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REVIEW: Deep Desires by Charlotte Stein

Dear Charlotte Stein:

I picked up your novella, Deep Desires, after Mandi at Smexy Books recommended it. Mandi was very enthusiastic about this book, and it sounded different, so even though I hadn’t read any of your previous works, I went for it.

Deep-Desires1Abbie, the narrator of the story, is a survivor of an abusive relationship. She is living in an apartment complex called The Courtyard and working at a grocery store partly in order to keep a low profile. She is afraid of getting into another relationship because the last one turned out so badly.

One night, Abbie sees a male neighbor strip and masturbate facing the window which looks directly into hers. He does it slowly, and Abbie is drawn to the sight, even as she feels guilty about her voyeurism.

She doesn’t believe the neighbor knows she watched him, but she is still troubled by her action when she sees him collect his mail one day. Another neighbor has nicknamed him “The Serial Killer,” because he is a loner and little is known about him.

Almost against her will, Abbie watches to see if he’ll masturbate within view of her again. One night she see a message written in lipstick on his window: Your turn now. Abbie doesn’t do it, not right then, but then he masturbates again, going further this time. An aroused Abbie eventually takes his dare.

She learns the man’s name, Ivan Orlinsky, from his mailbox. And in her own mailbox, she finds a package from him. It is a puzzle box containing an ingenious sex toy. Abbie knows Ivan could, indeed, be dangerous, but he always makes her feel she has a choice about how far to go, and since they don’t share the same space except when they briefly pass each other by in the hallway, she feels safe exploring her sexuality with him.

The trouble is that in some ways, Ivan feels more vulnerable than Abbie. In addition to having OCD tendencies, he is also afraid to leave his apartment – or even to let Abbie into it. Can these two damaged people heal each other?

Deep Desires is a hot and emotional read but in some ways, it was tough to suspend my disbelief in this story. I didn’t, for example, understand why Abbie felt safe watching Ivan when he masturbated in front of his window. It takes some suspension of disbelief to buy that she, an abuse survivor, would not feel more uncomfortable with his weirdness when I sometimes did.

At the same time, I wondered what attracted Ivan to Abbie, beyond the damage they had both sustained. It isn’t clear since he has so little opportunity to know her when the attraction begins.

Deep Desires is definitely steamy – and I liked Abbie and wanted to like Ivan. They were both characters with some complexity and did not fit the usual hero/heroine types. I think they would have been more real to me had I seen more of their lives, more of their story.

Instead, the novella was limited to the apartment complex. For me, the characters’ worlds needed to be expanded, and questions about them needed answering. Was it just the history of abuse that led Abbie to work as a supermarket cashier? Could she afford her apartment on those wages or was she struggling financially? And what about Ivan? Did he ever leave his apartment to run errands, or were the things he needed always delivered to him?

When Ivan and Abbie declare their love for each other, I didn’t buy it. The novella was sexy, even haunting, in its depiction of their attraction to each other and their need for each other. I could buy that they filled each other’s empty spaces to some degree, but not that this was necessarily a healthy attraction or genuine love.

I say this because outside of one briefly summarized phone conversation about poetry and the dramatic final scene, I never saw them spend any time with one another that wasn’t sexual, and I don’t equate sex with love.

Without seeing these two interact outside the bedroom and outside the building, it was hard to fully believe in this relationship. And perhaps if they hadn’t declared their feelings so emphatically by the end of the story, I would not need to believe it. This novella is billed as erotica rather than erotic romance, and I don’t expect more than an HFN from the erotica genre. So the issue here is more that I felt I was meant to see this relationship as healthy and even as True Love.

[spoiler]Also, I didn’t understand what happened to the villain at the end of the story.[/spoiler]

If only for the haunting attraction, moody atmosphere, and hot sex, this novella was worth my time. But because of its flaws, I can’t see myself rereading it. C.

~Janine

AmazonBN

Janine Ballard loves well-paced, character driven novels in historical romance, fantasy, YA, and the occasional outlier genre. Recent examples include novels by Katherine Addison, Meljean Brook, Kristin Cashore, Cecilia Grant, Rachel Hartman, Ann Leckie, Jeannie Lin, Rose Lerner, Courtney Milan, Miranda Neville, and Nalini Singh. Janine also writes fiction. Her critique partners are Sherry Thomas, Meredith Duran and Bettie Sharpe. Her erotic short story, “Kiss of Life,” appears in the Berkley anthology AGONY/ECSTASY under the pen name Lily Daniels. You can email Janine at janineballard at gmail dot com or find her on Twitter @janine_ballard.

15 Comments

  1. Tara
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 13:07:29

    I believed that they believed they were in love with each other.

  2. Isobel Carr
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 13:20:06

    My BFF had a neighbor like that (masturbating in front of windows that faced hers when he knew she was home alone). She called the cops. This whole set-up creeps me out.

  3. Mandi
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 13:48:23

    I definitely think this story could have used more pages…their relationship starts so…damaged..that I needed more to be convinced that they would be happy together forever.

    But, there is something about Stein’s voice that just draws me in and I found this one so different and dark.

    I agree about the spoiler too….what did happen there? LOL

    For an erotica novella, this one hit all the right buttons for me.

  4. Brie
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 14:14:17

    Great review! I agree with your points. The funny thing is that all the reasons why the story didn’t work for you, are the reasons why I liked it so much. I didn’t have problems suspending disbelief, probably because I was focused on what the characters were doing and the story, and never gave much thought to the logic behind all of that. The romance is probably the weakest part. I too have a hard time believing in their insta-love and magical cure. But the characters were so compelling that I didn’t mind as much as I probably should have.

    To me, the story was just a moment in the lives of these two damaged people. I don’t think it needed more background, a clearer ending, or even a stronger setup. I’m not sure if they will have a life together, or even if they were ready to have a healthy relationship (probably not) but I had a great time reading it. It was unique, interesting and erotic.

  5. Joopdeloop
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 16:56:07

    This one didn’t work for me as well as some of her other books and short stories, but I find Charlotte Stein to be teh crack. She’s got such a strong compelling and funny voice, I love her mix of seriously twisted, vulnerable and honest with a heaping side of steamy. And I love the strain of beta (or is that submissive) in her heroes and the frequent top-spin to her some of her heroines- she is like the antivenin to 50S! I think my favorite is still Closer, but I’ll pretty much anything by her.

  6. Joopdeloop
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 18:24:17

    Oops- meant to type Control, not Closer- female bookseller, male employee.

  7. Janine
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 19:48:51

    @Tara: I believed they were in love too. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe they had strong feelings for each other, but rather that the way those feelings were framed (especially in the last line, but even before that) made me feel that I was meant to see it as a healthy once in a lifetime love kind of relationship, and other elements in the story made that problematic for me.

    @Isobel Carr: Yeah, its a setup that requires a lot of disbelief suspension.

    @Mandi: I definitely think this story could have used more pages…their relationship starts so…damaged..that I needed more to be convinced that they would be happy together forever.

    Exactly. Either that, or it should have been a slice of life story without the commitment at the end. Even though our grades on this book differed, I loved your review of it.

    @Brie: I’m glad you loved the story so much. I wish I could have seen it as “just a moment in the lives of two damaged people” because I would have liked it better had that been the case. But the idea seemed to be that they did or could heal each other, and the last lines, especially, made me feel that it went well beyond a moment for them. Those were the things I struggled with the most and needed all that other stuff to be there to support.

    @Joopdeloop: This is the only Charlotte Stein work I’ve tried but I can see that she has talent and potential, so I may try her again.

  8. Mandi
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 20:05:25

    @Joopdeloop:

    Control is one of my favs too. Total crack and made me LOL at some points. Sheltered is good also.

  9. pamelia
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 21:26:11

    I really enjoyed this one. I too thought it was too short and glossed over a couple points, but overall the writing was just so refreshingly good and the voice felt so real I was hooked. Plus it was super hot and sexy.
    I also read “Control” and “Sheltered” and loved them too.
    I’m really impressed by how well she handles the different themes and character types in the stories. They are all very different books although she does manage to make them all really sexy in an edgier and more honest feeling way than many other authors do.

  10. Janine
    Oct 24, 2012 @ 21:36:27

    @pamelia: Even though I wasn’t totally sold on this couple, I thought the story was hot and emotional.

  11. Kaetrin
    Oct 25, 2012 @ 04:54:12

    I really liked this one too. Dark and sexy and unusual. I got the impression that Ivan had been watching Abbie for a while and that he was very observant (but perhaps I made that up!). Usually that sort of thing would creep me out but I went along with it here. Because we only get Abbie’s POV, there wasn’t as much of Ivan as I would have liked and I can’t say I entirely understood his psychology, but I did find the story compelling.

  12. Janine
    Oct 25, 2012 @ 12:37:34

    @Kaetrin: It was compelling to me too.

  13. Allison
    Oct 25, 2012 @ 18:39:30

    I absolutely love Charlotte Stein. Even when I’m not into a particular THING of the set-up (peeping exhibitionists, workplace sexing) the strength and wit of her voice always manages to carry it for me. I like Kaetrin’s “dark and sexy and unusual” descriptor for CS.

  14. Sophia (FV)
    Oct 25, 2012 @ 20:30:21

    This one didn’t work for me. The jump from creepy serial killer to love was difficult for me to buy into. I wanted to…but I just couldn’t.

  15. What Janine was Reading in October, November, and December of 2012
    Jan 23, 2013 @ 10:36:52

    […] Deep Desires by Charlotte Stein, C review here […]

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