My friends are constantly trying to force me to read erotica books - the more they think I'll dislike it, the more they want me to read it. I was wary about starting BARED TO YOU for several reasons: one; it's frequently referred to in the same breath as FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, which I did not like; two; I've been acquainted with this author before via her historical romance novels, which I also did not like; and three; it's got one of those vague non-summaries that doesn't tell me what the book is going to be about, which kind of makes me suspect that it's not going to have much in the way of substance besides, well, copious sex.
As it turns out, I was sort of correct and sort of incorrect on all three counts. BARED TO YOU is the story of an early-twenty-something and a late-twenty-something using kinky sex to self-medicate their traumas - only, instead of one of them being god-like and rich, they're both god-like and rich...and so is everyone else in the book. I'm still not sure if this levels the playing field, or if it just underscores the vapid, shallowness of these types of books.
***WARNING: SPOILERS TO FOLLOW***
I buddy-read this with my friend Sarah, and I have to agree with her that Gideon is a much better hero than Christian. As controlling and stalky as he is, at least he listens to the word "no" and doesn't beat her with belts and control her eating habits in order to come to term with his own demons. They actually do couple things together, like eat out (no, not just that way) and work out together, and go to charity balls...and other things that normal couples do together. The only downside is that Gideon apparently acts out rapes in his sleep, both on the receiving end and the giving end. Um.
The sex - and man, there was a lot of sex in this book - was actually good, for the most part, which was a pleasant surprise after reading ASK FOR IT and being treated to the not-so-sexy image of creamy bodily fluids gushing every which way. BARED TO YOU has some great scenes...but since this book is basically 70% sex or prelude to sex, they lose their power and get repetitive after a while.
Also, there's just some really bad scenes in here:
...his powerful body straining with the primal need to mate (91).
"I'm so deep in you...I can feel it against my stomach...feel my dick pounding into you" (137).
His balls were heavy and big, an audacious display of his powerful virility (162).
Gideon battered my tender sex with that brutally thick column of rigid flesh (230).
"You're milking the head of my dick with those hungry little squeezes" (237)
And some of the worst phrases for buttholes:
the pucker of my anus (234)
my sensitive rosette (235)
that darkly sexual place (237)
I did find it a little irritating that the bisexual best friend of the hero sleeps around constantly with people of both sexes and basically comes across as a shallow jerk. The author gives a reason for this behavior, but it's still annoying to see characters conform to stereotypes (I also side-eyed her flamboyant gay boss). I'm all for inclusivity and practice makes perfect, but this is not a book I would ever pick up to fulfill any #diversefiction challenges. Let's put it that way.
Likewise, the way the other wom(en) are portrayed in this book made me feel similarly torn. Day tries to give them more substance than just that beautiful conniving temptress who swoops back into the hero's life to still him away from the virginal heroine. In this case, Gideon's women are portrayed with some degree of nuance (more so towards the end). The women who sleep with Cary (the bisexual BFF of the heroine), however, do not receive that same courtesy, and at one point, Eva refers to them as trash or something like that. Stay classy, Eva.
The way one of my coworkers described this book to me at my old job made it sound like this book was about assassins, and that title - Crossfire - made me think that I was about to get my hands on some Bastien Toussaint-type anti-hero. I think I know what happens next (based on her spoilers), and I'm curious enough to learn about Gideon and Eva's backstories that I'd probably pick up book 2. If it was cheap. I think my favorite part was when Eva, starry-eyed from her move from San Diego to New York, New York, marvels at the modern wonder of the garbage truck. Because of course, in California, we grind our garbage up and put it into fair trade coffee or smoke it in bongs, I guess. Please, tell me more about this New York-exclusive rubbish-processing behemoth on wheels... -_-
Edit: Can I just say that I'm so tickled by the fact that this edition has "discussion questions" in the back of the book? They're absolutely hilarious. Here are some of my favorites:
Initially, it's the physical attraction that draws Gideon to Eva, but by the time he lures her to his nightclub there's something deeper involved. What is it about Eva that causes Gideon to pursue her so relentlessly? (337)
Gideon's life revolves around his work and his philanthropic commitments; Eva's social life is more personal. How do these differences affect them as a couple? (338)
Gideon and Eva have a very sexual relationship. Considering their pasts, why do you think sex is such an important way for them to communicate? (338)
I just read this book called YOU PLAY THE GIRL, a book of essays about pop culture written through a feminist lens, and one of the essays was about Stepford Wives - I seem to recall the author juxtaposed it against the Desperate Housewives and writing a good deal about what it means to be a "housewife," whether you're a good one or a dysfunctional one. I really liked what the author had to say, and it actually motivated me to go dig out my old copy of STEPFORD WIVES for a belated reread.
***WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD***
Disclaimer: I'm a feminist, so obviously I'm a little biased, but in my opinion, STEPFORD WIVES is a feminist book in the same vein as THE HANDMAID'S TALES. STEPFORD is set in the middle of the civil rights era, where Betty Friedan is giving her talks and NOW chapters are rallying for equal rights for women. Men, for the first time, are suddenly expected to share in the housework, and women are being empowered to seek out their own jobs and goals independent of marriage and children, becoming sexually and fiscally autonomous.
One of the biggest issues that women continue to face is objectification. You see this a lot when sexist dudes talk about women, reducing them to their parts ("grab some p*ssy," "Tits or GTFO"), or talking about them as if they are trophies to be won for their accomplishments ("I'm such a nice guy, so why don't I have a girlfriend?"). It's gotten better, but not nearly as much as it should have, and one of the more chilling aspects for me is how modern STEPFORD WIVES feels, despite being published in 1972. I don't know about you, but it doesn't speak very highly towards our society that we're still being plagued by the same exact issues almost fifty years later. Especially since the chilling climax of this book is objectification in the ultimate sense: taking living, breathing women and replacing them with actual objects: in this case, robots.
I've read this book several times over the course of my life, and with every reread I take something new from the text. I feel like I was able to appreciate it more this time because I've been reading more books about history and feminism, so I have a better appreciation for the zeitgeist of the time of this book's publication, and what the broader historical context behind it was. In fact, I would say STEPFORD WIVES actually improves with subsequent reads, because there are all these sinister hints that you pick up on while reading between the lines that make it even more terrifying.
When Joanna first finds out about the Men's Association, she is against it. She expects her husband, who claims to be a feminist, will be, too, but he joins because "the only way to change it is from the inside" (6). The irony here is that the only changes being made on "the inside" are occurring within the context of her marriage: Walter sabotages Joanna so slowly that by the time she finally feels the noose tightening, it's already too late.
After one of his Men's Association meetings, Walter comes home late and masturbates furiously in their bed, but acts ashamed when she catches him: His eye-whites looked at her and turned instantly away; all of him turned from her, and the tenting of the blanket at his groin was gone as she saw it, replaced by the shape of his hip (15). They have sex at her insistence, which ends up being "one of their best times ever - for her, at least" and she says, "What did they do...show you dirty movies or something?" (16). This is one of those moments where, in subsequent rereads, the reader wonders: did the members of the Men's Association indoctrinate Walter by showing him what they do to their wives, and did the possibilities of that excite him instead of horrifying him?
Towards the end, after Bobbie, a friend to Walter and Joanna, "changes", Walter hesitates when it's time to say goodbye: Bobbie moved to Walter at the door and offered her cheek. He hesitated - Joanna wondered why - and pecked it (77). I took this to mean that Walter is thinking of his own wife's pending transformation and feeling guilt and uncertainty. Should he go through with it? When Joanna is worried about her friend, Walter has this to say: "There's nothing in the water, there's nothing in the air....They changed for exactly the reasons they told you: because they realized they'd been lazy and negligent. If Bobbie's taking an interest in her appearance, it's about time. It wouldn't hurt YOU to look in a mirror once in a while" (86). He goes on to say: "You're a very pretty woman and you don't do a damn thing with yourself any more unless there's a party or something" (86). That's when I felt like it became too late for Joanna. In the midst of her mental breakdown, she let herself - and the house - go, and Walter decided he didn't want to deal with that, any of it, anymore. Why settle for a flawed woman when you could have a perfect one?
When Joanna tries to run away from the women and the men from the Men's Association corner her, they hunt her down like an animal and mock her fear. I took this to mean that the objectification was complete: they no longer saw her as human - they knew she was about to become a robot, and so to them, she was just a thing. What makes this even more ironic is when they say, "[W]e don't want ROBOTS for wives. We want real women" (114). Because I've heard so many men say similar things - that they want smart, clever, beautiful women...but there's always a qualifier. As long as they don't try too hard, as long as they aren't more successful than me, as long as they aren't shrill or know-it-all.
The Men of Stepford want "real" women...but they also don't want flawed, forgetful women who sometimes let themselves go and don't want to do all the housework. They want the women of their fantasies made real: they want Pygmalion.
"Suppose one of these women you think is a robot - suppose she was to cut herself on the finger, and bleed. Would THAT convince you she was a real person? Or would you say we made robots with blood under the skin?" (114)
The ending of this book is depressing AF. I'm not sure what the message is, exactly, either - is it saying that men are inherently sexist and unwilling to move towards equality? Or is it a warning of the reductio ad absurdum variety of what objectification can lead to if left unchecked? And what of the children: are they going to groom their daughters to become robots when they come of age as well, marrying themselves off to the highest bidder? The story becomes even bleaker if you consider the possibilities. I took it as a warning, and a criticism of the patriarchy, but STEPFORD is open to so many possible interpretations, and I think that's what makes it such an interesting and lasting book.
Women helped each other in ways small and large every day, without thinking, and that was what kept them going even when the world came up with new and exciting ways to crush them (164).
Reading this book made me so happy. I'm so glad I "buddy read" it with Korey, even though I was way too slow and she finished it a week before I did. As she said in her review, this is a satisfying read in Mango Mussolini's America. Two people of color, finding love and their dreams? YES to the please, TYVM.
Bertha is an ex-prostitute who is now madam of her own club for black people. Amir is a Bengali Muslim who she recently hired as a chef. The attraction between them is instant, but also fraught with difficulty because Amir has responsibilities to his family back home and Bertha has trust issues when it comes to men (for good reason). She's also a suffragette (yay!) and doesn't want to be with a man who sees her as a second class citizen.
The writing in this book is very good, and I thought the characterization was incredibly well-done. Cole in this book reminds me of Courtney Milan at her best, particularly with how Cole takes the narratives of people of color and historical feminists and weaves them into the story. We need more of that perspective in historical romances, in my opinion.
This is the third Alyssa Cole book I've read. The first, one of her short stories, didn't really wow me, but the writing was good enough that I thought a full-length novel might be better. The second, AN EXTRAORDINARY UNION, is about a black woman spying for the North while posing as a slave, and it was amazing. LET US DREAM is just as good, although length-wise it falls between the two aforementioned books, as it's not quite a short story, not quite a novel.
As of my writing this review (8/21), it's currently only 99-cents on Amazon. Go check it out!