Something I’ve noticed a lot on Goodreads and Bookstagram over the years is that a large number of readers honestly believe that romance authors that write “problematic” characters or toxic relationships are trying to promote these types of people and relationships. That they’re painting them in a positive light.
As a reader of many books that feature such flawed characters and abusive relationships, I don’t think the authors are trying to do that. I think they’re reflecting reality in their books, and the reality is that sometimes the people in our lives can be toxic, and people can find themselves in toxic relationships. Even platonic friendships can become toxic, as can the relationships you have with people in your family.
Like us, the relationships we have with the people in our lives change and evolve, and not always in a pleasant way.
Unless the author states it clearly in the acknowledgments or footnotes, I don’t think they’re telling readers to aspire to be like their “flawed” characters and to stay in — or seek out — abusive relationships. I don’t think they’re romanticising it, either. Why would they? How will it benefit them to do so?
Of course, the protagonist that’s falling in love with a “problematic” character is seeing him as perfect and swoon-worthy; of course, she’s romanticising him in her head. She’s blindly falling in love with him. Refusing to see his “dark side”. Living in denial of his cruel behaviour towards her. She’s romanticising him because she’s romanticising about him. It happens. We do this sometimes. The author is simply telling the story about a person falling for the “wrong kinda guy”, blind to their problematic side — not telling the reader that toxic people are the way to go. Again, why would they? How will it benefit them?
As an author, I find it worrying that so many readers have this belief. As a reader, and before I started writing and publishing my fiction, I never held this opinion — and I still don’t.
Therefore, I don’t shy away from reading books with “problematic” themes. Yes, I think there is merit…