Rereading some BDSM erotic romance

After reading Joan/SarahF’s post, Four Ways to NOT Write BDSM Romance, and the accompanying thread, I went back and reread James Buchanan’s Hard Fall.  And I also gave Anah Crow’s Uneven another go ’round, in part because last month I read her collaboration with Dianne Fox, Becoming Us, and enjoyed it. [Liked  the writing despite some minor flaws — too much sex, not enough outside  activity.]  Both books were problematic for me the first time I read them:  Buchanan’s book because of the voice of the narrator and Crow’s because of the s/m.

Am not sure what happened as I read Hard Fall this time; the grammar of the narrator was still cringe-inducing*, but somehow the story managed to get beyond that.  I was able to focus on the content of the book rather than form/delivery.  I was able to appreciate Joe’s struggle with himself and the tension between his sexuality and the demands or dogma of his church, and the irony (or ridiculousness?) of a church that thought homosexuality was okay as long as one stayed single; being gay was only really a problem when he found someone with whom he had an emotional *and* sexual connection.  And the HFN felt right, rather than an HEA, since the two characters were so different and still dealing with a boatload of issues. The beginnings of a BDSM-involved relationship was just another thing Joe was learning about himself.  I was intrigued by the fact that the roles were reversed here — in the little BDSM romance I’ve read (most not very good), the noob is a sub looking to be dominated, but that is absolutely not the case here.  Kabe is the sub, and he’s the one reassuring Joe that what he did and what he enjoyed were all good. 

Think I’m going to reread Buchanan’s Cheating Chance and look for a copy of its sequel, Inland Empire.  

After rereading Uneven, I’m still not sure what I think about the book. I can appreciate the story and the relationship dynamics between Rase and Gabriel objectively.  But at the same time, I have a kneejerk reaction to the physical violence between them, and knowing that it was what Rase wanted didn’t keep me from being uncomfortable.  I could remind myself that it was consensual, but it still made me flinch when Gabriel hit Rase or beat him with his own belt.  Taking a step back, I realize that the stylized violence in other novels I’ve read is fundamentally no different — blows given/received by consent, resulting in a physical sensation (for both) that ends in pleasure, even if pain is involved.  Why does the stylized behavior not bother me, but an outright slap or punch makes me twitch?  I think maybe it’s about form rather than content again, and is all about the baggage that I bring to reading.  A punch delivered by a lover on the page flashes me to domestic violence; a flogger or crop wielded by a lover does not.  So ultimately the problem is with me, not with the writing.

ETA:  *I understand that the narrator’s voice and grammar are an integral part of the character built by Buchanan, and that it was intentional.  It was still hard for me to read the first time through.  I mention in a comment below that hearing the narrator speak would not bother me as much as reading his speech patterns.  It’s a function of delivery and expectations: I expect better grammar on the page than in my ear.  Unfair, I know.

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4 responses to “Rereading some BDSM erotic romance

  1. I’m so glad you enjoyed the Buchanan on reread. I love Joe. I actually enjoyed his voice, grammar and all, because, well, it was his voice, authentic enough. And I love CC and IE.
    And thank you for realizing “the problem is with me, not with the writing.” Very few people will realize that. (Maybe I should take my own advice, right, re: Kersten?) Because Uneven can look like abuse, I guess. But it’s so not.
    Thanks for the narrative of your reading. Very interesting!

    • Re: Joe’s voice, I’ve been thinking about grammar and its presentation in written English versus spoken English a lot lately. If I were listening to an audio book of Hard Fall or even to a person in real life who spoke the same way, it would not have bothered me. Obviously my expectations are different, then, depending on the delivery mechanism. Is that appropriate? Should it matter? (It does to me, obviously, but do I need to re-evaluate how I approach non-standard English in fiction, especially when it comes to POV and narration?)
      If you were to ask me which of the two Crow books I’ve now read would I likely re-read in the future, my answer would be Uneven, because it has prompted much more thinking than Becoming Us. That’s not to say that BU was not a good story, but I don’t think it’s going to linger or make me evaluate the text and my assumptions and baggage in the same way.
      Even as I read and re-read Uneven, I *knew* that what was going on between Rase and Gabriel wasn’t abuse. But I couldn’t disassociate the two in my head, so my discomfort really was all about me rather than the characters or the writing. And it was a lot easier to figure that out as I was re-reading. Crow did a great job representing their relationship and how it works for the two of them, even if I can’t wrap my head around how it works for them.
      I’m still trying to figure out what it is in the stylization of pain/violence in BDSM romance that doesn’t push my buttons in the same way. Is it the illusion of safety? The separation from reality, being in a scene vs. stripped-down interaction shown between Rase and Gabriel in Uneven? Maybe the stylization softens it, and hides s/m in a costume or fancy wrapping (that I prefer or need)? I’m not sure, because the scene in Collision Course between Aaron and Joey, miles away in tone, is just as naked…and reading that scene gave me no qualms, and is IMO one of the best passages in the entire book. So is it instead the type of physical pain/violence? Spanking vs. hitting? That distinction seems like…hairsplitting. So I need to do some more reading and self-analysis on that front.

  2. Thank you for giving Hard Fall a second chance.
    *and so you know I’m not crazy stalker….I googled my own name, bedroom and livejournal looking for a photo I’d posted about an amoire I’d converted to a TV cabinet. The post came up. Of course I looked*

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