Dear Ms. McGregor,
His Roommate’s Pleasure caught me with the blurb. The college setting is something that I’ve been wanting to read more of in romance because of the New Adult label; it’s something that I get particularly excited about with non-heterosexual romance because of the lack of popular LGBTQ New Adult books. While your book is more straight-up erotic romance than New Adult, the setting and the conflict matches a lot of heterosexual New Adult romances, and I think it does a good job of doing what those books also attempt to do: showing the exploration of a more complex sexual relationship. The trouble is that the novella feels more like an attempt at writing a Beginner’s Guide to BDSM.
The gist of it is that Adam and Josh have been roommates at university for some time. Adam was considered a nerd in high school for being the out-and-proud gay kid. Josh, who went to a different high school, was the obvious jock. Their lives in college aren’t that much different. Adam studies a lot and hangs out with two very good friends; Josh hangs out with guys on his sports teams, playing video games together and going to keggers like it’s their last day to live. They’ve never been close roommates, but they are comfortable enough with each other to respect boundaries. That is until Adam stumbles across something on Josh’s computer during an emergency essay submission.
Josh is in the closet. One wrong click and Adam opens that closet door wide open, and there are leather collars dangling from the clothes hangers. Picture after picture on Josh’s computer shows different levels of BDSM sex. Guys are tied up, humiliated, collared and forced to beg for sex. It’s not something that Adam, a virgin who’s only ever kissed one guy before, has ever researched or considered before. It turns him on just as Josh comes in the room, paving the way for a really awkward talk about Josh’s sexual preferences.
Awkwardness seems to melt into eroticism as Josh admits that he’s gay and that BDSM turns him on. Adam’s own excitement over the idea of submitting ignites something in Josh that has him asking if Adam would like to explore some of the things in the photographs. Slowly; not as if they are dating, but just to explore a mutual sexual interest. At the first command, Adam finds himself kneeling next to Josh and wanting to be the guy wearing the blindfold and the collar. His college roommate survey never asked the question if he was dominant or submissive – now, Adam finds himself well-matched. When Josh begins to seem less of a fuck buddy and more of a boyfriend, Adam can’t help but worry that things will take a turn for the worse even as their sex lives get hotter and hotter.
My biggest issue with the beginning was the way that Adam accidentally “clicked” into Josh’s porn folder. It was described in a vague manner, and most teenage boys who are afraid of coming out hide their porn folders reasonably well, especially since they are of the generation to actually know how to hide things. Assuming that Josh wasn’t paranoid enough to password his file, he would have at least hidden it in such a way that accidental clicking probably wouldn’t do much for it. While it wouldn’t have given the best impression of Adam, I would have preferred that Adam snooped through Josh’s files after. He could have even discovered porn in Josh’s browsing history or bookmarks. It just rung false to me when it felt like there were too many reasons why something so accidental would have been improbable.
Out of the two roommates, Adam is more along the lines of a focus character. His impressions of jocks from high school have him detesting those kinds of people, yet he realizes that Josh is a complex individual and find his dominance sexually stimulating. I found that Adam’s character gave up his trust to Josh very easily; it felt like there wasn’t a lot of resistance or concern over that aspect of the D/s relationship between them. Even if it’s sexual and both people consent, there’s a lot of psychological reasoning as to why someone would want to give up that control, and I didn’t really get a sense as to why Adam felt the need to do that. Was it because of his being bullied? Was it because he enjoyed his stereotypical “nerd” role to some degree? That part of Adam’s character never felt explained to me, and I had trouble picturing Adam being so gung-ho about his desire to be the submissive as a result of it.
Josh is kind of in the same boat. We learn less about him save for the fact that he likes sports and has a soft, slightly nerd-y side with his choice of favorite films. Aside from that, we learn about him being in the closet and being into a dominant in sex. Both he and Adam have very little sexual experience, so the engine running their relationship for a majority of the book is their discovery of this D/s sexual relationship. It’s very slow going – no anal penetration until the end of the novella – but does signify some degree of increasing trust and affection between the two boys. Yet, we are still met with a character that doesn’t get delved into a lot psychologically. I never felt like I knew a lot about what made Josh tick in terms of his kink, and, while kinky sex doesn’t need to be an everyday occurrence, it’s obvious that these two characters find a lot of solace in the D/s sexual relationship. The sex felt very cut-and-dry in its progression because of the lack of emotional depth of the characters’ sexual psyches.
There were some aspects of this story that really did work for me. McGregor’s side characters were very realistic. I could believe the varied responses from Josh’s friends RE: his sexuality, yet I was simultaneously troubled by how Josh ignored Adam’s discomfort with jocks due to his past bullying experiences. Yes, not every jock is a bully, but several of Josh’s friends displayed problematic behavior, hence why Josh was afraid to come out to them. I did appreciate one character, Nate, who is actually likable because he respects women and gay people despite his ingrained societal preconceptions. That part of the story was well-addressed. I also enjoyed Adam’s two close friends – both PoC characters that I would have liked to read more about.
This story got a lot of criticism from me, but I didn’t find it bad in theory. It would serve as a very solid introduction to BDSM sex for a reader who may not be familiar with it. It deals with paddling, spanking, and a few other kinks that aren’t too intense. Amateur BDSM. Josh also repeatedly asks Adam to make sure he has permission to do things, which I appreciated, although I would have liked more concentration on the characters’ levels of comfort and how that negotiation was a big part of starting out a BDSM relationship. It’s really all the book is, however, and I don’t think there’s enough depth in the characters or their sexual encounters to really make me believe that this stands out in a sea of books attempting to cover BDSM, though it may be just the thing for readers who like the BDSM-lite books but want to see some different sexualities within them. My grade on this is a C.
All my best,