Fiction: “Prelude to a Scandal” by Delilah Marvelle

Written September 4, 2012

So … remember that time when I showed y’all all those romance novels I’ve accumulated over the years? And that time when I said this about one of those romance novels I accumlated?:

I’m picking up the back of a book, and it has a generic title and normal plotline, and I’m thinking to myself, “Why did I buy this?” And then I see that the male character is named the Duke of Bradford. And then I went, “Oh. Right.” And then, my brain went, “Wait — why did you buy this book?” And then I remembered: this was a purchase I made on one of my late-night Wal-Mart runs, and I was clearly sleep-deprived enough to think that reading it would be funny. Because now, in the harsh light of 1 p.m., I’m thinking, “Do I really want to read a book where the heroine could be calling out ‘Oh Bradford’ mid-coitus?” No; no I do not. And so that title has been placed in the “To Sell Back” pile, without being read. Because, again: ick.

Question: If you’re a blogger, and you quote yourself, does the Internet fold in on itself like a wormhole? LET’S FIND OUT.

So y’all thought that was it, didn’t you? You probably said to yourself, “Well, good for Alaina, not damaging any more of her brain cells by reading something that will not be able to provide enjoyment. That was a wise decision on her part.”

And then you realize that what Alaina should get tattooed — instead of the A from the Avengers logo (because she’s a geek, in love with Iron Man, and her name begins with ‘A’: #logic) — is I Am A Masochist in very curly script. Because that is what Alaina is: a Masochist. With a capital M.

Because, yeah: I didn’t sell the book back. I read it instead. Because that’s the kind of stupid shit I do.

So now, you’re probably wondering, “Well, wait — why is it so bad to be reading a book about a character named Bradford?” Well …

I’m not sure how many of you readers have been following from the beginning. And if this happens to be your first entrée into the crazy brain-space of Alaina, may I say both ‘welcome’ and ‘I’m sorry.’ But in my real-life, I have a very good friend named Brad. And what I’ve come to realize is that the name ‘Brad’ is both common and not. You hear the name around every once in a while, and it’s usually a pretty popular name because it’s simple to spell and pronounce, but it’s not like I have to differentiate between my four friends named Brad, because I don’t have four Brad friends; I have one Brad friend. Meanwhile, I have no less than five contacts in my phone that are named Jessica.

In literature, it’s less common. The only other book I can think of that had a character named Brad (that didn’t involve a mention of Mr. Pitt) was Death at Bishop’s Keep, and the Brad in question was actually named “Bradford,” and he wasn’t even the main character! So it wasn’t weird for me as I read it.

You ask again: why is it weird? Well, I’ve always had a very visual memory and imagination. Meaning: when you tell me a story, rather than hearing the words, I see the action occur in my head. Normally, it’s not a big deal. But when a former coworker and faux member of your family (uh, NOT BRAD) decides that it would be funny to tease you with stories that are most likely made up about Stuff that Happens in His Marital Bedchamber, and he thinks it’s hilarious because you clamp your hands over your ears and shout LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU SHUT THE FUCK UP, it’s not because you’re a prude (and clearly we’re talking about me because that’s the only reason you use the second person narrative, and also, I’m not a prude): it’s because you can see him in the cage wearing the bustier, like he’s Barry Bostwick at the end of Rocky Horror, and NO ONE SHOULD SEE THAT, not even in your mind.

So when I’m reading a romance novel and one of the main characters’ names is a bastardization of that of one of my very dear friends? …. I say again, ick.

Now, let’s say I can remove myself from the whole Bradford thing — that I can take that step back and say “Alaina, this character you are reading about is not the same person as your very dear friend, regardless of how similar their names are.” Let’s say I was able to achieve that level of sanity. How would the book be if I weren’t a crazy person?

Actually, it’s still pretty shitty.

The main character and Bradford’s love interest is named Justine. And in my mind, I equate her with Cady Heron in Mean Girls: she’s been living with her science-ey parents in Africa, and just in time for her debut London season, they return to Society, and she’s not really sure how to fit in. But instead of becoming friends with Lady Regina and finding her way to, if not popularity, then at least stasis via a series of misadventures … her father publishes a treatise on animal husbandry that is very pro-gay sex, and since it’s … well, I was going to say 1829 and not 2012, but then I remembered that this could still happen today, anyway, he gets thrown in jail for being pro-buggery.

Justine comes up with a scheme to get her father out of jail: she’s going to offer herself — and her precious virginity — to her good friend, Radcliff, the Duke of Bradford. In exchange for sex, he’ll get her father out of jail. But Radcliff doesn’t want to just have sex with his friend (although yes, he does want that); instead, he proposes marriage to her.

(What was actually very nice of this book was that, halfway through, Justine stops calling him ‘Bradford’ and instead uses his first name, ‘Radcliff.’ Which is how I will be addressing the character from here on out, because — and I can’t say this enough, apparently — ick.]

Oh, and also? Radcliff is a sex addict, and he hopes that by marrying Justine, she’ll be able to help cure his ‘obsession.’ Which is what they apparently called sex addiction back then. Okay, sure; whatever.

So they get married, and then Radcliff tells Justine that oh, right: he had this weird obsession with his brother’s mistress, who just so happened to also be a prostitute. In Radcliff’s “defense,” he makes it clear that he never slept with her; this particular obsession was from a safe distance. And he tried valiantly to stay away from her, out of respect for his brother, but when he found out his brother — who is also a bastard, in both the literal and figurative definitions — was beating her, he strove to protect her. Except there was this one night where, when he was hopped up on goofballs, he discovers she’d been abducted and was gang-raped in an alley. He rescues her and suffers a knife to the face as payment, and also, now she’s pregnant and has now idea who the father is, because: gang-raped.

WHAT …. WHAT THE FUCK. I … NOT APPROPRIATE, ROMANCE NOVEL.

When Matilda (the mistress) approaches Radcliff for help, he wants to turn her away to prove his loyalty to Justine. But Justine thinks he’s not being empathetic to his former whatever, and she orders him to take Matilda in. It’s not as awkward as he thinks it’s going to be — until MATILDA PUTS THE MOVES ON JUSTINE AND KISSES HER.

WHAAAAAT!?? Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course. But that is so completely random (and not usually found in traditional romance novels…)! It’s like the author was told that she could only write ONE BOOK EVER, so she threw in as much as possible — like, “rescue from rape,” “let’s be pro-sodomy” and “surprise!lesbianism” — while she had the chance.

Then Justine’s parents come and rescue Justine and take her back to Africa and try to convince Radcliff to let her go, but as it usually does in romance novels, love conquers all — and in this case, apparently the space-time continuum, because Radcliff jumps on a ship to South Africa practically immediately to follow Justine and profess his love.

So there were a lot of random elements in this book that just made it seem very jumbled. On top of that, there were many places where I felt that it was overwritten. For instance, I can definitely say that I would never have used these words together in one sentence (MOM LOOK AWAY DON’T READ WHAT I’M QUOTING):

He felt her core tightening as her warm wetness slathered his rigid cock. [309]

I mean … ew. Ewwww. I would use the verb ‘slather’ when it comes to, I don’t know, paint; or frosting on a cake. Or barbeque sauce on ribs. Mmmmm… ribs. I mean, to me? Something that is slatherable should be fairly … viscous, in nature. I think Justine needs to be checked out for something if that’s something that’s happening…

On the silver lining side of things, however, is the fact that some of the word choices are unintentionally humorous. Just try and say this without giggling at the end:

What was worse, he knew she was right. He was a whore. A whore to his own cock. [251]

There are a couple of other areas that were pretty funny, but I’m kind of over it. Let’s get back to the whole “personal associations” thing. Because there are three examples I’m going to give that made me wonder if I wasn’t being Punk’d.

For instance:

“Radcliff dearest,” she whispered aloud, as if he could hear her. “Everything I do, I do it for you.” [234]

IMMEDIATELY I went to the end of “Righteous Brothers,” the second-season finale of Arrested Development, where Gob and Franklin sing the Bryan Adams song to Michael, to profess their loyalty and solidarity to him, which is just hilarious and off-key. I swear to god, I can’t hear that song without a) cracking up and b) making Gob’s “taste the happy” face at the end of that clip.

At one point, Justine explores Radcliff’s office:

The wall on the far end of the room was lined from floor to ceiling with shelves and shelves of old, leather-bound books. Before those shelve sat a large mahogany desk… [141]

… Really? Really? Radcliff, Duke of Bradford, has many leather-bound books? And his apartment smells of rich mahogany? DUKE OF BRADFORD’S KIND OF A BIG DEAL, APPARENTLY. But I mean, come on! Anchorman, for cripe’s sake! You’re messing with me, aren’t you?

AND THEN THERE’S THIS:

“Regardless, I cannot take this conversation seriously with your member exposed.” [42]

Here’s why that was funny in an awful, terrible way for me. My Brad and I have had FIGHTS about the non-word ‘irregardless.’ He claims it’s a real word, because it’s found in the dictionary. Which he THREW AT ME, bee tee dubs. You know what else is found in the dictionary, Brad? … Okay, apparently ‘cromulent’ is not found in the dictionary. Which is a damn shame, and would TOTALLY prove my point. But you know what is? ‘CRAPULENT.’ And I’m pretty sure ‘crapulent’ is a less cromulent word than irregardless. (Seriously, if they can add “D’oh” to the Oxford English Dictionary, “cromulent” can’t be too far behind.) THEN Brad gets into this whole thing about how ‘irregardless’ is conversational, and then I go “yeah, so is ‘ain’t,’ but I don’t see you saying it’s okay for me to say that!” And it’s a whole big thing, and frankly, to have an author put the character of Bradford in the same room as the word “regardless” would make me make that connection, because clearly I am insane.

ANYWAY. I cannot believe I have just written over fifteen hundred words on this. In short: the story’s not that great, the plotline has holes an elephant could walk through, but at least they stopped calling him ‘Bradford’ halfway through and just focused on ‘Radcliff’ so I didn’t get too creeped out.

So now, let us never speak of this again.

Grade for Prelude to a Scandal: 1 star
(for the Anchorman reference only)

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