Sweet Vindication

One of my favorite guilty pleasures in books is something I call, for lack of a better name, a “moment of triumph.” It’s a scene, usually a short one, that has some importance to the plot without being the major climax of the story, and it involves a character, usually the heroine, being vindicated in some way. Either another character underestimates her, oppresses her, or makes inaccurate assumptions – until this “moment of triumph,” when things turn around.

The quintessential “moment of triumph” for me comes from a young adult novel (and one of my favorite books of all time), The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen. In the scene, Macy, who is filling in for her perfect genius (ex)boyfriend in a job at an information/reference desk at a library, finally gets vindicated in front of her co-workers (who basically hate her and think she’s completely inept). All summer they’ve been ignoring her, not letting her do her job, and constantly correcting everything she does manage to do. Until the day that Wes, her very attractive co-worker from her other job at a catering company, comes into the library to ask Macy something.

Macy’s coworkers immediately draw him away from Macy, insisting that she will not know the answer to his question, since she’s only a trainee. Their blatant disregard for her is outrageous, and so Wes finally turns to them.

“’Okay,’ he said slowly, moving down the counter. He leaned on his elbows, closer to Bethany, and she sat up even straighter, readying herself, like someone on Jeopardy awaiting the Daily Double. ‘So here’s my question.’ Amanda picked up a pen, as if there might be a written portion. ‘Last night,’ Wes said, his voice serious, ‘when the supplies were being packed up, what happened to the big tongs?’ The sick part was that Bethany, for a second, looked as if she were actually flipping through her mental Rolodex for the answer…Wes looked at Amanda. ‘Do you know?’ Amanda shook her head slowly. ‘All right,’ he said, turning back to look at me. ‘Better ask the trainee then. Macy?’”

This is followed by a truly spectacular resignation by Macy, which involves jumping over counters and just walking out of the library with Wes. Even though this isn’t the great climax of the novel, it remains one of my favorite scenes in the book. I always read it with a big grin, mentally shoving it all in Macy’s coworkers faces. It’s a little bit vindictive and sort of petty, but I love it anyway. I also love a somewhat similar scene toward the end of Lisa Kleypas’ Blue Eyed Devil, where Haven’s (the heroine) brother finally overhears her boss’s horrendous treatment of her, and sends her packing.

I know I’m not the only one who relishes the moment when a hero suddenly realizes he’s underestimated a heroine’s intelligence or skills in some area. Though this scene is one of the guiltier “moments of triumph,” I still enjoyed the hero’s disbelief when he discovers his “naïve and empty-headed” heroine speaks fluent Arabic in Diana Palmer’s Lawman. Or in historicals, when the heroine blows people away by her intelligence or skills in riding/shooting/fencing/some other “masculine” pursuit. I feel like there are dozens of these books; the first that come to mind are two Judith McNaught books, Whitney My Love and Something Wonderful. And speaking of Whitney My Love, how about when Clayton realizes the truth about Whitney at the end, after months of mistreatment based on an assumption?

Moments of triumph seem to often be linked with so-called martyr heroines. Some people hate martyr heroines, the ones who suffer in silence at some injustice, but I love them – mostly because martyr heroines almost always have an excellent moment of triumph. If they took on their oppressors singlehandedly, they wouldn’t have that moment of vindication later on. Again, this is rather petty of me, but I think it anyway.

I like these moments because it allows me to be smug toward whoever was wrong in this situation, and I take a certain guilty pleasure in doing that occasionally. The heroine is rarely smug, so I can have an internal “in-yo-FACE” moment without the heroine being so spiteful. I always have sympathy for the heroine, whether someone is making assumptions about her or treating her poorly or just underestimates her for no reason, so to have that rug pulled out from under the other person always makes me smile, for the heroine’s sake.

Do you enjoy these scenes too? What are some that you can think of? And if you don’t like them, why?

-Jane Granville

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