Foreplay and Afterglow
One of my favorite love scenes ever isn’t in a romance novel.
In 1997, Steven Brust and Emma Bull co-wrote Freedom & Necessity, a massive epistolary novel set in 1849 that puzzled me greatly because I expected a fantasy (Brust and Bull write some of the best out there – Bull’s War for the Oaks remains one of my favorite books of all time).
I kept waiting for the magic to occur, but it didn’t — at least not in the hocus-pocus sense. That first love scene between James and Susan though? Now that was magical — unbelievably sensual and touching and gently amusing. It also surprised the hell out of me, set down as it is amidst all the philosophy and political intrigue and convoluted family drama.
The way in which these two people make love – transitioning from friends to lovers in a beautifully evocative ten-page scene — is entirely in keeping with who they are. They don’t check their personalities at the bedroom door. The foreplay – the afterglow – those are the things that make the experience unique to those characters and that’s what I love.
When I read a love scene in a book – whether it’s technically a romance or not – I want to know what makes this event important to the lovers, special to them, crucial for them. Why this man (or this woman), and why now? How does this woman’s (or this man’s) personality, background, and occupation, color the way she or he approaches sex? When it comes (as it were) right down to it, there are only so many ways two bodies can fit together, regardless of the relative genders of the partners. What matters is how these two people feel, and how each of them makes the other feel.
Because the only way I’ll enjoy the scene is if the characters are having a rocking good time as well.
Suzanne Brockmann’s Hot Target has another of my favorite “first time” scenes. Although the book gets a lot of (well-deserved) notice because it contains the first meeting of her popular gay couple, Jules and Robin (plus a lovely dedication to her son, Jason), the central couple, Jane and Cosmo, may be my favorite Brockmann duo. The first time they make love is so damned fun for me as the reader because it’s so much fun for the characters – not because of the way in which the genitalia fit together, but because both of them are absolutely true to the nature Brockmann has established for them.
Jane — scurrying around, setting the stage – and herself – for the seduction as she would dress a scene in one of her movies, defusing her own nerves with her trademark wisecracks. Cosmo — focused on Jane, wanting Jane, but determined to delay his own gratification if there’s a chance he might hurt her. The actual consummation is almost incidental.
Even though I’m notorious in my family for being a product person, love scenes are one place where I insist on process.
That’s what makes it good for me.