Elizabeth Blakesley Lindsay

Winter 2003

"No Means No" Isn't Funny, or Misogyny in Romance Fiction: Jennifer Crusie's Crazy for You

     My mother read to me before I was even born, and I began reading on my own at an early age, the roots of a voracious habit that still holds me captive. From Nancy Drew, to Ngaio Marsh and Agatha Christie, to Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller and beyond, much of my reading has been in the detective and mystery genre, even through college. During the time I was in a graduate literature program, my reading habits were more dictated by syllabi, but I will freely admit that, since leaving the program, I've read at least 150 detective novels per year. I share this addiction with many others and belong to several email discussion groups, one of which focuses on women mystery writers and detective books with women characters. Among the group's recommendations last summer was Jennifer Crusie's Fast Women, which turned out to be a funny, sexy romantic comedy with a mystery in the background. Although it was lighter than my normal reading taste, the book was very funny, and I couldn't help but enjoy it. I decided to seek out other Crusie novels.

     The one I selected was Crazy For You, which is a novel based on characters in short stories she wrote for her MFA thesis. I later learned at Crusie's website that it was nominated for a "Rita" award and was named as one of the RWA (Romance Writers of America) Top Ten romances of 1999. I chose it because the plot summary sounded amusing: a woman decides to make some major changes in her life and has to deal with the effects of those decisions, which are exacerbated by the fact that she lives in a very small town in Ohio.

     As I began the book, I found snappy dialogue and humorous scenes, although the writing seemed less polished the more recent Fast Women. What I didn't bargain for was the level of abuse that was going to be passed off as comedy. The main character, Quinn McKenzie, is an art teacher at the local high school. She lives with her fiancée, Bill, who is the football coach there. After a dispute with him about whether she should adopt a stray dog, Quinn has an epiphany of sorts: she realizes she doesn't like their beige apartment, doesn't like their beige furniture, doesn't like her beige life. She also realizes she's tired of being the dependable one who always does the right thing. She also realizes she doesn't like Bill so much any more either. She announces her plan to move out and call off their engagement, but Bill refuses to take her news seriously. At first, it's cute. He calls her a lot to ask when she's coming home. After she removes some belongings from the apartment, he calls her to inquire about the whereabouts of the silverware. She explains that the silver was her grandmother's and suggests he buy some of his own. "But then we'll have two sets," Bill replies (69). He can't understand what's happening to his plans for their future.

     Then, things get a little dicier. When Quinn's friend arrives to pick up some boxes she'd packed, there aren't any boxes to pick up. Bill unpacked them all. Then Bill breaks into her new house, lets the dog loose and calls Animal Control with a false report of a vicious dog. He lets the dog be picked up and taken away. Because he was with Quinn when she got the dog's license registered at the shelter, they call him as an owner, and he tells them that if it's bitten someone, the dog should be put down.

     Among the funny scenes and the quirky characters, Bill's behavior escalates. Quinn had applied for a loan to buy a house, and Bill has a word with the bank manager, one of his friends, and causes Quinn trouble with her down payment amount. He then calls other friends at various agencies to have her house undergo extra inspections and various delays.

     Meanwhile, he buys another house in town with lots of bedrooms for the children he's been planning for, and he arrives at her door to move her there. No matter how many times or ways she tells him that their relationship is over, he won't accept it. He conspires with the principal to make trouble for her at work, and he stalks her throughout the school.

     Then the situation gets absolutely criminal. He breaks into her house again, sprays the dog in the eyes with a cleaning fluid, and throws away her underwear. He traps her in a storeroom at school. He breaks in again to sabotage her house, with the rationale being that she'll need him to fix things up. (Yes, readers are treated to Bill's narrative voice at various points.) When Quinn falls and hurts her ankle when the stair rail suddenly "loosens," her friends examine the entire house and discover evidence of massive sabotage, but she still can't get the sheriff to listen. He isn't interested in their accusations because "Bill is god" and he doesn't want to waste the football coach's time (258). Quinn's father, who considers the sheriff a friend, offers to try to talk some sense into him. When the sheriff finally questions Bill, his mere assertion that he isn't stalking her satisfies him.

     In a prolonged scene (283-86), Bill physically attacks Quinn. Her new boyfriend Nick comes upon the scene and literally rescues her from Bill's clutches. Bill continues to wait outside the house, trying to snoop on Quinn and Nick while Nick bandages her wounds. Afterward, her friends want to call the police, but she is reluctant. It's not hard to blame her for this, given the sheriff's attitudes about Bill's innocence. When some of her family and friends do go to the sheriff, his reaction is the same. To make matters worse, the school principal also gets more involved, lying to the sheriff about Quinn in hopes of solving Bill's problems so he can re-focus on the football team.

     After the physical attack and slander, Bill comes to break in once again and throws the dog, which for him is the symbol of why Quinn left, "as hard as he could" against the wall (307). After this incident, Quinn finally requests a restraining order. Bill returns, hides in the house, waits until she's in the shower, and then appears in the bathroom. They get into another altercation, during which Nick and the sheriff both appear. Upon witnessing the scene, the sheriff finally sees the light, telling Quinn, "I kinda see your point about the coach" and remarking to Bill, "I don't think she likes it this rough" (321).

     After finishing the novel (skimming the last third because I was so mad but I knew I wanted to write about it), I began gathering reviews and commentary about the book on the web. A unsigned review at the deadlypassions.com website noted: "After Quinn McKenzie adopts a stray dog, she becomes involved with dog-napping, adultery, breaking-and-entering, petty theft, stalking and seduction. As more and more secrets unfold, McKenzie falls for the one man in town she should keep away from. As for the first two points, the dog she adopts was taken from an abusive owner, and since she isn't married and doesn't begin a new relationship until after breaking off the old one, adultery is an interesting way to describe what happens. As for the breaking-and-entering, petty theft, and stalking, Quinn doesn't become involved with these things, she becomes the victim of these things.

     One may wonder: how can this be a romance novel? And, how can this be a comedy? Well, Quinn does find true love with Nick, her old friend and her sister's ex-husband. Her best friend works out some marital troubles with her husband, who is Nick's brother. Quinn's mother tries out a lesbian relationship for awhile. And the home-wrecking divorcee who lives in their town has a few adventures.

     This book got glowing reviews from Library Journal, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly, and even the often harshly critical Kirkus Reviews viewed it favorably. The Kirkus reviewer did briefly mention that "the only jarring note in this sexy, lighthearted confection is Bill, who turns into a pretty serious nutcase." The novel was also "highly recommended" by two reviewers at the popular online review site, Under the Covers. The only other review with any negative observations that I could find mentions that the work is not as funny as Crusie's other works. This review makes only a brief reference to Bill's actions, and rather than criticizing Bill and his abusive behavior directly, the reviewer finds fault with the plotting. The concluding paragraph states:

There's a major "duh" moment when the day following Bill's most vicious assault, Quinn's friends and family, who have been guarding her nonstop since Bill became a threat, simply go merrily about the business of their own lives, seeming to forget that Quinn is still in dire need of protection and leaving Quinn home alone, totally vulnerable to Bill's final attack.

The reviewer fails to mention the severity and increased violence and frequency of the attacks, nor does the critic clarify that the friends are trying to protect her because the authorities refuse to do so.

     From her interviews and her notes on her website, Jennifer Crusie sounds like a warm, funny person. She may even be a gifted comedic writer, but Crazy for You treats violence against women like a joke. If a man had written a comedic novel about a man involved with stalking, sabotage, fraud, attacks and abuse toward a former girlfriend, the list of critics who would have vilified him would be long indeed.

     There are times when humor regarding certain political situations, violence and even death can be cathartic, although the events of September 11, 2001 may have changed some ideas about that. Generally, many will still admit that there is some truth in the adage about laughter being the best medicine. And many people agree that satire is a powerful tool for exposing certain issues and behaviors, including injustice, hatred and ignorance. However, if Crusie intended this to be a satire, I believe she failed. While the dialogue is funny and often sarcastic, the words and actions of the characters are realistically portrayed, without extensive satirical nuances. While Bill's behavior is certainly over the top, it doesn't seem to be exaggerated for comic or satirical value. I believe Crazy for You is what it appears to be (and what the Romance Writers of America acclaimed it as): a romantic comedy with a happy ending. It seems irrelevant to the author and many reviewers that the protagonist suffers domestic abuse while on the road to her happy ending.

 

Notes

1. Crusie, Jennifer. Home Page. Sept. 2001. 25 September 2001. <http://www.jennycrusie.com>

2. "Crazy for You by Jennifer Crusie." Deadly Passions. Feb. 2000. 25 September 2001. <http://www.deadlypassions.com/monthly/feb2000/0312971125.htm>

3. Crusie, Jennifer. "Crazy for You." Home Page. 25 September 2001. <http://www.sff.net/people/JenniferCrusie/CrazyForYou.html>

4. "Crazy for You." Kirkus Reviews. 1999. Reprinted at amazon.com. 25 September 2001.

5. "Crazy for You by Jennifer Crusie." Under the Covers. Feb. 1999. 25 September 2001. <http://www.silcom.com/~manatee/crusie_crazy.html>

6. "Case Report: Crazy for You by Jennifer Crusie." Kiss Me Kill Me Thrill Me. 17 March 2001. 25 September 2001. <http://www.kissmekillmethrillme.com/Reviews/jennifercrusie.html>

Work Cited

Crusie, Jennifer. Crazy for You. New York: St. Martin's, 1998.

 

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