If there’s one thing I love about today’s feminism, it’s the budding objectification of male brand mascots. Sure, the Brawny Paper Towel Man has been sexing it up in supermarket aisles since 1974, but it took another four decades before America was ready to ogle Mr. Clean’s butt. And Brawny bro was just replaced by a woman anyway.
This Mother’s Day brings with it a new addition to the sexy manscot canon (the sexy manscanon?)—a youthful and dashing Colonel Sanders. In honor of moms everywhere, KFC has released a romance novella called Tender Wings of Desire… because apparently Mother’s Day is big for fried-chicken sales.
The Colonel Sanders of Tender Wings’ front cover may look like the regular colonel minus sleeves and plus an exercise regimen, but the colonel of the book is a younger, swarthier model. “Harland,” as we first encounter him, is a sailor whom Madeline, fleeing an unwanted marriage, meets in a tavern after runaway bride-ing herself to the little town of Mistle-Thrush-by-the-Sea (“It is a mouthful but has a bit of a romantic flair to it, do you not think?”) As soon as Harland and Madeline lay eyes on each other, they’re smitten… at least until Madeline catches wind of his secret other life (*cough cough chicken empire*)
Ironically, chicken doesn’t really come up in KFC’s novella (a mention of the tavern’s menu skips an obvious opportunity, imho). Instead, Tender Wings is just kind of a nice little story. A young woman, left cold by the prospect of her marriage to a duke, runs away and Finds Herself while slinging beers in a bar by the ocean. While there, she meets a man—”the only sailor she had ever seen who wore glasses”—falls in lust/love, and soon realizes that she can “kiss” (everything in Tender Wings, from kissing to sex, is “kissing”) whomever she wants. The fact that the object of her affection turns out to be a restaurant magnate… well that’s just good fortune. I mean, who hasn’t daydreamed about meeting a dashing bespectacled sailor who it turns out is just too down-to-earth to go on and on about his secret fortune?
Of course, it’s completely fair to side-eye KFC’s foray into romance novels as branding gone wild. Out-there advertising campaigns have done well for the company, and you can almost picture the marketing meeting where this seemed like a great idea.
The thing is, it is rather enjoyable. The Harland-is-Colonel-Sanders reveal doesn’t come until almost the last page (sorry, SPOILER) and it arrives in the form of a letter to Harland from his brother (sidebar: KFC, please write your next novella about Colonel Sanders’ brother, David Sanders). Quite soberly, David’s letter demands that Harland “put aside your childish sailing and come back to take up the mantle of Colonel Sanders.”
A few pages later, another gem:
“Madeline,” he said again to her softly.
“Colonel,” she replied, her voice touched with ice as the betrayal hit her all over again.
“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. I took a sabbatical from my duties in order to see the world, see what else could possibly be out there, and on the course of my journey I found what I was looking for.”
“I know you’re there, Future Mrs. Sanders,” he said, turning to look at her. “Come and watch the sunset with me.”
TITLE: Tender Wings of Desire
ALSO WROTE: fried chicken
SORTA LIKE: The sample chapter of a longer romance novel
FIRST LINE: “Of all the things that Lady Madeline Parker dislike about her life, the one that constantly stuck out in her brain was her hatred of embroidery.”