CONVERSATIONAL REVIEW: An Affair in Paradise by Matthew Haldeman-Time
DISCLAIMER: So as to avoid the appearance of impropriety in this conversational review by Joan/Sarah F. and Janine., Joan/Sarah F. says: “I acted as a first-reader for MHT on this story. While I wouldn’t say I was a critique partner or even a beta-reader, MHT did send me this story to see if I thought it got BDSM right. As I had nothing to correct, my input (“OMG! It’s fantastic!”) had no effect on the finished product.” Janine says: “I don’t know the author at all and only read the review copy with which DA was provided.” We encourage you to seek out other reviews should this review leave you with some questions about whether this story would work for you.
Janine: Adam is vacationing on a tropical island with his friend Stacy. As the story opens, Adam has been eyeing Brett, a fellow tourist, but because of Stacy’s drunken antics, he does not have much opportunity to approach the man he desires.
After lusting from afar, Adam get his chance when their tour bus stops and Brett struggles to use his digital camera. Adam gives Brett a few pointers and takes the opportunity to flirt with him. The two spend a few days getting to know each other, and most of the signals tell Adam that Brett returns his desire.
It’s not until toward the end of the vacation, though, that Adam gets a chance to be alone with Brett, and when he does, Brett is passive. At first Adam is confused, and then he figures out that Brett is a submissive. Brett wants Adam to take charge. But Adam has never tried BDSM before. He wants an affair in paradise with Brett very badly, but can he learn how to play the role of dom?
Janine: The first thing readers should know when assessing my comments is that I haven’t read that much m/m or BDSM romance. I have fallen in love with a few works that feature m/m relationships — namely Ginn Hale’s Wicked Gentlemen, Jesse Sandoval’s story in Tangle (“Los Conversos”), E.M. Forster’s classic Maurice, and Anne Rice’s early vampire books. On the BDSM front, I’ve really enjoyed Rice’s Exit to Eden, but haven’t yet found another BDSM romance that has resonated with me. Thus, “An Affair in Paradise” was a bit of a stretch for me.
Joan/Sarah F.: On the other hand, of course, I currently read pretty much exclusively m/m romance and I’m in a never-ending quest for good BDSM romance of almost all persuasions. So “An Affair in Paradise” was a perfect little story for me. The other thing readers should know in order to assess my comments is that I acted as a first-reader for MHT on this story. While I wouldn’t say I was a critique partner or even a beta-reader, MHT did send me this story to see if I thought it got BDSM right. As I had nothing to correct, my input (“OMG! It’s fantastic!”) had no effect on the finished product.
Janine: I enjoyed “An Affair in Paradise” but only very mildly. Part of the problem for me may be the length of the story. At roughly 10,000 words (about 40 book pages), it’s pretty short and that doesn’t leave much room for showing Brett and Adam’s relationship outside the bedroom. We are told that Brett and Adam talked a lot and got to know everything about each other before the relationship became sexual, but I would have liked to be shown a little more of that getting-to-know-one-another stage of the relationship.
Joan/Sarah F.: This is actually an issue with many of MHT’s short stories. They tend to focus intently on the beginnings of the relationship, but then just as the relationship gets started and the characters are just about falling in love, the story stops. I feel this story was sort of like a brilliantly imagined thought experiment: How do you establish a relationship when the submissive is the experienced BDSM partner and the dominant has never even though he might be interested in BDSM play? And I adore the product but could wish that it were longer.
Janine: Another thing I would have liked to have seen more of is the setting. It’s not every day that I read something set on a tropical island so I would have loved to get a better sense of place — the flora, the fauna, the view they snapped pictures of, the types of drinks Stacy had. But the setting was presented in a fairly generalized way that left me wanting more.
Joan/Sarah F.: For me, this just kept the focus of the story solidly on the budding relationship, without the distractions of atmosphere and description.
Janine: I was also confused about a couple of things. At first, I wondered if Adam was closeted and dating Stacy, because they shared a room. While I was wondering about this, it kept me from investing more deeply in Adam and Brett’s burgeoning relationship, since I didn’t see how such a conflict would be resolved in 40 pages. Then it was cleared up that Stacy was only Adam’s friend, but I think I would have preferred not to be confused about this from the beginning, because at that point, it felt like the main obstacle had been explained away.
Joan/Sarah F.: As I’m much more familiar with MHT’s writing, I never had this misunderstanding. MHT doesn’t DO closet cases. Ever. But as a new reader, with the m/m genre’s focus on closet cases, I can understand this.
Janine: Of course, the real main obstacle was Adam and Brett’s feelings of uncertainty about one another. Would Adam enjoy being in the dom role? Would he be able to pull it well enough to give Brett pleasure? That was a much more involving conflict to me, and I enjoyed it.
Joan/Sarah F.: Yes! This is where the story shone brightly for me. I love stories where people come to understand more about themselves than they would if they hadn’t met the other character.
Janine: The other thing that confused me was Brett’s past with his previous partner. From Adam’s POV, Brett’s ex sounded like a jerk, and some of Adam’s thoughts on the subject made me wonder if Brett’s previous relationship had been a healthy one for Brett. That worried me, because again, I didn’t see how those kind of issues could be resolved in such a short story. Once we got Brett’s POV, though, I understood that the ex wasn’t as much of a jerk as I’d thought he was. But this was another thing I would have preferred not to be confused about.
The author’s writing has a sharp clarity that I enjoyed, but I also found some of the sentence structures repetitive. I don’t think this is something that would bother most readers; I expect I am more sensitive to it than many, but it did keep me from enjoying the story as much as I might have otherwise.
Joan/Sarah F.: And I love MHT’s writing style. I love how the words are a transcript of what’s in the characters head to the extent that what’s said and what isn’t complement each other and how the characters move or look add to the conversation of words, thoughts, and bodies:
Biting his succulent lower lip, Brett brought his arms up, crossing his wrists overhead, a pose that immediately told Adam to go for it, do it, take. Still- "Can I-"
Brett’s voice was soft, dark. "You can do whatever you want."
Oh, shit, yes, yes- Adam didn’t know what that was about, but he liked it.
Janine: Moving on to the things I liked, I felt that the two heroes had an endearing, human quality. I really liked Adam’s intial dilemma of how to approach Brett, and Brett’s similar dilemma of whether or not Adam would want to get into his kinks. I felt their vulnerablity in the situation and that made me care about them.
I really liked the twist that even though Adam was the dom and Brett was the sub, it was Brett who was basically initiating Adam into the world of BDSM. And I liked the way Adam was torn between shock at some of the things Brett was into and being turned on by them. It made it easy to identify with both characters and made things more equal between them. Brett said he would do anything for Adam but it was clear that Adam would also do some things he wasn’t used to doing and was therefore not always 100% comfortable with or confident of doing correctly, for Brett.
The sex was for the most part sexy to me. The characters were hot for each other but also each cared about the other’s feelings. It was a nice balance of that. I wasn’t completely convinced that the two guys belonged together but I could imagine that the fun they were having might eventually translate to a deeper commitment.
Joan/Sarah F.: MHT’s skill at character development definitely show in this story. As you said, both characters are very human, very real. This translates to a wonderfully realistic, sympathetic, and OMG!sexy! exploration of BDSM, done with humor and creativity, that is, I think, accessible and hot and fun to non-BDSM-identified readers, too.
As with the best BDSM stories, though, this story shows lovers at their best, BDSM aside: caring for each other, willing to do what pleases their partner, as well as chasing their own pleasure. Add the BDSM aspect of initiating a clueless but very willing dominant to the mix, and I love this story and have reread it at least five times by now, each time finding it just as sexy, just as funny, and just as…cozy? as the last time. Cozy because I can feel the emotions these characters have for each other deepening and taking hold. It’s romance at its best.
My only concern is that the HFN ending isn’t solid enough for me. The characters are compatible and attracted and want to spend time together, but they’re planning their next vacation together, rather than trying to figure out how to meet each other outside their vacation. The story is ripe for a sequel, which is something that Torquere does very well, at least.
Janine: Yes, I could imagine a story about Adam and Brett’s next vacation together too. On the whole, I feel that “An Affair in Paradise” was a bit more enjoyable than average. I probably would not read it a second time, though, so my grade for it is a C+.
Joan/Sarah F.: At its best, “An Affair in Paradise” is, for me, a feel-good keeper and a reliable reread, which is why my grade would be a high B+.
This book can be purchased in ebook format from Torquere Books as of March 28, 2009.