Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Howdy There Satan!

I love erotica. However, for the most part, I've been highly annoyed by the phenomena of "erotic romance." I find myself spending a lot of time enunciating, and talking very, very slowly to some romance readers about what erotica "isn't."

Erotica does not have to be "sexy" or "titillating." It also can be dark and disturbing. Newsflash: Sex doesn't have to be about love and lord knows two people don't have to be "in love" to engage in the activity. But the minute you throw out an erotica novel to a romance reader who doesn't get the Sunshine Happy Puppy Dog Rainbow feelings that a "regular" romance novel elicits? Then said book is pure evil. Evil! Just because it's labeled "erotic" doesn't mean it's necessarily got anything to do with "romance."

(Feel free to print that last line out and tape it up somewhere)

And that's where I think St. Martin's stumbles a bit in marketing Sleeping With the Devil. Splashed all over the back cover copy is the poorly kept secret that Vanessa Marlow is also romance author Cheryl Holt. So Holt fans are going to expect this to be like a romance, and non-Holt fans (that would be me) will go running, screaming in the other direction. If not for the review I read in Publisher's Weekly, and Katie(babs)'s discussion, there is no way in Hell I would have picked up this book. So strong is my dislike for the Holt oeuvre. Which would have been a shame, cuz dang, I really liked this one. I know, color me surprised.

The tag-line on this book is "A Novel of Sensual Obsession." OK romance readers, Obsession = Not Good. Sensual? A really bad choice of words on the part of St. Martin's. What we have here is a story about one woman's descent into madness thanks to the asshole, scumbag, jackass, psycho she finds herself involved with.

I have a theory that most women are totally useless until they're at least 25 (There are exceptions of course. Some women get it together sooner, while others continue to waste space well into their 30s). Meg White fits this theory to a T. She's 23, and is an underpaid dessert chef for a trendy Portland restaurant. She's got a nice, bland boyfriend whom she lives with. Then one night, while they're on vacation, they meet gazillion Jordan Blair. Before you can say "set-up" - Meg has dumped her boyfriend and is hooking up with Jordan. What happens for the rest of the novel is Meg slowly spiraling into the pit of domestic violence.

I'm going to be honest - the scariest aspects of this novel weren't the supposedly "kinky" sex, but Jordan slowly insinuating himself into Meg's life and controlling every aspect of it. Scary shit. And Meg, through her confusion, inexperience, and thinking, at first, that what they share is "passion," doesn't realize what an asshole this guy is until it's too late. By then Jordan is completely in control, emotionally and physically, with Meg literally being trapped, without resources of her own.

There were aspects of this novel that annoyed me - mostly dealing with Meg's prudishness and what I suspect the author wanted the reader to think of as "kinky." I'm probably showing my Gen-X roots here (and this is definitely going to be TMI), but oral doesn't shock me. Hell, does it shock anyone these days? And on an erotica scale, I will say that I was pleasantly surprised that this novel wasn't more graphic. What Jordan does to Meg isn't pleasant to read about by any stretch of the imagination, but Lord knows that Marlow really could have gone off the deep end in describing every horrible second in graphic detail. I don't want to suggest that this book is happy, happy sunshine, and that there aren't disturbing moments - just saying it could have been a lot worse.

So who would I recommend this book to? Honestly, I have no idea. I would very much describe it as an "erotic thriller" though. Essentially it's the story of a woman who loses her way and has to find her way out of an abusive relationship. It's heavy stuff, and certainly this is a darker read. I could have used more information on how/why Jordan became so fixated on Meg, and while I understand why the author left the ending, well, open-ended, part of me really wanted more closure after spending the previous 300 pages reading about the cycle of abuse Meg found herself in. But all in all, I was engrossed. And no one is more surprised by that fact than I am. Believe me.

Final Grade = B


Katiebabs a.k.a KB said...

This was quite a change from Holt's historical "roll my eyes over the innocence of the heroine" reads. This was one disturbing book!But I got to give credit for Holt branching out and writing something very different.
Wendy, you are just on our disturbing book kick after reading Cain. :P

Kati said...

Wendy - Outstanding review! And so coherently stated! What disturbs me, is look at that cover! It SCREAMS erotic romance at me. If that's not what it is, it would piss me off to pick it up and then realize that this book isn't romance at all.

I get a kick out of the fact that any romance that has anal sex in it is automatically erotic romance.

Nikki said...

Wendy, I am so glad I read your review before I went back to B&N and got this one. I'm no prude, by any means, but I want my HEA. And if I didn't know differently, I would totally deny that Holt wrote a book like this. Who knew?

azteclady said...

You know, I don't think I'm gonna try this one...

I'm fragile :grin: I need my HEA after all that angsting, and surviving, while cool and yay and whatnot, is just not enough pay off for me.

Wendy said...


It depends on what your definition of HEA is. I think it ends quite "happily." Very much in keeping with a thriller/suspense type book.

But if you're looking for a traditional, romancey-type happy ending? Yeah, this is not the book for you.

Rosie said...

Huh. I think I may have purchased this. Who knows I have a stack of books I bought to organize and look through. However, if a book surprised WtSL then I gotta check that baby out.

Hope you had a great time in San Diego. I probably should have checked to see who won the ball game last night before saying that though.