Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Draw Down the Moon by Bobby Hutchinson



Officially, I gave up somewhere around page fifty but I did some skimming in the middle and towards the end to see if the book got better. It didn't. This is such a frustrating read because I was initially super excited to find an '80s romance with disability rep. The heroine, Jessie, used to be a ballerina until she suffered an accident. Now she uses a wheelchair but is still living her best life, working as a radio DJ and trying to do marathons to prove to herself that she can still experience bodily autonomy even if in a different way. That is such a GREAT message and I loved the idea of that.

***TW: Ableism***

The hero is apparently a retired hostage negotiator and that sounded potentially interesting as well, since it seems like he probably has emotional baggage (high stress job and early retirement at age 38? Some kind of shit went down). I was all set to like this book. And then I get to the beginning of the story where the hero is like dehumanizing the heroine, calling her "inhuman" and making all these disgusting remarks about how helpless and feminine she looks in her wheelchair. And then, as a "compassionate man in full use of his limbs," he grabs hold of her chair while they're doing the same marathon and pushes her to the finish line-- without her permission-- disqualifying them both.

This was so cringe that I almost DNF-ed right there but I read on, where I was treated to all of the heroine's friends rightfully telling this POS what an invasive creep he is. She shoots down his apology and the hero's response is to GO TO HIS COP FRIEND AND LOOK UP HER ADDRESS WITH HER LICENSE PLATE. And while the cop friend gleefully does this, he joins the ableism party as well, saying that women like her probably don't get married unless they were married before their accident. WOW. And then the hero shows up to her house and is once again confronted by one of her friends, who calls him out, being like, "Oh, you want to apologize? Sounds like you're just trying to make yourself feel better." YES. SAY IT LOUDER FOR THE PEOPLE IN THE BACK. But unfortunately the friend gets suckered into the bro vibes, and is like, "You know, I like the cut of your jib."

I flipped to the back of the book, where the hero introduces the heroine to his nephews, who pepper the heroine with questions like, "Being handicapped means someone always has to take care of you, right?" and "I heard handicapped people can't have kids." The heroine is traumatized and the hero just basically sits on his hands during this conversation. So I'm assuming that the cringe is strong in this one.

Look, I understand that this was the 80s and this book was probably quite progressive for its time. The fact that it exists at all is kind of amazing since I can't think of many other romances featuring heroines with disabilities that were pre-2000s. It's easy to look back with hindsight and be like, "Wow, that is so problematic." Because part of the beauty of living in the modern age is that we have a modern vocabulary and a modern understanding that lets us unpack why things are hurtful and problematic, as well as a means of connecting with people who live these experiences every day and are therefore in a position to not just point out why this sort of representation is wrong (not their jobs, btw), but also to share their own authentic stories for the benefit of people like them, who want to see themselves in the stories that they read.

I don't get the impression that this author meant harm; there are some repudiations of the hero's behavior that read as very modern, coming from both the heroine and her supporters and friends. But this is still an infuriating read and I don't think I'll be finishing it. Yikes.

1 out of 5 stars

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