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The Default Hero/ine?

I don’t know if I read the same way other people do. But I’ve been thinking lately about the way I read and what I see and pay attention to in the text of books. (And what I miss.) And I have realised something about myself.  I am still working on the why, but here’s what I’ve got so far.

I think I have a “default hero” and a “default heroine”.  I know that typically, blond heroes on covers do not sell as well as dark haired heroes. Maybe that’s why Mr. Default has dark hair – it’s what I’m most used to seeing.  Or maybe that is my own preference. But Mr. Default is tall (around 6’1″ ish), with broad shoulders, narrow hips and a six pack.  Ms. Default is less defined – in that I find it much easier to change her hair colour (is this the influence of book covers again?) but she, typically is around medium height, edging into tall (maybe 5’7″ish), slim, with a nipped in waist and a nice (but not huge) rack.  If I’m reading a book where the characters aren’t particularly well defined, Mr. and Ms. Default step in.  It’s also true that if I’m reading a book where the hero is described as very short or very tall or otherwise outside my “default”, I tend to morph the hero in my mind. I “see” him in my head as around that 6′ mark unless the text doesn’t allow me to.

MagpieLordFor example, in The Magpie Lord, my inclination was to make Stephen taller.  Unfortunately, the text kept reminding me that he was not tall –

He was incredibly unimpressive. Short, for one thing, barely five feet tall, narrow shouldered, significantly underweight, hollow-cheeked. He had reddish-brown hair cut unfashionably close, possibly against a hint of curls. His worn suit of faded black was obviously cheap and didn’t fit terribly well; bizarrely, he wore cheap cotton gloves. He looked like a clerk, the ten-a-penny kind who drudged in every counting house, except that he had tawny-gold eyes that were vividly glowing in his pale rigid face, and they were staring at Crane with something that looked extraordinarily like hate.

I never felt the text hammered it into my head over and over again. It was not annoying. But, I could not see Stephen as anything other than the short man he was.

TheChangeupMr. Default and Ms. Default (or Mr. and Mr. Default as the case may be) are usually relatively close in age as well.  That’s my default.  So, unless the text convinces me an age difference is important, I’m going to picture the main characters as being similar in age/maturity too.  I read The Changeup by Rhonda Shaw recently.  The hero is 22 and the heroine is 34.  I didn’t actually start off thinking that was a huge deal in terms of age difference (because, fundamentally, I don’t think 34 is old).  But the text convinced me it was a problem.  It also convinced me (and I don’t think it was supposed to) that the hero was actually too immature to be in a relationship with the heroine.

TheGoodBoyI also read The Good Boy by Lisa Henry and JA Rock shortly after.  (I reviewed it at Dear Author.) Derek, the elder hero was 37 and Lane, the younger hero was 20.  For some reason I didn’t feel that the age difference meant anything material to them.  Possibly it was because the authors did a good job of showing that the characters related well to one another and that Lane was a mature 20 year old.  (He was certainly vulnerable but maturity is a different thing I think).  But, what if I merely inserted my default?  Did I round Lane up to 25 and Derek down to 30? I might have. I don’t know.

Glitterland by Alexis Hall

Why I read it:  I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley.  I’m also friendly with Sarah Frantz and the author on Twitter (although those relationships made me want to read the book, they didn’t affect my opinion of it).

What it’s about: (from Goodreads)  The universe is a glitterball I hold in the palm of my hand.

Once the golden boy of the English literary scene, now a clinically depressed writer of pulp crime fiction, Ash Winters has given up on love, hope, happiness, and—most of all—himself. He lives his life between the cycles of his illness, haunted by the ghosts of other people’s expectations.

Then a chance encounter at a stag party throws him into the arms of Essex boy Darian Taylor, an aspiring model who lives in a world of hair gel, fake tans, and fashion shows. By his own admission, Darian isn’t the crispest lettuce in the fridge, but he cooks a mean cottage pie and makes Ash laugh, reminding him of what it’s like to step beyond the boundaries of anxiety.

But Ash has been living in his own shadow for so long that he can’t see past the glitter to the light. Can a man who doesn’t trust himself ever trust in happiness? And how can a man who doesn’t believe in happiness ever fight for his own?

What worked for me (and what didn’t): Sometimes, what seems on the surface to be the strangest pairing, is not so strange at all when you really look at it.  Ash is bipolar type 1, with an anxiety disorder on top of it.  He is a successful author, well off financially and fond of bespoke suits. He is cynical, sharp, articulate, intelligent and, let’s face it, a bit of a snob.  He is also… passive.  He feels like his life is basically over, his mental illness having robbed him of the life he thought he would have.

Darian, on the other hand, is almost exactly the opposite.  He’s an Essex boy who does a bit of “moddlin’” –  think Zoolander meets The Only Way is Essex (which, for the US audience, is a British Jersey Shore). That is; exactly the kind of person the reality TV watching audience loves to watch in order to feel superior (sometimes, this has been me).  At first, Darian seems like bit of a joke character – his complexion is unashamedly orange from his fake tan, he’s (apparently) not too bright, and has a broad accent which many would perceive as a further reducing his already average IQ.  He’s the unsophisticated opposite of Ash.  I wondered if Ash would accept him as a romantic hero?  I wondered whether I would.

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