Unraveled (Turner, #3)

Unraveled - Courtney Milan One reason I enjoy romance novels is the inherent tension that abounds when historical attitudes or opinions meet modern readers. Some authors deal with this by giving their characters thoroughly modern attitudes. In other cases, authors try to find a happy medium, creating characters that don't quite fit with either time. My preferred authors tend to take the more difficult and subtle approach of givng characters certain attitudes, whether common or unusual for their historical time and, in the best cases, allowing the narrative to give comment and contrast. The trouble comes when that commentary is missing, giving the author's tatic blessing to reactionary attitudes in the characters. In Unraveled, I feel Courtney Milan goes this with her heroine's reaction to her father's depression. Miranda is speaking to the hero, Turner. "I told you I know what broken is. That is broken -- staring at the wall and weeping, while creditors hammer on the door and your troupe slowly slips away, stealing the best costumes in lieu of wages. When your friends leave you and you still cannot move, and nothing your daughter says can break you out of the spell. No man is broken because bad things happen to him. He's broken because he doesn't keep going after those things happen. When you told me about your mother, and how it made you resolved to be the person you are...What I thought was, 'Yes, please, I'll take him.' Because you didn't break." This is a fabulous piece of characterization, but even as I read it, I winced. It's a prevalent attitude not only of past eras, but of our own, that people with depression should be able to just pull themselves up by their bootstraps. Because the narrative doesn't comment on Miranda's opinion, it silently condones it.Contrast this with Unraveled's attitude to homosexuality. Too frequently, romance novels and other historical fiction abound with people who accept homosexuality without question, which is dismissive of the struggles that gay men and women have made over the centuries. Here is Miranda's reaction again: "They hang them," Miranda said. "And it doesn't matter how good the men are, or how much they keep to themselves, or how kind they are to inquiring children." Her voice trembled. "It doesn't matter if they can translate ancient Greek into the most beautiful thing you've ever heard in English. They hang men like that. Do you know what it's like to live in fear of one whisper, one rumour, one false step? Do you know what it is like to fear love, because it will get you killed?" She punched his other shoulder. "Do you know what it's like to never stay in one place, just so nobody become suspicious of you?" In this case, Milan succeeds in contrasting what was the typical historical attitude with what her characters personally feel toward gay men. She also allows the reader to feel something of the reality of being different in a reactionary world, which is too often the experiences of gay men and women, even today. She shows the tension of change that I love so much in historical fiction. I would have love to have seen a similar glimmer somewhere in the narrative that might have compared Miranda's accepting attitude toward the men that helped to raise her and her failure to understand that her father was just as helpless to overcome his depression as her friends were to repress their sexuality.