Trigger warning: violence and rape mentioned
This isn’t actually my next Alphabet Challenge read; the format just fit so perfectly, I couldn’t resist it.
Out of morbid curiosity, I’ve been reading parts of Maya Banks’s Taking it All, a book which upset quite a few readers. I find Banks a somewhat fascinating writer, because she’s an almost perfect chameleon: she takes a particular formula (category romance, romantic suspense, and whimsical Highland romance are the ones I’ve mostly read) and replicates it by meshing it with her own formula (group of guys who always wind up hurting their heroines, while cherishing their friends’ poor hurt heroines. I once joked that she had found a way to make even mainstream romance feel like menage.) When the starting formula is one I like, it can work really well; my favorite is the Silhouette Desire Wanted by Her Lost Love.
I don’t particularly like Bank’s style in erotic romance, which is why I haven’t read this series or the one that proceeded it. And I should make it very clear that I didn’t read this entire book and skipped over most of the sex scenes. What I was curious about what the dark moment that upset so many people, and then I got kind of sucked into the aftermath.
Basic plot: submissive Chessy is unhappy with her marriage because her dominant husband Tate has been neglecting her for work. He tries to make it up to her by staging a favorite scene — him in charge while another man dominates her. The other man goes off the rails, beats her, and begins to anally rape her; Tate is not only not paying enough attention, but actually takes a work call during the scene. Chessy is badly hurt and traumatized, and leaves Tate.
This scene was, understandably, way too much for many readers, but I thought that it’s a damn interesting as a conflict in a D/s relationship. It’s obviously a catastrophic failure of trust, one it would be very hard to come back from.
So what made me go hmmm. After the incident, when previous hero and heroine are succoring Chessy, previous hero says this about the fact that Chessy is badly bruised:
“It’s not something that should ever happen, honey. A Dominant is charged with the absolute safety and well-being of his submissive. He’s supposed to safeguard that gift and cherish it and her.”
That is classic Banks in a nutshell, but it made me very uncomfortable in this context. It leaves out so many aspects of negotiation and desire. Some people want to be bruised and marked. It’s not being a bad dominant to give your submissives what they want.
This also contributed to a sense I had throughout the book, that the dominant men give off far more of a submissive vibe. I don’t want to tell anyone how they should feel or label themselves, and it’s not like my experience is all that extensive, but the fact that they only play with other men, and the descriptions of how Tate loves to cook for Chessy and to tuck her in, “ensuring all the pillows are in the exact position she liked them” every single time she sleeps, seem more like fantasyland than a portrayal of a genuine D/s relationship.
Another big hmmmm. During the succoring, second previous heroine says this:
“We’ll do whatever you need us to. True friendship has no boundaries. No parameters. And certainly no conditions.”
She means well, but I’d put this on the top ten list of fucked up thing you could say to someone who just left her husband because he failed her.
Finally, the story ends in the most cliched, annoying, and disappointing way possible — giving a lot of credence to the theory that “50 Shades” style romances are basically a new way for people to enjoy the trappings of category romance. The conflict isn’t really resolved, just superseded. Since D/s is supposed to be a very important part of their relationship, I would really have liked to see that area addressed in a satisfying way.