When TSTL Works

audrey_hepburn Over the years here, we’ve said quite a bit about the TSTL(Too Stupid To Live) nutter, one of the heroines we love to hate. And I have long been among those who have hated them most fervently and vocally. The mere letters of this acronym bring to mind so many rage ridden reading moments it’s hard to think of them without boiling blood. My favorite TSTL moment to hate remains the moment in Elizabeth Adler’s Sailing to Capri when Daisy, who had been told by Sir Robert to trust noone but Harry begins to trust everyone around her except Harry – with whom she cleverly verbally spars throughout the rest of the book. Which brings to mind other moments, like when Tristan, Duke of Shelbourn, agrees to the most ridiculous idea ever proposed in Regency bride hunting — a sort of The Bachelor style situation in which he was dating/courting an entire room full of women at once. For that I almost threw Vicky Dreiling’s How to Marry a Duke against the wall. Yet last night, on my millionth or so watching of the movie Charade with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant, I realized that there are moments when TSTL lends itself quite well to romance.

For those who have never seen this gem, Hepburn is unwillingly (and dangerously) caught up amogst a band of criminals on the hunt for a million dollars. Someone is killing them off one by one and it looks as though Grant may very well be that someone. She has every reason not to trust him but every time she should turn and run away she runs toward him instead. Now granted, the visuals helped me get why. What woman in her right mind would choose common sense over Cary’s good lucks and charm? And yes, it often looked as though he might kill her but is there really a better way to go? But her behavior, ot trusting a man who had lied to her so often she didn’t even know his real name, certainly looked TSTL throughout most of the film..

Watching them got me to thinking of books where TSTL worked for me. First to come to mind is Balogh’s The Famous Heroine. Cora did so many ridiculous – and occassionally dangerous – things throughout that book it should have been a wall banger for sure. One thing that saved it was that Cora’s antics were always caused by her great desire to do good. Whether she was nearly killing everyone in Hyde Park during the fashionable hour by rescuing a pair of perfectly safe dogs or almost drowning saving a child who could swim, Cora had at her heart a desire to help. From falling out of trees while helping a child climb out of one or displaying ankle for all to see while resucing a young boys hat, her charm lay in an ability to laugh at herself and enjoy the moment. More importantly, her hero Francis – a man wearing pink waistcoats during the era of black only – needed a woman of character and humor. Their touch of zaniness made their romance all the more sweet and fun.

Another time TSTL works for me is when the heroine is very young. Bella, of Twilight fame often has to be rescued by Edward or Jacob due to getting herself into dangerous situations. The classic scene at the end of Twilight when she handed herself over to the villain to save her mother is the perfect example. Several vampire warriors available and yet Bella takes her human self over there. Or when she determindly stalked her friend Jacob, convinced he was the victim of a nasty gang (in spite of being assured by Jacob he wasn’t) and found herself on the wrong side of an angry werewolf. Yet I forgave her (after a bit of eye rolling) because of her youth and because of how deeply she loved. The first person narration really worked in favor of this, btw, because viewed from the outside some of what she did would have had me banging my head (hard) against the nearest wall. Yet seen from her point of view, I understood exactly why she had done it and while I couldn’t always agree with her logic, I could always sympathize with her emotions.

Yet another time TSTL can work is when it is combined with just the right touch of crazy. It’s especially fun when the heros are the ones being stupid. In Jill Barnett’s Carried Away when Eachann McLachlan finds himself once more without anyone to care for his children this wealthy Scot decides to kidnap his bride like the lairds of old. Plucking two young women away from a society party (generous soul that he is he plans to give one to his brother!) and trussing them up like Thanksgiving turkeys, he is surprised when his idea engenders nothing but anger from the three other parties caught up in his scheme. Within hours he finds himself on the wrong side of a gun, weilded by a woman who clearly has no idea how they work. One waterlogged rescue later and we begin to realize that the whole thing works because the premise of the book is light and the TSTL behavior wasn’t just something that one character did but that everyone indulged in. But that alone wouldn’t have kept me from eye rolling and wall banging. What did was the good hearted nature of all the participants. Eachann didn’t just grab any women but he found a woman in need of rescue for his brother, who loved rescue projects, and a gal in need of a rich husband for himself. His kids needed a mother, she needed what he had to offer, what could be more logical? I could think of a million things but the point was that he was not a malicious alpha jerk grabbing a woman for his own benefit but a decent, confused and befuddled guy looking for a quick fix.

Pretty quickly I realized that a pattern had emerged in that when TSTL works for me is when the behavior wasn’t done to prove the characters independence or just for the sake of doing it but because the character was following their heart rather than their head. It makes sense for Hepburn to trust Grant against all odds given that logic: She loves him. It makes sense to forgive Cora, Bella and even Eachann their mistakes – they were thinking with their hearts, not their heads. If the author can convice me of the genuinness of the emotions and the good will of the participants then I can forgive all the TSTL she throws at me.

So is there a time when TSTL works for you? When the author mixes the ingredients just right and the tale comes out fun rather than just annoying? Which books and authors did that for you?

– Maggie Boyd

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