Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Vanilla Is All I Need

It's official.  I'm totally over BDSM.

As a reader, as a librarian, I can look at The Siren by Tiffany Reisz with a trained enough eye to tell you - yes, she's a very good writer.  There are even moments in this story where I would label her a "writer's writer."  Why?  Because if I were a writer, read this book as a writer, I'd flog myself three ways to Sunday for not being clever enough to write half the stuff Reisz does in this book.  Like how erotica has more in common with horror than the romance genre?


So why didn't I love this book?  Let me try to explain.

Nora Sutherlin is a "guttersnipe" erotica writer who is currently working on the book of her heart.  For this precious bit of work, her old publisher won't do, and she's hoping that Royal House, a more literary-bent publisher will be just the ticket.  But she doesn't want to work with just any editor.  No, she wants to work with Zachary Easton, a Brit who moved to New York after his marriage flamed out.  To say he's not exactly enthralled to be working with Nora is an understatement, and then of course he actually meets her.  To put it bluntly, she terrifies him - and yes, he's going to work with her.

The early chapters are very lively.  Nora is the sort of dominant personality I have been dying to see in an erotic novel for some time.  She doesn't have a penis, and she's dominant.  Thank you sweet baby Jesus, right?  Yeah, wrong.  Because Nora is not a Domme.  She's actually a switch.  Which means she swings both ways.  At one point she was "collared" (as a submissive) to her lover Soren.  But she left him.  It was only after she left him that she "switched," and took up writing.  But the man isn't totally gone from her life, and adding complications are her feelings for her 19-year-old houseboy-slash-personal-assistant, Wesley, and now her new editor, Zach, who just so happens to still be in love with his wife.  Separated from her though he may be.

So yeah.  Look, I know that in the BDSM world switches happen.  But frankly it smacks of having your cake and eating it too when it comes to fiction.  I finally get a Domme heroine and, I don't.  But I'm a big enough person to admit that this is just me being petty.

No, the real problem is that for the longest time this story has no heart.  I see the skeleton, the flesh, even the spleen - but the heart is missing.  There are elements to this story, mostly the Soren "stuff," that smack of nothing more than cheap shock value.  Think of it as settling in to watch Masterpiece Theater, and then halfway through someone splices in Honey Boo-Boo where Sherlock Holmes should be.  For too long it's clever writing with....not enough to make me care beyond said clever writing.  When the heart finally does show up?  I'm several hundred pages into the book and worn down to the nub.

Nora is actually neither Domme nor sub.  No, our girl is an Emotional Coward.  Yeah, I said it.  And yes, it's just as much fun to read about as you would think.  I think I'm supposed to see her as liberated.  As daring.  And all I see is a coward who won't own up to her feelings.  Who won't allow herself to be happy, to be who she wants to be with, because frankly she's warped as hell.  And no, that's not a commentary on the BDSM "lifestyle."  That's commentary on someone who refuses to grow up, to own who she is, and walk across broken glass to get what she wants (or needs, depending on your perspective).  The fact that she hurts people because of this?  Yeah, just pisses me off.  And it certainly doesn't endear her to me that she hurts the one character I gave a damn about.

Nora, you suck.  And not in a good way.

For an erotica novel I have to say, this one is surprisingly tame - the shock value over Soren aside.  For clueless folk who think erotica is "just about sex," I can mentally picture them muttering in disappoint the number of times the author employs the ol' Fade To Black.  Honestly, it's the tamest erotica novel I've ever read.  The BDSM stuff is....well, BDSM stuff, various floggings and beatings and what-not.  The author writes it well, although I'm so frickin' sick of the ubiquitous "club scene" I could just scream.  Not the author's fault, that's just me hitting sheer saturation level.

What I'm left with is....I'm not sure.  This is well written.  There are some emotional pay-off scenes at the end that are really fantastic.  But honestly?  This book is too long.  There's too much "book within a book" stuff - even though, yes, I'm aware those passages of Nora's work-in-progress are supposed to be a window into her psyche - yada yada yada whatever.  I also got really irritated with Nora.  A lot.  She's a coward.  She deeply hurts the one character I like but hey that's OK because it's for his "own good."

Stupid cow.

There's another book in this series coming (ha!) soon.  Reisz can write.  She's very talented.  And I'll try her again when she's done with Nora.  My bus stops here.

Final Grade = C


Las said...

While I liked Nora more than you did,I agree with your take on her. "Emotional coward" describes her perfectly.

My main gripe with The Siren--and why Reisz lost a lot "good writer" points with me--is Soren. I thought he was utterly ridiculous, nothing but a caricature, and the fact that Nora and Zach took him seriously and never thought to laugh in his face made me lose a lot of respect for the characters. He's the reason I don't plan to read any other book in this series.

Wendy said...

Las: Soren smacked too much of shock value for me. Like his sole reason for existence was to make the reader gasp and say, "Oh no she didn't!"

I like the idea of exploring themes of sex and religion in the same erotica novel, but dude - making the characters simply "devout" would have done the trick.

Tori said...

I'm barely half way through and just connecting with the characters. I agree with your assessment of Nora and the whole Soren revel (I knew about Soren before I even started). I thought it would be more titillating and scandalous but I find it to be rather meh.

Wendy said...

Tori: That was me too. It took an awful long time for me to "connect." Once I did (over halfway through for me), I just....couldn't muster up a lot of enthusiasm. Although I do think the emotional scenes at the end were very well done.

Soren aside, it was a very tame read for me. I don't need wall-to-wall sex in erotica - but I need SOMETHING. Let's call it "emotional messiness." There wasn't enough of that here for me.