Before we begin, let’s get one thing straight. This is a romance novel; I’m not exactly looking for James Joyce’s Ulysses here, but as lewd literature from a fried chicken restaurant, I’m expecting a few things for maximum satisfaction. In order for me to consider this book a success, it’s got to have a semi-followable plot, some coherent writing, as well as the one thing everyone looks for in a sultry, sweaty story of passionate romance: corporate synergy.
As far as a romance story goes, Tender Wings of Desire doesn’t exactly go to a place I would describe as “high concept”. It champions the basic conflict of either the first half of Titanic or Coming to America; a woman of high class, engaged to a man she does not love. Pretty basic fare, but where Tender Wings of Desire sets itself apart from Titanic or Coming to America is that those two films bothered to give their female leads a personality. Set in mid-to-late 19th century England, Madeleine Parker runs away from her wedding at the last minute, and rides for two days on a horse to a seaside town, where she takes up a job as a bartender.
In any other novel, this might be remotely interesting, but KFC knows you’re not reading this for any of that “coherent story” bulls***. No. You’re here to see Colonel Sanders get it on, and to that end, Madeleine Parker’s story is the raw, skinless chicken that has no purpose but to be placed in Harland Sanders' deep fryer. This novella goes on for quite a while before getting to the romance bit, but before the character is even properly introduced, you know he has arrived. It’s lazy, incoherent and nowhere near as subtle as it thinks it’s being, but it (just about) does its job.
“She flicked the reins and rode off and away from the only home she had ever known, not knowing where she was going but knowing that her destiny was ahead of her.”
“Madeline turned to answer the man, not quite caring for his tone, only to come face to face with the most handsome man she had ever seen."
Plot rating: The nervous 16-year-old taking your order at a branch of KFC
So. We’ve already established that the plot is generic to the point of being mundane, but if the destination of fried chicken friskiness is clear, then maybe the journey is where this novella takes flight on its Tender Wings of Desire. Going into this, I had hoped that this novella would be saved by some surprisingly tight prose. What ended up happening was that I read some legendarily bad writing to go with what must be one of the craziest premises for a romance novel ever, and nowhere else is that better illustrated than through the main character Madeleine.
When Madeleine first meets the hunky Harland, I’d imagine the writer of this book (which is listed on Amazon as… Colonel Sanders?) attempted to illustrate how smitten the protagonist Madeleine is with this bespectacled sailor, but those moments come across as less of butterflies in the stomach and more the symptoms of a severe anxiety disorder. She spends most of her time either ruminating about whether she can ever return home, lamenting the fact she can never return home, or ruminating about whether she can ever return home. The pacing is bizarre, an entirely separate romantic subplot is left completely unresolved, and although I’ve followed Madeleine throughout the entirety of this book, all I really know about her is that she doesn’t want to marry a guy named Reginald and that she really, really does not like embroidery.
"She was to be an April bride. Once she really thought about it, she was shocked to discover that she did not care which month it was."
"Then what would she do? She would have to figure that out, now wouldn’t she?"
"'This is ridiculous,' she complained, fighting the urge to throw her embroidery hoop across the room in dismay."
Writing quality rating: An abandoned embroidery project
Going into this, someone posited to me the idea of getting turned on by KFC-themed erotica. Okay, that was a lie. I asked myself: "If it was possible to get turned on by fried chicken, would I want to get turned on by fried chicken?" I didn’t want to find out, and after reading this book, I am still yet to find out. From a marketing perspective I can understand KFC’s desire to keep the chronic masturbators out of their restaurant. You or I would immediately cobble together some pretty messed up chicken-related imagery, and I would imagine the very first draft of this book could very well have been that, but the sexual stuff has been toned down to level of your average KFC restaurant. I can forgive that.
What I can’t forgive, however, is the utter dearth of romantic tension in this novella. In Tender Wings of Desire, Harland Sanders shows up, says virtually nothing to Madeleine before disappearing for two weeks. He then returns, and takes Madeleine to the woods within one day before bedding her. Their romance is mostly described as “kissing”, and this is followed up with some utterly bland sexual imagery, wherein the romance scenes come across like the fevered fantasies of a 13-year-old Catholic schoolgirl. Which, to be honest, would explain a lot.
"This was something Madeline had never considered. Although she knew well enough what went on between a man and a woman, for a moment she thought that she might swoon in his arms."
"If they were going to be lovers, she wanted him to know exactly who he was spending his time kissing."
"His voice was tender as he moved closer beside her, reaching up to touch her shoulder gently."
"'I wonder if they’ll ever see me as one of them,' she complained to Harland one night as they lie together on her bed, their hearts still racing from the love they had made."
Sexiness rating: The Boneless Banquet for One
Okay, so we’ve established that Tender Wings of Desire is not only a bland, poorly-written mess, but it’s also about as sexy as… a bucket of fried chicken, I guess. If you’re KFC, the only other reason you’d put out an erotic novel, really, is to get in some kind of promotional benefit for delicious fried chicken. Unfortunately, inexplicably, KFC fails in even this basic task. For the first part of this novella, Harland is a mysterious sailor who is then revealed to be the owner of a massive "empire", but there’s literally no reference to chicken anywhere in the book. At no point does Madeleine chow down on a drumstick of any sort while longing for a new life, Harland never eats mashed potatoes and gravy off of his mysterious lover, and there’s not even an effort to crowbar “finger-licking good” in there somewhere. “Tender wings of desire” is the name of this romance novel, but I kid you not, the word “tender” shows up once in this entire story. Once.
It’s not even historically accurate, either. As the ostensible romantic lead, you’d expect Harland Sanders to be the most charismatic of all the characters, and he is, but it’s more due to the utter blandness of everyone else on page than due to any sort of interesting quirks. In real life, Colonel Sanders was a mythical figure of fast food who came across his fried chicken fortune late in life; he once shot a man, developed a notoriety for his sailor-like vocabulary, and when his second wife declared she was no longer into sex for pleasure after three kids, Sanders went on a quest for breasts and thighs of an entirely different kind. This, plus many more nuggets (pun intended) of information, would have made for a much better story than the one we eventually got, where a man and a woman boringly falling in love with the faint smell of the sea in the air. This book actually makes me want to eat KFC less.
I really have to ask: what is this book? Why is it?
"I believe it would be best if she saw you come home to take back what you spent so long building. The hills of Kentucky miss you, as do all of us."
“'Yes, I’m a Colonel. Yes, I’m fabulously rich. I am a magnate of the restaurant industry, my dear, the king of an empire that I built with my bare hands.'"
Corporate synergy rating: I'm Lovin' It