Redeeming Bad Boys – Does it Really Work?

perrybrand I’d be wary if one of my friends started dating a guy with a shady rep. Yeah, everyone deserves a second chance, but that doesn’t mean I want to test that myself, or have one of my friends be the ones to see if a jerk has reformed. At the same time, I love redemption stories. I think seeing a dark character get turned around by love is one of the best characterizations and plots an author can create (at least when it’s done right). This is why The Serpent Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt is one of my favorite novels: the quiet and non-violent Lucy wins over the dark and revenge-focused Simon. It’s a story that will always be at the top of my list, even if in real life I would probably have warned Lucy away from him.

So I was intrigued by Rolling Stone’s cover article profiling Russell Brand, the controversial British comedian and actor that’s currently starring in Get Him to the Greek and is engaged to singer Katy Perry. I’m not a fan of his comedy and never have been, but the article about his life fascinated me. A former sex addict, heroin addict, cutter, bulimic, and sexual abuse victim, he has his fair share of demons. He hasn’t cleaned up his act entirely, but for someone who professes to have slept with over 2,000 women — sometimes five or six a day — to be marrying Katy with her parents’ blessing (both her parents are ministers) is nothing short of remarkable.

So many romance heroes are man-whores who revel in casual sex. They repent, find their true love, and we know, as readers, that they will never stray from their heroines. It wouldn’t be a HEA if we, even for a second, doubted his fidelity. But my coworker, who also read the article, summed the Russell-Katy situation up perfectly: “It must be so, so scary to marry someone like that.”

Fear is usually not the dominant emotion going into a healthy wedding. Katy must have found something in him to trust to commit to her, but it is damn scary to enter into a relationship with someone who has never been faithful in the past and has been with more women than would fit in a large auditorium. Because in real life, unlike our romance novels, there’s no guarantee.

I’ve never been in the position to decide to trust someone against all odds, so I don’t know what it takes to make that leap of faith. Perhaps part of my love of redemption stories is that it explores this element of relationships, examines what can connect two people and make one risk everything to be with someone who doesn’t have the best resume. In With a Twist, a book by Dierdre Martin that I reviewed last year, biggest reason I gave the book a C- grade was because I didn’t believe the hero had changed his ways; he gave neither the heroine nor the reader any incentive to believe his priorities had shifted to the heroine.

So what is it that gives us that incentive, either as readers or women? I’d be interested in hearing your opinions in the comments– what books have done this development well and what works or doesn’t work for you. In the meantime, I’ll be keeping my eye on Katy Perry and Russell Brand. Chances are, they won’t last; given his history and the high-pressure microcosm that is Hollywood relationships, the odds are against them. But you never know. Maybe he truly has reformed.

– Jane Granville

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18 Responses to Redeeming Bad Boys – Does it Really Work?

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  2. Lynn M says:

    The thing is, Katy Perry isn’t exactly your “girl next door” type as you might find in a romance novel in which the sweet innocent is successful in taming and redeeming the bad-boy rake. I only know who she is by the public personae she puts forward, but Perry’s image isn’t exactly squeaky clean either. I hate to be a cynic, but I can’t help but think that Katy is in this for reasons above and beyond love. Sure, she may genuinely love the guy, but there is a lot of attention that comes with this pairing, and she benefits from that PR quite a bit. Nothing about her choice to marry Russell sparks in me any sympathy or worry for her – she knows what she’s getting into and if she’s shocked by any future bad behaviour on his part, she’s a fool.

    I can’t compare this relationship to any of the ones I love in redemption-themed romance novels. I agree that the idea of a true bad-boy being completely redeemed by the heroine takes a healthy dose of suspension of disbelief, but when I’m reading a book, that’s what I’m there to do. In the Perry/Brand case, there is zero romance involved at all, IMO. It’s all about the fame.

  3. Laura says:

    No it doesn’t work. I really doubt that a man-wh**re will change his ways. I realize that my answer is not politically correct, but there you have it.
    A lot of people love romances between a player and a ‘good girl’, but personally I try to avoid them, and prefer heroines who are a little less naive, because I have trouble suspending disbelief – what on earth do they see in each other? They come from opposite ends of the spectrum.
    In RL, as you said, I would hate for a friend of mine to fall in love with a guy like that.
    I know a few couples where he is very ‘worldly’ and she is a housewife, and guess what? I wouldn’t bet a dime on his fidelity.
    And while I don’t justify a man who cheats, I admit that they are very distant as far as life experiences go. How can he relate to her problems, and vice versa?

    • CEAD says:

      What chrisbooklover said.

      Laura: A lot of people love romances between a player and a ‘good girl’, but personally I try to avoid them, and prefer heroines who are a little less naive, because I have trouble suspending disbelief – what on earth do they see in each other? They come from opposite ends of the spectrum.

      I agree with this up to a certain point. It takes a really, really good author to make me buy the “super pure naive innocent saintly good girl” plus bad boy rake storyline. Most of the time it just doesn’t work for me. I don’t believe that people of darker temperaments can get their needs met by someone that blindingly “pure”. Nevertheless, I keep reading bad boy/good girl books because I haven’t stopped hoping that I’ll find one that really works. I’ve always had this thing for bad boys myself (IRL), and I was always a good girl. The difference was, I wasn’t really a good girl inside. I was a much-less-good girl who was desperately trying to be good and instead mostly being miserable. Storylines where the heroine has to change as well, where the Bad Boy brings her out of herself, and it’s not all about how she’s so saintly and pure that she can totally change him… those I can believe.

  4. Victoria S says:

    I know for a fact a “Bad Boy” can be redeemed…but only if he does it HIMSELF. I met my late husband when I was 14 and he 16. When he came of age, he joined the Air Force. I wrote him letters the entire time he was serving, as we had grown up together and were longtime family friends (we had never even dated or thought of dating each other at this time). While serving he decided he was gonna turn into a “Bad Boy”. Didn’t work out too well, as he went to jail for 2 years. When he came out of prison he went to work reforming HIMSELF. He took whatever jobs he could get, gas station attendant, factory work, newspaper delivery…sometimes two and three at a time.
    About 5 years after we were married, he told me he had taken and passed the Civil Service exam…for Correction Officer!!!! He became a Correction Officer, then Sergeant, then Lieutenant, then Captain and ended his career as a Chief of Custody Operations, which is the highest rank you can attain in uniform.
    We were married almost 31 years before he died in May of this year. This is a man I had known for most of my life and I knew what he was capable of. This was a man who made some horrible mistakes as a young man, and then set about redeeming HIMSELF, he made no excuses for anything he had done in the past, but lived his life as an example that a good life if possible if you are willing to work for it. He turned himself into a man I was proud to know, and so were many, many others. When he died, one of my sisters-in-law told me: “I have known your husband for over 30 years, and I can honestly say he and I have never had an angry, I can’t think of anyone else I can say that about”.
    So yeah, “Bad Boys” can be redeemed, but only if they do it themselves, and any woman who thinks she can do it for him is in for more heartache than is necessary in life.

  5. I feel that it just doesn’t work. You can never change a person, in my experience you may try and it only makes the relationship worse. He’s the only person who can change, that is if he wants to. I’ve been in a few relationships and was hoping he’d chage his wicked ways, but didn’t so I was the one hurt. Now I’ve just accept the way he is and deal with it the best way I can. And he does the same for me.

  6. xina says:

    I like to read about the redeemed bad boy in fiction…in a pretend world. However, in the cold reality of life, no…I wouldn’t get on board with the Bad Boy. So often, these men come with so much baggage it is hard for them to really redeem themselves all for the sake of love. In a romance novel…yeah, I’m a sucker for romance and I do love it. In real life, not so much.

  7. MMcA says:

    Russell Brand: I would.

    Just for the way he uses language.

    In general, fidelity high, high, high on my list of endearing qualities – I love the drippy hero who falls in love and never moves on with his life until he gets the girl in question. And I’m not, in a sense, a romantic – I don’t believe you retain that madly-in-love feeling forever, and if the hero has been habitually unfaithful before the relationship, I always close the book thinking they’re likely to be unfaithful after the first flush has passed.
    However, I think a bad boy can work if the character has reasons for his actions – if the author can show you what motivated those behaviours, and how and why that motivation no longer applies.

    @Victoria – that’s really inspirational. Thank you.

  8. amers says:

    I agree with the comments about a woman not being able to change someone. And definitely you can’t trust that “change” to be lasting. He needs to want to change for his own sake.
    Lisa Kleypas’ book, The Devil in Winter, is a good example. I loved that book! The main character was the villain of a previous Kleypas book and it was so interesting to see his evolution. I’m sure I could think of others, but that’s the best one off the top of my head…

  9. amers says:

    Just thought of a contemporary author who writes good “bad boys”. I would recommend Jessica Bird’s stories, many of which deal with characters who are very troubled emotionally and the heroine may help them overcome the struggles, but they really do it for themselves.
    (When I recommend Jessica Bird, I put in a caveat that I am not recommending her books under the pen name JR Ward…)

  10. chris booklover says:

    I think that there are some unstated assumptions being made here. In the first place, in most romance novels the hero – if he is a bad boy – does NOT change solely as a result of the heroine’s actions. He changes as a result of the totality of his experiences, and while the heroine’s love is part of that process it is by no means the only or necessarily the most important part.

    Secondly, there seems to be a fair amount of hostility towards sexually experienced men, who are called “man whores.” I think that most readers of this blog would object very strongly if sexually experienced heroines were described as “wh*res.” Why the double standard?

    In any event, one should not conflate sexual experience with infidelity and assume that if a person – male or female – has had a large number of partners that person will necessarily be unfaithful. In all but a very few cases the womanizing heroes in romance novels have not been married or engaged in long term relationships when they were womanizing. If the hero had cheated on his first wife that would be good reason to doubt whether he would remain faithful to his second, the heroine. But virtually all of these heroes – even in the bodice rippers of the 1980′s – are single when they are being promiscuous. It is not quite as surprising as some suggest that the hero’s perspective and priorities will change once he is committed to a monogamous relationship.

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  12. Katrina says:

    Victoria, that’s such a beautiful story. How wonderful to have loved a man like that.

    As for the question, one of my pet hates about romance is when a hero turns from a complete ass into a doting husband with no reason other than the need to wrap up the book.

    I think Laura Kinsale does an amazing job at turning around bad boys because she makes their lives completely miserable until they have nothing left but to depend on the heroine. In particular, Flowers from the Storm and Seize the Fire do this brilliantly.

    I also recently read an ARC of a fantastic novel coming out (I think) in August – Libertine’s Kiss by Judith James where the author explores the dark reasons behind a man sleeping around, and how terrifying that is for the heroine. It’s fantastic, and I particularly loved how honest it felt because the hero and heroine are both unsure about his chances of staying faithful.

  13. jftee says:

    Reforming Lord Ragsdale by Carla Kelly. One of my favorite redemption reads. The change comes when he realizes that he is wasting his life and sees himself as worthless and in a drunken stupor asks for help. The charm of this book is that it is a double redemption. The heroine, Emma, dislikes Lord Ragsdale and doesn’t question herself or her views. Bit by bit they both realize that the mistakes and events of the past cannot be changed but the future can be changed. The journey from hatred to affection to love is a wonderful read here. Lord Ragsdale begins to believe the change is real and blossoms. I don’t ever see him returning to his previous bad-boyness.

    On the other hand, someone mentioned The Devil in Winter and I love Sebastian St. Vincent, but it is a different redemption. I think that Sebastian faces everyday like a reformed alcoholic, ever fearful and conscience of his past and the need for constant vigilance to maintain his “redemption.”

    To change your behavior to please someone is not redemption. Redemption comes from inside and to be lasting has to be a personal choice to change for oneself.

  14. Heather AAR says:

    The reformed rake is one of my favorites. Like amers and jftee, as I was reading the initial post, Sebastian St. Vincent from Devil in Winter was going through my head – one of my favorite romance heroes. In romance I usually always on board for a rake or tortured hero. In real life, I think it depends on the person. Some people grow up while others never do.

    @Victoria S; How touching and beautiful.

  15. Pat H says:

    Sandra Bullock and Whats-His-Name (yes, I do know his name–Jesse James, for Pete’s sake!).

    Need I say more?

    That’s why I read fiction. In fiction, he would reform and everything would be okay. In real life? Not so much.

  16. Patricia says:

    I can enjoy a redemption story, but not if I think that there is a core of meanness in the hero. I would not believe in the “redemption” of Russell Brand because he behaved so meanly in the famous incident where he was on radio in the U.K and called an aged actor to talk profanely about the sexual exploits of the actor’s granddaughter. Brand thought it was a funny stunt, but I think it was just mean. He and his co-host were sanctioned by the station, or it may have been BBC radio, I have forgotten some details.

    Since others have spoken of Sebastian, he is one of my favorites also. I always thought that he was more lazy and purposeless than actually bad. Evie gave him purpose, both to protect a wife and to run a business, and he grew out of his bad habits and became a better person.

  17. Rachel says:

    I have limited knowledge of Russell Brand, but I can say with assurance that she will will never change him and he will never change. What he’s got is working for him, and his displays of social dominance – cruel, crass and all – make women want him and get him what he wants: sex and attention.

    It’s a giant feat of misplaced optimism that they are marrying at all. She is wasting crucial family-building years on a player and he (or she – not sure who’s net worth is higher) stands to lose some serious cash when they divorce.

    I like the reformed rake scenario in books. Who wouldn’t? The attractor is still there (the hero’s social dominance), but the danger is gone. But in fiction one man can take out 50 terrorists single-handedly too. And I wouldn’t try that IRL.

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