Drowning by Jassy De Jong is a complicated book to write a review for. A lot of this is probably going to come off sounding like "damning with faint praise." However, as much as I had quibbles, I was also drawn into the story. In other words, it got a reaction out of me. Which, especially in the case of erotica, is always a good thing. Technically a romance, it features some triggers that will probably not work for some readers, but they mostly worked for me. And given my current case of reading malaise, that's saying something.
Erin Mitchell is a New York City photographer currently in South Africa with her husband, Vince. Vince, also a photographer, has brought her to the country on assignment, and despite somewhat still being newlyweds, they've had a fight. A pretty big fight. While he's in the Land Rover, she's following behind with a driver in a teeny Toyota Yaris. Then a raging storm kicks up, Vince pulls a way, and a bridge washes out underneath the Toyota. Erin almost dies, but is rescued and revived by Nicholas de Lanoy, a wealthy man who lives nearby. Her husband on the other side of the river, with no way to join him, Erin finds herself stranded on Nicholas' estate until the bridge can be rebuilt.
The first trigger warning for readers is that, while technically a romance, Erin does commit adultery. Yes, she is married. Yes, she has sex with Nicholas. Erin is struggling, emotionally, physically and psychologically - and there is handsome Nicholas, her rescuer, the man who saves her from death, sending heated glances and sexual signals that could light up Times Square.
It's evident early on that Vince is an abusive a-hole. De Jong also writes suspense novels under the name Jassy MacKenzie, and this background is put to good use in Vince's character. He hasn't beaten Erin bloody (yet), but you can see it unfolding - the barbs, the mind games, the violent fits of temper, the isolating her from her family and friends, the totally irrational jealousy. Things are so bad, Erin is so mindful of not setting Vince off, that she downplays her ordeal. She doesn't tell Vince she almost died (and the reasons for that are mind-blowing). It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up and do the rumba.
For those following along at home:
Trigger Warning #1 = Adultery
Trigger Warning #2 = Abusive husband
Eventually the author has to set things right for Erin, which she does. For a long while I would have classified this story as "erotic women's fiction," and I think it works best on that level. It practically screams "book club read," if you're lucky enough to have an adventurous book club. The sex here is what I call Hot Vanilla. I read my fair share of erotica and erotic romance and honestly? It's nice to read a story every once in a while that isn't loaded down by the kinky and bizarre. Yes, I'm well aware that kinky and bizarre is in the eye of the beholder - but the sex between Nicholas and Erin is blessedly pretty straight forward. It's something I would have no problem recommending to a reader who isn't 1) familiar with erotica and/or 2) isn't always entirely comfortable with it.
The ending lands us smack dab into romance territory as Erin does get her happy ending. I'm slightly torn over it, mostly because I don't think heroines like Erin should jump right into a "happy ending." They should be jumping right into therapy and "finding themselves." But the author wisely employs an epilogue (one year into the future) and it's a case where the book really needed that epilogue. I suspect some readers will be disappointed that our villain isn't dispatched with in a bloodthirsty manner - but the author sticks to a more (sadly) true to life ending in that regard.
Drowning is the story of a woman finding herself and the man who hands her the road map to do it. It's certainly not a book for everyone, and is not always easy to read, but it is thought-provoking and compelling. I'm, admittedly, always a little leery of authors who jump into erotica after establishing themselves in other genres - but De Jong has written a fundamentally sound erotic piece of women's fiction while staying true to the number one rule. That is, it's all about the character's journey. In this case - Erin's. Erin who finds herself by almost dying.
Final Grade = B