Wrap Up

Stranger Danger Week: Recap

We’ve now each read a category romance novel from the 1980s with the word “stranger” in the title.

Here are our reviews: Holly on Shadowed Stranger, Ingrid on Sight of a Stranger, and Erin on Imperfect Stranger.

So, are strangers sexy?

Holly: Well, I guess strangers are mysterious and exciting, which could be sexy if that’s what you’re into. 

Erin: That’s gonna be a no from me.

Ingrid: I mean, I maintain that there can absolutely be a very visceral and thrilling sense of immediate attraction with a “stranger” but in this book I think “stranger” was a loose term…

How was the stranger content in the book you read?

Holly: Decent. Rick is new in town and—more importantly—keeps himself aloof from the locals. Even once Robyn ostensibly gets to know him, Rick remains a stranger. Robyn doesn’t know about his work, or his desires, or really anything about him until much later in the book, after she’s already fallen in love. 

Erin: Only relevant if you consider an offer of emotional intimacy to be equivalent to being a literal stranger. Which, I mean, I’m not gonna tell someone I don’t know all my innermost feelings. Unless he’s my perfect soulmate, which I will know immediately but not trust in my feelings, and then we will angst all over 200 pages together until I sort myself out with the help of my ride or die girlfriends. 

Ingrid: He was KIND OF a stranger, only in the sense that he was unknown to her. She wasn’t unknown to him, really–he came there on purpose to pursue a goal involving her. I think it was more titillating because she was blind, and I have some obvious issues with that specifically. 

What are some of the central concerns of these books?

Holly: The book I read was very concerned about questions of courtship and marriage. What is appropriate dating behavior? How do you know that the person you’re with is the one? How important are chastity and fidelity? While these issues are certainly related to gender roles, this book is not particularly interested in the gendered dynamic of these questions. 

While the books we read for Mustache Week were concerned with gender roles, they were much more focused on questions of women’s work than on courtship, which offers a stark contrast to this book. Though Robyn does work as a librarian, her work is incidental to her character. It seems like a placeholder, something that she’s doing to mark time until she marries. 

Erin: God. Only God. That is all.

In all seriousness, though, while we’ve talked a little bit about the underlying purity culture and sexism in these books, my book this month was on steroids. The casual sexism was maybe not significantly different, but the relationship the characters had with sex was fundamentally rooted in the kind of purity culture that sees modern dads giving their daughters promise rings as a no-sex contract. And even though Bree described sex arguably positively as “a gift from God, meant to be shared over a lifetime, in marriage,” I still found her contract with God to be the same kind of problematic we discuss every time we discuss purity culture, especially as it drew out over the course of her increasing desire for Neville.

Holly: I guess there were some purity culture vibes in the book I readl. There’s a secondary character—a coworker of Robyn’s—who is initially described as pretty annoying, mainly because she’s so boy crazy. She’s always going on dates with guys she meets when she goes clubbing (and it’s heavily implied that she’s having sex), and Robyn is definitely like, “She’ll never find a husband that way.” However, this character does end up being a supportive friend and also finds happiness with a guy she meets at the library. So the censure is only against her actions, not against her as a person. It’s not like she’s “stained” by what she’s done. All of which is to say what I said before: that this book is concerned with questions of courtship, and that the characters show some ambivalence about shifting social norms.

Ingrid: Well, obviously a central plot line was Shannon’s blindness and recovery from blindness. There were plenty of comments and thought processes about blindness and other general disabilities that were…old school. I know we have a long way to go when it comes to a lot of disabilities and physical differences, but I was pretty relieved to note some of the differences between the old school “pity and ignore” attitude towards blindness and what I see happening now. It was a romance based on Shannon being “saved” from her disability by a wealthy, successful, older “stranger”, so you can kind of imagine what we’re dealing with. 

Have we understood anything new about the 1980s?

Erin: I think my primary new observation was that we’re already seeing the Evangelical turn toward all Christians being like Christians (possibly except Catholics, still…I’m not sure when that started shifting), rather than each individual denomination focusing on differences. 

The other thing my book was probably more heavy-handed with this round was descriptions of the clothing. Jeepers! Linen pants, khaki jackets, raw silk suits. OH! And she picked him up at the airport terminal AND she had to ask for directions at a gas station. It’s such a glimpse into the past. 

In terms of mindset, this one aligned much more with the misogyny and purity culture that I have expected in the past, but I can’t be surprised by that in an inspirational romance. 

Holly: I mean, as with any time period, we’re seeing a range of ways that authors are responding to societal changes. 

Ingrid: I guess my real question was “where was I” (I mean, I was under age 4, but you get my drift) because I would have expected some of the backwards stuff in my book to have occurred in the 60’s but certainly not by the 80’s…

What kind of old categories should we read next?

Erin: I really don’t know, but this week I’m leaning toward covers featuring blue eyeshadow.

Holly: Oooooh, blue eyeshadow! I’m a little jealous about all the clothing in Erin’s book, so maybe blue eyeshadow will be a sign that the author stepped up their fashion game.

Ingrid: I do hear blue eyeshadow is making a comeback…

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