I get the fact that there is a difference between real life and fantasy. I know that people who want to act out rape fantasies with their boyfriends don't actually want to be raped in a dark alley by a guy with missing teeth, bad body odor and a rusty knife. I get that exploring such fantasies in the form of fiction, whether it is non-con, dub-con or slave fic, is not actually reprehensible in and of itself. As long as there are ample warnings for those people who want to avoid those stories, either because it doesn't turn them on or far worse, it triggers horrible memories, there is no need to kink-shame people who do enjoy them.
What I am wondering after this particular book is if there is anybody out there who thinks playing with emotional abuse is sexy? Can we pour a bucket of love over that, like we do with most rape fiction, and make it all ok? Is there an equivalent of consent-by-erection in this case? Like, just because Nick has a thing for smart guys and is a bit subby in bed he deserves all the things that Henry does? Personally, I can't see past the flashing warning signs that go “Warning: Abusive Relationship coming up in 5...4...3...2...1....” to note if there is anything else going on in this story.
Most of my time reading this book was spent thinking of how much I hated Henry. I did about a dozen years in Academia in a couple of male dominated disciplines and I met so many Henries. Guys so convinced of their intellectual superiority they just ooze smarmy condescension and cannot even conceive of the possibility that the girl with the big rack might have a valid opinion. Like Henry does not want even to entertain the thought of accepting that there are things like kissing, swallowing and hair-pulling that Nick does not like. Henry knows best, even when he barely knows the guy, and gets really patronizing about it: 'Far from being intimidated, Henry looked amused. In fact, he actually tsk-tsked me.'
“Oh, Nicholas. You are something else.”
“It's a lovely chianti that will go quite nicely with my burger.” He lifted one shoulder, “You might even like it.”
To my great disappointment, Henry does not get taken down a peg or 7, but does, in fact, know best in the end. On the other hand, when Henry even thinks
Nick is laughing at his taste in TV shows he gets all cold and distant. This is where I started yelling at Nick to GET OUT NOW. But the poor guy instead explains that no, no, he is not laughing at Henry, and he earns himself a reprieve. And while he realizes he is disturbed that [Henry's] reactions had bothered me so much
he does not stop to think: “What if I was
laughing at the stupid stuff you watch? How is that a valid reason for going all cold on me? Is that how you are going to react whenever I don't like something you like?” This is where I would have tossed the book if I had not had to finish it for this review. But, this was also still within the realm of the book being able to sell itself as a bit of a Dommy/subby fantasy if I looked at it sideways and squinted.
Good thing I had to finish it, I guess, or I would have missed the part where Henry goes from merely manipulative to downright nasty. Skip this spoiler if you're going to read the book.
Setting: Henry and Nick are parked outside the dojong where Nick used to do tae kwon do and where his nephew Grant, whom Nick takes care of, is now doing the same. Nick hopes to rejoin the dojong to strengthen the relationship with his nephew.
Henry says something vague and roundabout about them possibly being exclusive and Nick doesn't respond the way he would like him to, instead preferring to go with the flow. So when they enter the dojong and Nick gets greeted by his old teacher, Henry, pissed off at Nick, decides to take it upon himself to introduce himself as Nick's boyfriend. Even though Nick has just said they're not boyfriends. Nick isn't out with these people, Nick is invested in rejoining these people. For himself and for his nephew. Henry knows this, but Henry doesn't care that his claim could ruin all of that. And because this is happy happy romance land, nobody in the dojong has a problem with the gayness, and I guess that is supposed to make it right, even if it really isn't.
Nick's old sparring partner Nestor then says he would ask Nick out if Henry wasn't glaring at him. That's right folks, now Henry is pissed about Nestor sparring with Nick and making a pass. If you could even call it that. So they go home, they have a big fight. Nick suggests only going to the dojong when Henry is there to keep an eye on him and Nestor, because obviously this is all his fault. Henry gets nasty and sarcastic about Nick's lack of intelligence and then he storms out. Instead of cheering the loss of Henry, everyone claims it's Nick's fault and makes him 'go get him back'. Yes, Henry takes him back but then embarks on a massively passive aggressive punishment program that lasts several weeks. When that comes around and bites him in the ass, Henry throws another tantrum in the dojong and now even Nick starts blaming Nestor for nothing worse than expressing an interest. He'd caused me enough crap in my life in the very short time since I'd met him again.
Honestly, people, I don't even have words for how wrong all this is.
Then the boys get into a fight with a bunch of anti-semitic teenagers, Nick realizes he loves Henry and wahla: the end.
Best of luck, Nick, you're going to need it.
If it wasn't clear from the title, this is a book about a smart guy and a blue collar guy. Catchy, yes, but also kind of telling in that it insinuates that Nick, who truly has a heart of gold but who is just a little rough around the edges, is considered the 'Beast' here and the one that has to somehow transform. We get pounded with how smart Henry is throughout the book. In fact, according to my word searches, there are close to a hundred references to how smart Henry is. It's a bit overkill, especially because his intelligence does little more than serve to convince himself that he must be right because he is smart. If anyone is to be considered a beast in this relationship, Henry has my vote.
For me, the best parts of this book were the extensive sections where Nick deals with his nephew and his dad. Grant the teenager was well done and so was Dad. If you're reading it for the sex, which, by the way, includes at least 4 separate dry humping sessions in the kitchen while the rest of the family is home, these family drama sections may seem really long to you. Since they were pretty much the only times in the book I wasn't fuming at Henry, they were a welcome reprieve to me. We see nothing of Henry's family or friends. Henry is the proverbial island. Which is probably just as well, because honestly, I can't see the guy with the classic car collection, the posh mansion and the fancy fish taking a mechanic along for work- and other social functions. No matter how much he claims to love him.
So there you have it. A book that pushed all the wrong buttons for me. If you have different buttons, it's probably not that bad.