My rating: 1 of 5 stars
Initial reaction: In a word: No. Just no. This is going to be the second of two long reviews I pen this year that explain the myriad of problems that plague a work on a number of levels. “Beautiful Bastard” had many, and I don’t know how it left the cutting room floor without anyone seeing them or for some readers not to be angry or upset (I was very much the latter) at some of the content this book has. There’s much to cover, so I’ll let my full review expound upon it further.
When I started penning this particular review, I thought about going on an extended tangent about why being a P2P (or pulled to publish) fanfic can actually underscore a book’s impact in terms of the actual writing process. Since fanfiction is based on already created characters, settings, worldbuilding and the like, if you try to just substitute the names and don’t build the work from the ground up (and I mean the ENTIRE work – provided you didn’t already do it as you were going along), it’s going to underscore the story you’re trying to offer, because people aren’t going to know what you’re discussing or have a foot to step onto the platform of your work. It’s a template, not the full package.
That long expansion – explaining the ins and outs of fanfiction, my thoughts about it, my role in writing it personally, the rise of P2P fanfics in publishing and its problematic trending, among other things, is still saved in one of the versions of this review I penned in Microsoft Word. I thought about it and at one point, I wanted to pull it, but I decided – no, people should hear it, so I’m going to post that alongside my review on “Beautiful Bastard.” Hope you guys will bear with me as I kind of go through the motions on that, and then expound with my thoughts on this work. *bows*
Oh, as far as the song that came to mind as I was penning this review: “I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On” – Robert Palmer’s version. (Cherelle did the original.)
I may take a number of tangents that explain the personal investments that I have in the topics I’m covering surrounding “Beautiful Bastard.” I do it only to better illustrate from where my perspective of the work comes and why I have many of the sentiments that I do when it comes to the content and the overarching work in itself. So with that in mind, I hope this review still gives you guys a clear cut viewpoint of the novel and why I may have some of the particular perspectives I do of the work.
Let’s start this review with an open conversation about fanfiction. Some readers that might go through my reviews may not know anything about what fanfic entails. And particularly they may not see the objections to what appears to be a new work coming out that was once formerly Twilight fanfiction. I’ve seen people comment about “Beautiful Bastard” in that they say “Why are people comparing this to Twilight? This has nothing to do with Twilight. I don’t understand why people are making the comparison.”
I’m going to try to explain it on a base level and hope I’m clear cut about it. Fanfiction, in general, is a measure of collective writings that people do for a number of reasons based on an already released artistic work in the wider community. They’re stories that the writers in the “fandom” if you will, pen about the characters in “what if” scenarios that serve as jumping points from the original stories or set of stories they were derived from. You have people who write fanfiction about Star Wars, Stargate or a number of different movies. You may have people writing fanfiction about games like in the Final Fantasy franchise or the Mass Effect series. You may have people who write fanfiction about animated series like those in the Disney or Nickelodeon franchises, or popular TV shows like Supernatural or Glee. You can even see fanfics where people have written “what-if” scenarios about works of fiction – like classics such as Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” or Bronte’s “Jane Eyre.” Believe it or not, there are actually fanfics that are written about actual historical figures or popular figures in media, but that’s a whole other conversation to be had.
When these fics are penned, people often choose to share them in online communities for the other members of the fandom to partake.
The way I view fanfiction, personally, is that it’s an exercise in creativity, and those in the respective communities partake in it just as a measure of fun. For a number of years, personally, I wasn’t always aware of what fanfiction entailed, particularly after reading a number of fics that were thinly disguised examples of Mary Sue writing. But I’d actually written fanfiction for a number of years without even realizing it – the way I termed it was thinking “If I were a writer of a certain TV series or movie or novel I enjoyed, what directions would I take that particular story or those characters? What could I do with that?” It was a way of prompting my freewriting measures. Once I did discover more of the ins and outs of fanfiction writing and the various fandoms, I think that opened up measures where I explored the communities, even partook in it myself. So when I say that I embrace the fanfiction community – readers and writers alike – I really do. I’ve written and am writing in it even now in considerations, though considerably speaking, I don’t write in some of the larger fanbases, and I write for a more general audience (mostly kids/teens or those who are young at heart and like nostalgia).
But there’s a slippery slope to be had about fanfic writing in general, some of these rules are explicit, others aren’t. There are some writers/artists/media partakers that do not allow people to write fanfic about their work in any public spectrum, for various reasons. For another, there’s the knowledge that whatever story one pens in a specific fandom community – if allowed, regardless if the story is original in that it came from the writer’s mind’s eye – it’s based on a work where the characters, locales, existing story and other copyrighted measures that already exist with respect to that work belong to its original creators. Fanfic writers do not write for the sake of commercial gain based on the copyrighted work or to take profits away from the people who originally created the work. Most who are in the community are respectful of that. This is one of the reasons why, when penning and sharing a fanfic not in the public domain, people in the community put a disclaimer in front of their work saying something akin to “The characters, locales, and other respective copyrights of belong to the original owners and creators.” And a fanfic writer may go on to say what aspects of the individual work belong to them (i.e. the actual story/plot, original characters, made up locales, etc.)
I could go on about the ins and outs of fanfic writing and fandom, but that would take a book or two in itself. (It makes me wish there were someone with the guts to write a good non-fiction book about the comprehensive history of fanfiction writing, examine with a close eye what makes the fandoms unique and takes an eye to the positive as well as negative dimensions).
You might be wondering, “Okay, Rose, why are you telling me all of this and what does this have to do with ‘Beautiful Bastard’?
“Beautiful Bastard” was originally a Twilight fanfic (meaning the work created by Stephenie Meyer) called “The Office”, penned by two writers and shared on the web. It initially gained its respective popularity that way and got picked up by the publisher, who wanted the authors to rework it. The original character names used in this story were Bella and Edward, and the Cullen family was featured in this “mature” reimage of two office workers who frequently butt heads and engage in sexy times together. One could say that “Beautiful Bastard” is one in a long line of up and coming stories that were once fanfiction but altered and marketed as “original” fiction, when really they were what many of us term as “pulled to publish” or P2P fanfiction.
Now I could technically go into the moral boundaries that this work crosses as a P2P fanfic work with respect to publishing and profit, but I’m actually not going to do that in the spectrum of this review. (That’s a whole other ballgame.) What I will discuss is why this story, in itself a P2P fanfic, can’t stand on its own legs as a strong work considered on its own measure, let alone some of the offenses this book makes as a romantic read. The long and short of what I want to say is that just because you can write a fanfic doesn’t mean you can sustain a book by doing the whole substituting names and trying to rework details because that’s not going to do the story justice.
I hate saying this because I know that each writer has their own unique style and coloring with respect to the writing that they do, but there’s no nice way of me saying that the writing in this is…not good. It never should’ve left the editing floor without significant developmental and structural changes, in addition to editing. What makes it even worse for consideration is that this comes from two writers who worked on this thing. TWO.
Chloe is a masters degree candidate working her way up the corporate ladder under a very demanding boss. Many people consider her boss – Bennett Ryan, a “beautiful bastard” – demanding, perfectionist, possessive, misogynistic (I wouldn’t argue that at all), among other terms. The two don’t hit it off very well when it comes to their working relationship, but they have an unexplainable need to possess each other and frequently engage in sexy times while also putting each other down. Ultimately they have a coming of terms where they realize they can’t deny the attraction they have for each other and that the relationship is built on need, so they go through a number of ups and downs until reaching the point where they recognize it. The story’s told between the perspectives of Chloe and Ben, and they aren’t exactly the most amicable couple.
I can deal with unlikable characters. I can deal with sexual tension, power struggles and bold put downs. I can even deal with the rough play by play that comes with some descriptions and depictions of sex. Those are elements that can *potentially* be worked into a good story. But the key to making those elements work is that you have to DEVELOP them. You can’t skimp them to cede to other elements (in this case, the sex). Otherwise, it’s not going to work.
I’m not going to do comparisons right off the bat, just what this book managed to convey on my first read of it. First thing was that I had a hard time remembering the characters. Not just their names, but actually who they were. You could substitute any name for Chloe and Ben and you would still get the very cookie cutter characters that were in this book. Even with the several mentions of Chloe trying to work her way up with being in the business and having a masters degree – I couldn’t relate to her. And I certainly couldn’t relate to or find any attraction to Ben. (More on that later.)
The sexual tension in this novel was very manufactured, it just wasn’t done well. Usually, when you have two characters that have sexual tension, there’s a palpable power struggle with a level that goes beyond just the surface reasons (higher position versus lower position in terms of working environment). And usually the sexual tension really comes out naturally from two characters who have a much greater depth than the two protagonists of “Beautiful Bastard.”
There weren’t very many (if any) palpable stakes to be had in this story. The side characters were forgettable. The sex scenes – to me – were dry and repetitive. Lots of panty ripping, lots of casual throws of “bastard” and “bitch” and “whore.” Lots of male blaming female for turning him on. Lots of female not wanting (but still wanting) to be turned on. After a while, you get desensitized to the whole thing – it’s just not sexy. I didn’t feel for these characters, I didn’t think they were mature or sexy – I thought they were stupid. That brand of stupid and the descriptions this book gave me more than enough reasons for my blood to boil.
Seriously, if you start a chapter talking about how one character left the other character looking like he was “molested” in a romance novel, right after a sex scene, there’s a problem there. (I’m going to leave that for you to consider as food for thought. I was going to take the time to address it, but seriously this was one of the scenarios that nearly made me consider DNFing this, among many. And this review would be twice as long if I did.)
If you have a male love interest putting down the female character for turning him on and wearing a certain dress when the implications are referring to the woman’s virginity (and basically putting her down in ever other way possible) – there’s a problem.
I just…how on the ever loving earth is Ben even considered a sexy hero? He’s not just a jerk, there’s no dimensions to him other than thinking “sex, sex, sex” then “bitch, tease, whore” and a stream of other put downs. He profiles any man that might be interested in Chloe. There was even a time he criticized a guy for crying “like a baby when he took a baseball to the shin in tenth grade.”
Dude, have you ever been hit by a baseball to the shins? It HURTS. Don’t knock it, ’cause it could happen to you – I don’t care how old you are.
Happened to me. The guy who hit the ball was so mortified, like “ZOMG! I am so sorry! D:” I wanted to give him a hug, even when I felt like I needed a hug. And he was at least a foot taller than me.
The word “respect” doesn’t even enter his thinking for quite some time, though there are tiny, thread-thin glimpses where we’re supposed to see that he upset Chloe. He thinks, even as a coming to terms towards the end of the novel, he has to have her – like she’s a possession. There’s a point where he realizes that she deserves to have her work recognized, but even then, there are implications in that scene that he really doesn’t “learn” anything about what it means to respect. And the message is mostly lost because there’s no real depth to his coming to terms anyway. Argh.
And if that isn’t enough to consider, there are certain turns of phrases that make it obvious that its referring to “Twilight.” Chuckling darkly, anyone? (Yes, that’s in “Beautiful Bastard” too. If you don’t believe me about its link to Twilight, check out charlieissocoollike’s reading of Twilight on Youtube, he does “chuckling darkly” pretty well.”) Or how about Ben not knowing whether he feels angry or not? Really? How can you NOT KNOW when you’re angry about something, or not knowing a certain emotion? I can understand certain works like a girl being born without a fear gene, or a robot who starts to become human, but how does this relate to a domineering executive? Sense this does not make.
Chloe is equally frustrating because she – on one hand, knocks down a lot of the things that Ben does, but is also shown to reverse course and find him sexy after some really sketchy terms.
I really couldn’t get a good handle on
Edward’s Ben’s family. They felt so generic in their drawing, and the whole scenario with them being there was mostly about Chloe being a part of the picture, so they didn’t have any flesh to pinch from.
Oh, and where is this story supposed to be taking place? As in what country, what setting, how long of a time span in certain places? (Sometimes it was drawn, other times it was a bit shaky except for the immediate place.) It’s hard to tell because you don’t get any of those shaping details in this story. It isn’t enough that we hear these vague details about a report or a presentation that needs to be done and that there’s no substance to the actual work environment these two are supposed to be working in or home environment or even the places where they talk or engage in sexy times.
Setting/environment is just as important to draw as any other part of a story – characters, plot, thematic, etc. The problem is, like pretty much all the major points of what compose a story, these dimensions felt vague or were missing entirely.
I could go on, but I want to spare the last part of my review talking about the comparisons to the original fanfic (unfortunately I can’t delve into it as much as I want to already given the length of this review). I actually read “The Office” after reading “Beautiful Bastard” to serve as a comparison. Turns out they did take out a lot and changed it up in certain areas. I can’t really give a certain percentage. Mostly quite a few shaping scenes (I definitely noticed that the scene where the heroine’s overslept and cursing up a storm at the beginning was taken out, as were some other shaping and dialogue scenes.) To say it was any better from the omissions and changes, though? Was it more refined, tailored to a more mature audience? Not really. If anything, it was like the fanfic, but I would argue that “Beautiful Bastard’s” narrative felt more empty because it was specifically a P2P fanfic that relied so much on the already pre-drawn characters, alongside other details. When you take that element out, it fell faster than a shaky Jenga stack.
It doesn’t do any good just to tailor or substitute in a story. Examine it from the ground up. If anything, for those writing fanfiction, it’s a process that’s supposed to help you learn to give an eye to those elements, so that you can, when you are actually writing YOUR OWN WORK, you can look and say “Hmm, what do you I need to pay attention to in order to make this more vivid, more resonant, to connect with the reader and have them sharing the experience?” Examine the characters, look at their situations, shape their personalities, go into the individual elements that make the story – not just through substitutions or putting things in here and there and taking out willy nilly. People will notice, a reader will notice. This wasn’t really reworked, it was just tailored, and that tailoring missed the mark by quite a scale, among other problematic elements that existed in BOTH WORKS. It’s not just that people don’t realize just how unethical it is to publish P2P fanfics on the level of the publishing and monetary ends, it shortchanges the storytelling process too if you think about just the measure of “substitution”, because there are people who aren’t taking the lens to the essential story elements and realizing that those elements need the proper focus.
In the end, I recommend giving this a pass – whether you’ve read the fanfic or haven’t. I wish I could have my time back from reading it, because it really didn’t engage me, it wasn’t sexy, and I couldn’t even be bothered with caring for its troublesome, paper-thin, stereotypical, lackluster characters. There’s better offerings out there in the erotic and romance genres. This isn’t one of them.
Overall score: 0.5/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Gallery Books.