If there is one romance cliche I am utterly, heartily, completely sick of it is the homosexual ex-husband. (
I’m going to be honest and admit that I am reviewing this book without finishing it. I may or may not finish it tonight. Really, it bothers me that much.) If you consider the above statement a spoiler, please stop reading now. You’ve been spoiled. Otherwise, read on.
The basic set up of The Lady Most Likely is that Hugh has spent so much time in his stables that he’s failed to find a wife. After a near death experience, he asks his sister for assistance. This leads to a house party, which leads to romance. There is a bit too much story to deal with in The Lady Most Likely. Each of the couples have enough backstory to fill a book of their own, leaving the reader reluctant to move on to the next. (As a connected series, I think this would have been a stronger read.) I’d still recommend it – better too much investment in the characters than too little. Then the cliche kicks in. One of the ladies loves fashion. She loves fashion so much that when it came time to marry she sought out a man who loves fashion. A soft, faded, delicate sort of man with a small endowment and a vicious wit. The sort of man who likes to sit in corners and speak critically of those about him, but in the kindest of ways, and who ultimately eroded his wife’s self image while doing so. The sort of man who dies young with his sobbing valet by his side.
Is this 2010? Nearly 2011? Can we end this particular homophobic trope? Even when the gay character is not a villain, it still screams “How Gay Folks Are, God Love ‘Em”. I went from enjoying the book to tolerating it. By the time the valet’s tear stained face is revealed I moved from tolerating the book to wanting to get away from it. Yes, I recognize that I am a small subset of the reading population but a love of fashion does not a homosexual make. A mean temperament does not a homosexual make. A slight build and a small (to borrow the author’s words) “pump handle” does not a homosexual make. Roll all of those together, however, and you can make a tired homosexual side character cliche appear. (Hugh, obsessed with horses and unconcerned with women, makes a much more natural homosexual character than the deceased husband.)
Do homosexual men who fit this mold exist? Absolutely. While I have no idea what Christian Siriano looks like naked, I could picture him as the ex in question. The problem is that for so long ONLY this homosexual man has existed in romance. He is the Uncle Tom of the homosexual regency character. He is the racist cliche. To use him is to invite all the baggage of his past uses, to use him without other homosexual characters to counter him is to embrace that baggage. As a reader, encountering this minstrel show alongside the ever popular “It’s so big, it won’t fit!” sequence, I lose all interest in staying for more.
It is a shame that this character tainted the read for me in a way I was unable to overcome by the book’s end. The overall voice of the book is well done, the events are tied together nicely, the concept is strong. I would suggest The Lady Most Likely to anyone who finds this cliche less aggravating than I do.