtue. It doesn’t take long for a grudging respect to build, but trust, well, that took far longer. Later, much later in the story, the heroine can no longer handle the stress and danger the hero is in as a result of pursuing his revenge, and she leaves him. It is none other than her father (he still thinks the hero is a “popinjay’, but never once considered him “loony”) who causes her to think about what she’s done. It’s a masterful scene featuring pathos and humor and revelation of character…and it’s one that has stuck in my mind ever since reading the book three months ago.

Finally, let’s talk about Samantha James’ The Secret Passion of Simon Blackwell. I’m not very good at following directions, so it’s not a particular scene, it’s a particular device the author used throughout the story…a series of journal entries written by the hero. Many romances use journal or diary entries to open chapters in their books, but it’s rare when they are as stirring as this. The hero, who lost his wife and child in a fire some years before, determines never to allow love into his life again. Reading his usually quite brief journal entries, and how they change throughout the course of the book as the heroine – and unwanted love – comes into his life, affected me greatly. His initial despair and then his attempts to avoid the possibility of loving – and losing – again, and then his acceptance of love and endeavors to assure that the heroine is always in his life left me feeling pure joy, no mean feat in a book with such depression hanging over it.

A Few Moments of Pure Joy from Robin:

The first scene that comes to mind is not actually a scene. It’s the opening pages of Laura Kinsale’s My Sweet Folly. The book begins with an exchange of letters between a lonely, very young wife of an older man and his distant cousin. For the most part the letters are innocent and charming, and an epistolary relationship between two very shy and lonely people develops. The two dance around each other until one confesses an improper – but compelling – attachment. The two overcome this but then, with one shocking revelation, the relationship ends. Even now, knowing that the book is a DIK and extremely well known, I will not give away the surprise to those who have not read the book. But I think it is perfect. Many readers don’t feel that My Sweet Folly lives up to the promise of the first chapter. I loved the book but I will agree to one thing. The first chapter had me breathless and I have read and reread it on the worst of days. I just love it.

Another scene that I absolutely love is from Suzanne Brockmann’s Get Lucky. The book’s cover, so horrendous it “won” as Worst Cover in our annual cover contest), was so bad that even though it the book was written by one of my favorite authors, I could barely bring myself to buy it. There is a wonderful scene in the book where the handsome hero, Lucky, decides he can control the heroine by making a pass at her. It’s a callous and completely thoughtless act. It never occurs to Lucky that he’s being insulting as well as cruel. The heroine, Sydney, an investigative reporter, spots the trick immediately and has the courage to call him on it. She tells him “guys like you hit on girls like me for only two reasons.” Lucky, who is so spoiled by his own looks that he thinks he actually understands this exchange asks, “You don’t think much of yourself, do you?” That response would have stopped many lesser women, but Sydney makes it clear that the problem is not that she doesn’t think much of herself – but that she doesn’t think much of him. She tells him she knows he’s the kind of guy who dates super models – and she says it in such a way that its pretty clear that he’s the one with the issues. I loved it.

Memory in Death is not my favorite of the J.D. Robb In Death but I absolutely loved the book’s opening pages, which begin with the hard-boiled Eve Dallas calmly handling one more senseless homicide in a futuristic New York City. “Death was not taking a holiday. New York may have been decked out in all of its glitter and glamour madly festooned in December 2059, but Santa Claus was dead, And a couple of his elves weren’t looking too good.” What I loved about this opening was the way that Robb establishes Eve’s character from the get-go. Eve is not even slightly unsettled by the sight of a Santa who lies dead on the sidewalk To Eve, Santa is not a fond memory from childhood. Consequently she has little real sympathy for the children around her who are shrieking with terror because “the fat guy” who was supposed to be bringing them presents lies dead on the sidewalk instead. This should be horrifying, but somehow it is not. It’s funny, not because Santa is dead – but because Eve is so clueless. Loyal Robb readers know that poor Eve had such a horrific childhood that she’s hasn’t any hope of understanding typical children. I absolutely loved this opening. In fact I loved it so much that I was disappointed when the rest of the book did not include a series of dead Santas. (Now, how weird is that?)

A Couple of Moments of Pure Joy from Anne:

When Laurie first told me she wanted me to tell her about passages that made me feel joy, my first thought was sheer panic. Joy? Me? I’m the one who reads dark angsty stuff, like paranormal romances where the hero kills people. Or stories where the characters get twisted in knots over misunderstandings, horrid trauma, addictions, you name it.

But some scenes do bring me simple joy, without angst and tears. To me, the best example of a scene that brings me joy is one that makes me wish I were there, right at that moment. In Beverly Jenkins’ Sexy/Dangerous, the hero’s house is almost a character in itself, as is the gorgeous lake on the property. Early on, the heroine, Max, hired to protect him, comes upon this lake on her first day there.

“She’d had no idea that the house offered such a panoramic view nor that it was built on a sandy bluff that had to be a good fifty feet above the beach below. Gulls circled overhead on the thermals of the gorgeous day. Their cries and the waves breaking against the shore were the only sounds.The peacefulness Max felt was welcome. Having been on the move from country to country for what seemed like an eternity, she was glad to have an assignment that might have a slower pace. Yes, she was here to do a job, but she looked forward to sitting out here at the end of the day and breathing in all this serenity.”

Sigh. I hope Max doesn’t mind if I sit next to her. Of course, as this is romantic suspense, it shouldn’t be a surprise that not everything is tranquil. Even the lake shows its dark side during a storm. And Max herself is far from a laid-back heroine — that’s part of the fun!

Sometimes a book can bring me joy by dealing with a typical plot element instead of dropping the ball. I loved how, In Hunter’s Moon, a collaborative effort by C.T. Adams and Cathy Clamp, the authors dealt with the heroine’s thoroughly obnoxious family. So many authors create hideous family members and then whimp out and try to have a reconciliation. In this particular story, that would have been harder to accept than the shapeshifters who populated the story. These family members weren’t trying to kill the heroine or anything as lame as that. Instead, they were realistic evil family members because they were selfish and walked all over her. It’s one thing to showcase the banality of evil, it’s another to deal with it effectively. I wanted to clap when the hero handled her relatives, particularly her selfish, manipulative mother. We’ve all read books with obnoxious relatives, but how often do you get to read one where a hit-man who is also a shapeshifter becomes a buffer between the heroine and her horrid family? The final revelation about the heroine’s will was just icing on the cake. And funny, too.

Time for the ATBF Forum:

No specific questions this time…just some thoughtfulness from you in recalling scenes from favorite romances that created simillar long-lived reactions of pure joy. You needn’t limit yourself to darker reads as we did; our decision was to illustrate that such moments aren’t specific to light and/or funny romances. By all means, feel free to bring on those epilogues as well. And, indeed, if an entire book left you with a constant smile on your face, let’s talk about that too!

Since the last half of my summer has been difficult, dwelling on moments of pure joy did quite a bit to lift my spirits. Whether or not you’ve just come through a bad time, it is nearly the end of summer, and time to refocus our energies. Why not do it with a healthy helping of joyful moments and a wistful smile on your face?

TTFN, as Tigger said to Winnie the Pooh,
Laurie Likes Books, with assistance from Robin Uncapher and Anne Marble

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(AAR uses BYRON for its romance reference needs)