A year or so ago I stumbled across a blog called Romance Novels for Feminists. It has since become one of my favorite blogs in part because it has introduced me to many books that might have otherwise not made their way onto my radar, but mostly because it takes a critical and analytical approach to books in a way that I haven't encountered much outside of college. The fact that this critical and analytical gaze is applied to books that fall into the romance category is even more interesting, and frankly, refreshing. Romance Novels for Feminists takes the genre seriously. It was through this blog that I came across Asking For It by Lilah Pace (a pseudonym for New York Times bestselling author, I so want to know who!).
Asking For It is unlike anything I have ever read before it. Vivienne can only reach climax by fantasizing about being raped. Jonah has fantasies about forcing women to submit to him. These two find each other and engage in consensual, sexual role playing in which he forces himself on her over her objections. Despite how it sounds, this isn't titillating simply for the sake of arousal. Vivienne and Jonah are both working out their issues and they are both aware of that.
Vivienne and Jonah's relationship is one of consent, care, passion, and compassion. It is clear when a scene begins and
when it ends. Vivienne has a safe word that Jonah respects. They establish rules and limits and discuss medical histories before any sex takes place. When a
scene is over Jonah makes sure Vivienne is okay physically and
emotionally. Besides fulfilling each other's sexual fantasies, Vivienne and Jonah give
each other the opportunity be who they really are not only without
judgment, but with compassion. We don't get too much of Jonah's story
here but as for Vivienne, she gets to enjoy her sexuality for the first time without pretending or being made to feel about bad about voicing and getting what she wants.
Vivienne has always been ashamed and embarrassed by her fantasies.
helps Vivienne in a way that years of therapy have not - he offers to
fulfill her fantasies and he does so without judgment. Of course, her
therapist has told Vivienne repeatedly that being forced is a common
fantasy and that is okay to fantasize about whatever. But until she
meets Jonah, she is skeptical. Vivienne shared her fantasy with a
boyfriend once before and he refused. (Vivienne's therapist reminds her that her ex-boyfriend is entitled to have limits too.)
In the beginning Vivienne and Jonah agree to remain strangers as much as possible to make their role playing seem more real. That can't last of course. Jonah and Vivienne provide each other with a safe place to
explore. They are intimate and honest with each other in a way that they haven't been able to be with anyone else. What starts out as semi-anonymous sex develops into something deeper. This is a romance, after all. Still, it does not have the classic happily
ever after. Well not exactly, but it does leave room for potential.
Perhaps that is how the sequel Begging For It ends? I can't wait to find out.