There's a fair amount of frank sex talk and cussing in this review. If you don't like that sort of thing, you won't like this book anyway.
I really dislike this book. So far, all of the romances I've read - which, yeah, is like twelve - even ones I've disliked have gotten at least two stars from me because of the Skye O'Malley bestiality rape test: is a child nearly raped by dogs? No? Extra star. Absolutely no one is raped by dogs in this book, and I don't want to imply that there's even a hint of canine rape, but I still hate this book enough to give it one star.
A series of minor complaints, which are not intended to add up to a whole of dislike, because enjoyment is a whole lot weirder than this.
1. in a coon's age
There is whole cotton pickin' bushel of coded racism in this book, but it's all of the cotton pickin'
variety. Meaning it is on the edge, just this side of acceptable to say in the parlor. Case in point: the term "in a coon's age". The use of the word "coon" abraded me as I read just enough to send to me the Internets to find the source of the this term. From what I can gather from somewhat conflicting sources, the phrase starts innocently enough in the mid-1800s as an American appropriation of the British idiom "in a crow's age", which means the same thing: in a really long time. But, language shifts, like it does, and starting in the 1830s, coon was a term that began to be applied to members of the the Whig party in the US, mostly because of the raccoon being their mascot, and came to mean country bumpkin. Then, hey, we decided to have a Civil War on the subject of slavery, and in the lead-up, coon took on racial overtones. There's a popular minstrel show character - always a white guy in black face - who had the last name Coon, and a source I can't verify says the term coon, as a racial slur, comes from a Caribbean word for the enclosure that slaves were kept in. So it's a synecdoche, and gives me an excuse to use the word synechdoche. Good.
Here's the problem, to quote one of the many sites I checked out in trying to find the origin of this term:
By 1832 it was being used as a term for a "frontier rustic person", by 1839 it was used to refer to members of the Whig party (the raccoon was their symbol), and by 1862 we find it used to refer to African Americans. In that sense it is now always considered offensive. However, if you are inclined not to use a coon's age because you think it refers to African Americans and not raccoons, look at the dates and think again.
I don't get this series of sentences at all. So we have a short period where the term "in a coon's age" has no racial overlay, but by The Civil Freaking War
, which I'll note was nearly 150 years ago
, it is always considered offensive. But because the term enjoyed a couple of decades of not being a shitty thing to say, we're to think again? No. That is incredibly dense. Yes, the swastika was for millennia
a symbol of fertility and peace, but, you know what? That's ruined now, and for sure
if someone is going to reclaim that symbol, it isn't going to be a bunch of white ranch hands from Nebraska. You put on the pointy white hat, you say coon, you draw a swastika, we all pretty much know what you're saying, even if you protest about some historical bullshit. I'm picking on one example here a lot, but this is not the only one. Given that the two central characters are in interracial relationships - one white, the other Dakota - the pitch of the racial tone deafness gets hard to take.
I'm not even going to talk about the treatment of Native America.
3. Whipped cream
Do not take a half-empty can of whipped cream out of the fridge, stick that in your girlfriend, and depress the nozzle. And to be entirely clear: this can of whipped cream was emptied into someone's vagina. We don't know who had his or her mouth on this half-empty can, nor are we treated to the long description of the girl's bout of crippling infections that no doubt occurred after being topped like a cup of hot cocoa, but for sure
that did not end well. Safe sex kids.
3. Condom use
This is the porniest of the romance novels I've read by a long shot. Mostly it's a series of gross sex scenes punctuated by people being assholes. And mostly these assholes use condoms, except for when they are having anal sex. Other than the dream-fantasy m/m scene, all of this buttsecks occurs in hetero couples. That is totally fine, and I'm not saying they shouldn't; they are all consenting adults. (Sort of, leaving aside the business relationship that is predicated on sex, which is so weird that I can't figure out who is prostituting themselves. She hires him as a ranch hand; he makes a condition of his employment that he get to have sex with her a lot, plus he gets to be the boss in the bedroom. Okay. Whatever.) However, condoms are not just for preventing pregnancy, kids! Any kind of unprotected sex can result in the contraction of disease! Seriously, that is not okay.
I am not even going to talk about the concept of ass-virginity.
3. The EPA called
The biggest asshole in the book is a guy called Carter. He's having a big rape fantasy romance with a "half-white" "Indian Princess" - she's not actually Dakota royalty, in case you were wondering, this is just another tone deaf term used here - and he's an artist, so he spends a bunch of time painting her. Because he's a horrible jerk-face, he won't let her see any of his paintings until the end of the second act reveal, where it turns out he's been painting a ton of nudey pictures of her because he loves her so much
. He's planning on displaying these all in some big city like Butte. Anyway, she runs out the door screaming, and he's all, lolwhat? Girls be crazy. After getting yelled at by the entire state of Wyoming (population 16), he figures out what a monumental dickweed he is and wins her back somehow, but this is not a satisfying ending. I want him trampled by wild horses. He's the dude with the whipped cream can, fyi.
Anyway, all this bitching about Carter is to let you know he is an artist who works in oil paint. I am not an artist, but for my job I work in oil paint too when I absolutely cannot avoid it. Oil paint is toxic stuff, chock full of VOCs, heavy metals, and other carcinogens, and that's not even getting into the solvents.
For sure it is meant to be playful and sexy, but in one scene he paints her all over with his oil paints. I can't get on board with this. You just made your girlfriend a superfund site. I also admit that this a personal hang-up, but damn. It is never smart to douse yourself in turpentine. You can get chemical pneumonia from that, and chemical pneumonia is no joke.
This is the problem, as I see it. People who have never read romance novels assume they are all porn films on the page. This is not true. While many romance novels have awkwardly phrased sex scenes - though many don't have much more than fade to black - the trajectory is emotional. They are about people finding romantic completeness, usually in super straight, culturally conservative terms, no matter what the minor impediments to the romantic union are. That's fine. Porn is pretty much about the jack-off, a series of sexual encounters that get the reader/viewer off. That's also fine. This book tries to split the difference, and it's not a peanut butter in chocolate situation, but a half-empty used can of whipped cream in vagina situation. These characters are deeply stupid, flying off the handle one minute, fucking like ferrets the next. There is all kinds of taboo crossing here - dude on dude, buttsecks, threesomes - but all of these taboos are treated pruriently, like they are icky and weird, even while it plays them out in full technicolor. Gay people are gross, are sissies
in the terms of this novel, but it's okay to get off to images of gay men having sex. No, that's actually not okay as it plays out here; that's using the unspeakable other to your own ends without one damn care for their reality.
I want to be clear: I have zero problem with whatever sexual fantasies and the kinks being served here in this novel. I just think they were done badly here. My problem is these sexual fantasies are played out stupidly, grossly, and with absolutely no sense of character. Your boyfriend is an exploitative dick? That's fine because he love you. He sets up a threesome as a test of your relationship, knowing full well he's going to have a giant aggro spaz over the whole thing? Bad test of a relationship. You go through with the threesome because, who the hell knows why, and both of you are grossed out and depressed by the situation? That's not a sexy situation. That is neither something to get off on nor a romantic ending, and as such is a dismal failure.
I'm not even going to talk about how a 48 year old woman talks casually about getting pregnant in the denouement, despite the fact that she has never really wanted kids. And I checked: she does have babies in later books.