Dear Ms. Banks:
This is one of those books that are well written and evocative but made me feel personally uncomfortable. Despite my issues, though, I recognize that it is a good story.
Serena is in the business of fulfilling fantasies for other people, whether it is preparing an elaborate princess party for a young girl or satisfying a grown man’s desire to be a chef at a noted restaurant for the evening. But she’s got a fantasy of her own that she wants to explore. Serena longs for a submissive relationship. Oh, she’s not so much into the pain aspect (although there is some of that in the story), but she wants to be possessed or owned by a man.
Fortunately for Serena her friend Faith knows of a man, Damon Roche, who could help her fulfill those fantasies. Damon Roche owns, among other things, a house of pleasure and has members who could very well meet Serena’s demands. Once Damon reads her request and sees her, he decides that he wants to be the one to make her fantasy a reality. He lays out his proposition: for one month, she gives herself over to his care to fully immerse herself in the lifestyle of a submissive.
Serena agrees. Damon is a safe choice. Faith knows him and trusts him. He’s not a stranger. He’s very handsome. More importantly, Damon’s actions show himself to be trustworthy. Prior to obtaining her agreement, he provides her with medical papers. He is clear about his demands and his expectations and evinces an understanding of what Serena is seeking through this experience.
As Serena moves into the fantasy, she is told that it will end at any time she says no.
He propped one ankle on his knee and relaxed further into the chair. "In a lot of circles, indeed for most in this, shall we say "lifestyle,’ the use of safe words abounds."
She nodded because she knew what a safe word was.
"I won’t use them," he said fi rmly.
Her eyes widened. "You’re asking me to trust you that implicitly?"
He shook his head. "I won’t use a word that encourages a man to disregard the word no coming from a woman’s lips. If you say no, if you’re even thinking no, then it ends for me. I won’t indulge in silly little no- means- yes games. When that word crosses your lips? It’s over. If I ever ask of you something that you won’t give unreservedly, then all you need to say is no."
It is with this word that I am to believe that Serena holds the power in the relationship. Perhaps this is true. But I struggled with the concepts of ownership. I struggled with the way in which Serena was treated. On the one hand it takes the fantasy of giving up control to the extremes. Serena is dressed, fed, and bathed in accordance with Damon’s orders. At a couple of junctures in the story, Serena sleeps on a pallet at Damon’s feet during the day while he works. In some of these actions, I failed to see the beauty of their pairing. I would have liked more of the "I want to please you" than the "You please me" attitudes.
There’s a section at the end wherein Damon acknowledges the vulnerability that the perceived position of power places him in. He fears “screwing up” & failing to properly anticipate and then meet the needs of his partner.
"I understand it because I live it every day that I’m with you," he said. "Do you think that I don’t burn to please you? That I don’t live in fear of disappointing you, that I’m not afraid that I’ll let you down or fail to protect you? It’s hell, Serena. But it’s also the sweetest pleasure I’ve ever known."
I think if I had seen more vulnerability in Damon that maybe the power scales would have been tipped more equitably.
Damon had always longed for this type of relationship but each ended with the woman leaving him, not ready to live the fantasy in the long term. He tries to hold himself aloof emotionally from Serena but cannot because she so perfectly fills his emotional needs. The emotional struggle of the two characters was very poignant. Serena viewed this as a fantasy and she’s confronted with a harsh realization that fantasies are fleeting, ephemeral and whatever she might have had with Damon is similarly elusive.
While it was clear that this lifestyle pleased Serena and that it sexually fulfilling to her, it still made me uncomfortable. I, the reader, struggle with the lifestyle choice even as Serena struggles to square her desires with her own beliefs. In the end while Serena won peace, I wasn’t so convinced. Having said all that, I still enjoyed this book despite my discomfort and thus the writing must have been good because otherwise I would have thrown a book like this with this topic against the wall. (can you tell how conflicted this book makes me) B-
This book can be purchased in trade paperback from an independent bookstore or ebook format from the Sony Store and other etailers.