Harlequin, $0.60, ISBN 373-01794-4
Contemporary Romance, 1974
I’m always curious about romance novels published in the dinosaur days so when I come across a copy of Wynne May’s Pink Sands, published by Harlequin with a cover price of only $0.60, how can I resist? I have no idea who Wynne May is but a quick search reveals that she last had a book out in 1995. She must be one of the Johanna Lindseys of the 1970s, I suppose.
A part of me is afraid that I would have another period overkill train wreck like a Barbara Cartland book but Pink Sands is very nicely free from the punctuation chicken pox. It is also quite amusing to read about typewriters instead of computers. Nonetheless, I still find Pink Sands too archaic for me in its depiction of values and all. Since this is a romance novel where it takes about ten years for the genre to catch up with the real world in terms of incorporating changes in technology and social values, that means it feels really outdated indeed.
Our heroine Barbara – no last name – is the secretary to the rich man Sir Basil Harvester. She favors her “beautifully-cut oatmeal-coloured suit” while her “auburn hair” is in “an expensively casual chignon which hours of jet plane travel appeared to have been given no opportunity of teasing into any kind of disorder”. Sir Basil loves her, like a daughter of course, while it may be a different kind of story with his son Gregory, who is described as a clone of Sir Basil, only shorter. While Gregory is attracted to Barbara, her old boyfriend Rod (who is prone to “experimenting with women”) and Sir Basil’s goddaughter Reina (who is of course jealous of Barbara) will cause problems for our besotted duo.
This book seems like a standard compendium of what a romance story really shouldn’t be nowadays. It’s basically a story about all kinds of misunderstandings caused by the stupidity of Gregory and our main characters’ charming ability to believe Rod and Reina even if they know those two can’t be trusted one bit. I especially love the part where Gregory spots Barbara in Rod’s car – Rod is trying to pucker his lips for some “experiment”, but pure and virginal Barbara who never has one ounce of libido inside her is resisting – and he immediately goes “Who-oooo-ore!” Okay, he doesn’t use that W word – we’ll have to wait until Rosemary Rogers and friends made it okay for romance heroes to call the heroines “whore”, “slut”, “bitch”, and more while throwing in a few slaps or two when they’re not raping the heroines until the heroines can’t walk about a decade after the publication of Pink Sands. Still, Gregory’s attitude is pretty much the same if he has used the W word. She can’t be trusted! She’s a hussy! All this because she talks to another man, dear Gregory? It’s a pity that we can’t keep our heroines inside glass cases, isn’t it, to be taken out only when the man is feeling randy?
The misunderstandings continue until the last page, where our hero is finally convinced that the long-suffering and misunderstood Barbara is actually pure enough to be worthy of his affections. It doesn’t bode well for the two that Gregory so easily leaps into the worst conclusions about Barbara’s morals at the flimsiest of evidence in this story. He’d probably suspect Barbara of selling herself to dockside sailors every other Sunday, I suspect. But is that even an issue here? I believe that Pink Sands isn’t selling a romance as much as it is selling a fantasy. Barbara is perfect. She has no flaws, she is loved by everyone except for the Other Woman (even the Other Man wants Barbara, you see) and, paradoxically enough, the hero. She has no sexual libido other than a few vague blushes when appropriate, so she is like some pure and holy vestal virgin character. She is ultimately feminine and non-threatening to the people around her. When her morals are judged, she endures and suffers until finally the hero sees the light and deigns to love her.
In short, this isn’t a romance, it’s a very obvious outlet for readers to indulge in pedestal-patting fantasies.