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REVIEW:  The Dom Project by Heloise Belleau, Solace Ames

REVIEW: The Dom Project by Heloise Belleau, Solace Ames


Dear Ms. Belleau and Ms. Ames:

The Dom Project is erotic romance with heavy emphasis on the erotic side. Which isn’t to say it doesn’t have a happy, satisfying ending — but it’s set in a milieu in which the traditional romance “rules” simply do not apply. And it creates that world so well, I didn’t miss them.

While on the trail of rare photographs of a kinky 1930s sex symbol, special collections librarian Robin notices that her best friend John is surprisingly knowledgeable about BDSM terms and paraphernalia. And John realizes that his best friend might actually be a “buttoned-up-real-fucking-life-naughty-librarian.” He knows her habits so well that it takes him little time to track down her blog, The Picky Submissive, which chronicles her efforts to find a dom who meets her needs and isn’t a jerk. And for the first time they open up about the fact that they’re both kinky, and that Robin is profoundly dissatisfied.

[Robin] “I’ve been trying and I’ve been waiting. I’ve been communicating my needs and I’ve been letting go of my highest standards and it’s just not working. Maybe I just attract assholes. Maybe the creepy guy to nice guy ratio among doms is higher than among ‘normal’ dudes. Maybe I’m not really a submissive at all, and if I was, I’d be okay with guys calling me whore when we’re out to dinner or telling me to put my hair in pigtails or grabbing me and telling they’re mind readers.”

[John] “Maybe I can prove you wrong.”

With the basic premise that there won’t be sex — “I don’t see you that way, and you don’t see me that way, and really it’s a moot point” — John proposes that he help Robin define what submission means to her. “I know all about you. I know what makes you tick. If I can’t dominate you, then maybe nobody can.”

Does that quote make John sound like an arrogant douche? He’s really just appropriately confident and assertive — as well as highly ethical and conscientious — and he does indeed know Robin very well.

They begin with a carefully worked out contract and a systematic approach — testing out an intriguingly long list of items such as Denial, Restraint, Pain, and Role-play to find what really floats Robin’s boat — but there’s nothing clinical about the intensity of their sessions. Some scenes are more for fun and help Robin write off certain aspects of submission; others take her out of the stratosphere. Although the narrative is third person, we’re right there inside Robin’s head, which makes the scenes blazingly erotic. As the one who has to stay in control, John’s point of view is naturally less overwhelming, but it shows his growing attraction to Robin as he strives to please her without breaking their contract.

This isn’t my usual beloved angst-fest. Problems do predictably arise, as John and Robin begin to have stronger feelings for each other and want to change the rules. And of course they both have fears about it, and make some mistakes. (Robin sometimes uses her safeword! John sometimes screws up a scene! It’s almost like they’re supposed to be real people!) The strength of the story is in the powerful D/s writing and the authenticity of the characters and situations. They have genuine issues, like the fact that toys and equipment are expensive, and that John has other play partners/lovers (both women and men) that he doesn’t want to casually discard. (They do move towards exclusivity over the course of the book.) I also really liked the inclusive of an old, ailing kinkster as a character, in a world which is usually portrayed as the exclusive domain of the young, beautiful, and rich.

Incidentally, John and Robin are an interracial couple, and it does feel almost completely incidental. Robin is white, John is apparently Chinese-American. (He may be one of the few contemporary romance heroes to have tattoos that aren’t cultural appropriation.) Although John’s family members are important secondary characters, race doesn’t enter into the story much, except for a wry comment from John about how he’s perceived as a large, tattooed Asian man. Since Robin and John have known and loved each other for years, the lack of issues around race seems plausible.

I really enjoyed this, as a smokin’ hot story and as a vivid portrait of people leading unconventional lives. I would have liked to see more romantic feeling between John and Robin that doesn’t stem from sex; the book used standard short-cuts to squeeze in the love. And I yearned to know more about how they ultimately made their relationship decisions. The ending left some unanswered questions, though maybe that’s just me wanting things tied up neatly, so to speak. I give The Dom Project a mostly satisfied B.



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Friday Film Review: The Wedding Banquet

Friday Film Review: The Wedding Banquet

The Wedding Banquet (1993)

Genre: Romantic/GLBT/Comedy

Grade: B

This is one of Ang Lee’s earlier movies and he uses it to show a cross cultural match up of Taiwanese and American, GLBT and straight. It’s got humor, love of many kinds, a bit of pathos and a lot of understanding – even if not everybody realizes they’re in on it at the same time. Oh, and it’s got a wedding – which is blah – and a wedding banquet – which is a blast.

Wai Tong Gao (Winston Chao) is a successful businessman living in New York with his lover Simon (Mitchell Lichenstein). Wai’s traditional parents pressure him to find the perfect (Chinese) girl, get married and present them with a grandchild. Tired of them spending money on a singles club in order to find him a bride, Wai and Simon hatch a plot for Wai to marry one of his tenants Wei Wei (May Chin) who needs a green card to stay in America. She gets to stay, the parents are happy and will hopefully leave Wai – and Simon – alone to get on with their happy lives.

Thinking they only have to fool the INS (now ICE), Wei Wei and Wai work on getting to know each other enough to pass the immigration tests. Only when the Gaos suddenly announce they’re coming to NYC to see the wedding, it throws everyone into a panic. Still, if the three conspirators can hold it together and remember their roles for two weeks, all will be well. That is until Simon takes them all out to dinner after the ceremony where they discover an old comrade of Mr. Gao’s who insists on throwing a wedding banquet for the couple to honor his old commander.

After an alcohol filled and riotous party, the bridal couple is put to bed where things, er, get out of hand. Now an ill Mr. Gao delays the older couple’s departure and tempers begin to heat up and fray as the deception drags on. Will Simon, Wai and Wei Wei be able to conceal the truth from Wai’s parents? And what will happen to Simon and Wai’s relationship when the results of the wedding night become known?

Lee manages the whole meeting of cultures and lifestyles with a light and deft hand. The plot could have bogged down in overly sentimental moments, such as during the ceremonies or the points when the Gaos separately learn or admit knowledge of what’s been going on, but doesn’t. Instead, the scenes are brief or lightened with humor such as when Mr. Gao’s wedding speech induces Wei Wei to start crying and the entire female contingent rushes her off to prevent ruining her makeup. A fight between Simon and Wai after weeks of frustration boil over makes their relationship more real instead of being too, too perfect.

The “pull out all the stops” wedding banquet is a riot explained, says one guest, as 5,000 years of sexual repression let loose for this occasion. The ritual wedding humiliations – from two cultures! – including excessive toasts that render Wai and Wei Wei more than sloshed, are enough to make the actions which follow a bit more believable. The twin pressures from Wai’s Asian heritage: his parent’s wish for a daughter-in-law then grandchildren and the “still not as accepting of being homosexual” culture work together to make what could have been a hard plot to swallow more understandable and acceptable.

I really like that here is a movie featuring a gay couple that isn’t centered on disease or coming out or any other political agenda. It’s just two men who love each other and want to live together. They have their good times and they have some arguments along the way. They have friends, they have jobs, they have a life. They look after each other, sacrifice for each other and in the end, along with Wei Wei they’ll develop a new family dynamic that works for them. But this isn’t the only relationship Lee shows us. We get triple bonus points in the sweet view of the Gao’s relationship which has obviously weathered some storms in the past from what Mrs. Gao tells Wei Wei, a touching scene between Wei Wei and her new MIL – where we see how much the older woman’s presence means to the younger woman whose own parents can’t be there, and a final scene of Mr. Gao’s acceptance of Simon as a second son.

The way the characters interact and obviously care for each other is another reason why this film works so well for me. Plus they seem real. Wai is a successful business man but also a deeply loving and respectful son. Simon and Wai seem like any other couple instead of being poster boys for a cause. Wei Wei starts out just going for the green card yet discovers in the Gaos substitute parents and in the men, two fathers for her child. It might be an odd arrangement but for them it works. I also felt a great deal of sympathy for these people. Yes, the Gaos pressure their son but after the upheaval of their lives and the difficulty of Wai’s birth, I see how much the future, through their son and grandchildren, means to them. Poor Simon is just trying to help everyone out and ends up precipitating the whole mess then having to watch the man he loves marry someone else, even if Wai’s not really in romantic love with his bride.

Like another film I reviewed, “Saving Face,” this one is a modern mix of Gay life and Asian culture without being strictly of either genre. It has its funny moments, thoughtful times and moving scenes. It makes me glad that the “Newlywed Invasion” isn’t an contemporary American custom – though perhaps it’s better than the old shivarees. It doesn’t point fingers or make a case that either side is right or wrong but allows viewers to decide as it goes along – or perhaps still be thinking as the credits are rolling. B