Monday, August 20, 2012

See Me by Pauline Allan

Trigger Warning: Violence

My fondness for romance novels began at an early age.  Sometimes I think it would be more romantic to claim that it was fueled by works like L. M. Montgomery's Anne books.  Then I think about those sweaty, gasping Zebra covers with that hologram sticker that I just couldn't quit.  Anne of Green Gables was great but hardly illicit reading for a nine year old.  I didn't even know what members were or why they might throb-but clearly there was no contest.

I don't devour romance the way I used to.  When I was in high school, my mother used to get Harlequins and Silhouettes by the Hefty bagful from a lady she worked with and we would Read. Them. All.  When I was in college I stopped reading them completely.

Why?  Well, life got really real and complex and it wasn't romantic at all.  The relationship I was in became mentally and emotionally abusive.  When the abuse became physical, I fled the relationship but . . .  scars lingered.  For years afterward I was depressed, numb, and grieving.  There just wasn't any room for fantasy when I was clawing myself together just to make it through each day-and I couldn't always manage to do that. 

With that said, I'm surprised I purchased this.  
The book description per Amazon says:
Abigail Swanson’s spirit has been battered, a body left for dead, only to recover to find fear and loneliness. Due to an abusive relationship, she is unable to feel the one thing she longs to have again. She builds a lucrative business specializing in the commodity she can’t afford to experience. Passion.
Sean Drennan traded his fists for a portfolio, but the cost was too great. Now, considered damaged goods, he’s unable to find employment. Desperate to gather some quick cash, he reluctantly agrees to take a job in the field guaranteed to make him sell his soul.
So what does a successful pornography entrepreneur do when her clients are demanding a tattooed hunk and her performers don’t fit the bill? She puts all her trust in an ex-con who has nothing to lose. For one voluptuous, scared woman it’s love at all costs. For one man it’s a new experience he’s more than willing to fight his way into. Can he save her business and her heart at the same time or will his fighting ways leave him cold and lonely yet again?
Publisher's Note: This book contains explicit sexual situations, graphic language, and material that some readers may find objectionable: Exhibitionism/voyeurism, flashback to violence.
I usually take publisher's notes and trigger warnings seriously but the general hysteria over 50 Shades of Gray as kinky erotica has made me much more likely to disregard notes on romance because clearly explicit and erotica just don't mean what they used to mean.

This note, however, has legs, especially for me.

I wrote in my journal:
. . . .The hero in this book was a fighter-a strong man.  The heroine was trying to be strong too-and she was-but the author did a nice job capturing the waves of terror and paralysis, the fear, and the aching loneliness of feeling unable to reach out and connect.  Trauma might make you mentally averse to intimacy but the body and the emotions don't always comply.  It hurt to read this because she was so close to pulling it all out, including the desire for a man strong enough to protect and defend with the strength of character to be trusted.
The Good Stuff
  • I thought Allan really nailed the portions that dealt with Abigail's response to trauma.  
  • She also had an interesting take on the "I'm a bad boy but I'm sensitive hence my sexin is mucho superior" motif.  Sean was a UFC fighter type (are these guys the new Navy SEALs for romance writers?), but he had elements of nerdiness, his hobby was building a Lego Deathstar, that were really endearing.  His bookstore purchases were interesting and his thoughts while purchasing a romance novel were so right on the money they actually made me laugh and sigh.*
Along with the large hardback book of painted darlings, he snagged another book.  A paperback titled Deeper.  He felt like an ass going into the romance section, but he spotted the turquoise-colored book on her coffee table that morning and was curious about what she was reading. (Allan, Ch. 8)   
  • Abigail's employment was plausibly implausible in that it involved porn which defies logic-so a smart choice for an author and a somewhat riskier choice for a romance author.  
  • I also thought Sean's difficulty finding employment with a record was also believable.  
  • The gay couple written into the book and Sean's interaction with them was well done.  
  • Both gay characters are written well as individuals.

The Not So Good
It has good bits and some really good bits, but overall it's not a great book.  
  • The writing can be clunky-the ending and epilogue especially were more eye-roll inducing than terrifying, suspenseful, or climatic.  
  • Both characters' have long stretches of internal monologue that are boring and annoying as hell.  
  • The gay characters as a couple tended to veer into a strange hyper-sexualized territory.  If both characters were together as a couple in a scene they were generally all over each other physically and with the innuendo even with others present.  It seems she wanted to convey intimacy and some passages do:
Eric padded over to Ron, who'd stepped out of the pool, and pulled him into his arms.  The pair was a contradiction.  Eric, with his lean muscles and long waist, pulled Ron, the linebacker, into his arms and nuzzled his neck. (Ch. 10)
Others seemed to express levels of PDA that take the depictions away from intimacy towards a more sexual place:
Sean realized why Ron gave him the sly look when he planted his big hands on the man's ass and massaged his way into helping Eric up onto the faltering raft. (Ch. 10)
Despite the deficiencies, I think this is an author with potential.  Contemporary Ebooks like this, especially in this genre, tend to favor "erotic" over emotion.  While that is the case here, there are moments in the writing that favor the emotion.  It feels like she is heading in an interesting direction.  If she comes out with anything new, I would definitely look it over. 

*Men reading romance novels needs to be a romance type.  A Navy SEAL moonlighting as a romance writer?  Someone suggest that to Suzanne Brockmann.

Works Cited:

Allan, Pauline. See Me. San Francisco: Loose ID, 2012. Web.

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