One of my favorite aphorisms about parenting come from Utah Philips which goes: children are assholes, but they're their own assholes. I don't think my buddy Utah (totally best name ever) meant this as some kind of Rousseauian garbage about the purity of children, but he is implying a purity in the way the motivations of children are all about themselves and not about you. It's not personal, man, the toilet paper just needed to be festooned about the lower floor. This little aphorism has broken off and gone wild within the ongoing discussion about, well, everything that I have with my husband, and now we use this saying on all kinds of things. I'm having a hard time defining exactly what we mean, but we usually mean that whatever work we're talking about works to expressing itself in its own idiom, and doesn't really care about other concerns. For example, Time Cube Theory, as developed/expressed by Gene Ray, is it's own asshole. (www.timecube.com) All films directed by Uwe Boll are their own assholes. (Additionally, Uwe Boll is
an asshole.) I guess I could criticize these things using pesky ideas like reality, physics, or narrative continuity, but on some level I'm just missing the point. This book is its own asshole. I'm going to rag on this book some, but I don't really feel good about going in for a bloody kill, even though the shotgun might slip and spray fish and barrel bits everywhere
, because it was just minding it's own asshole.
This book purports to take place in Jacobean England/Scotland, but this is bollocks. When we were getting copies together for the reading group, none of the fine folk who live outside the US of A could find copies – it's not published outside the States. This is an American fantasy England, peopled with modern Americans, like a RenFest. There's too many references to pie – not only is this historically inaccurate, as Elizabeth points out
but it's also just, well, as American as pie. The characters chaff against class in a way that feels wrong too. I'm flopping a bit on this last one, but I'm constantly amazed by the ability of British people to assess class and hometown just by a few simple statements between them. My British friend Val once squished up her face like she'd eaten a lemon when a waitress here used the term “serviette” - which is apparently low-class for napkin where she's from. Here I am thinking it's just hipster douchebag for napkin! I'm not saying Americans don't have a class system – we do – but the way Jocelyn bridles at the way matters of birth are more important than merit – I have the education of a gentlewoman, isn't that the important thing? - feels like an American sensibility.
That Bryan claims to be using, like, real live historical facts in her epilogue makes this all the more RenFesty. George I was for reelz! Huzzah! Assholes ahoy! RenFests can be totally fun if you just chillax take them for what they are: a chance to swill lukewarm beer, check out some pewter-castings & sheepdog trials, and get a super-boss goblet with a dragon foot as the stem. I'm reading this because I was looking for some fun trash about pirates with sex in it. The fact that I can't figure out where exactly they are supposed to be in Scotland is a failure of me as a reader, not of the writer, really. Measuring the faults of this book using the yardstick of the real is using the wrong metric. I'm not reading this for historical realism, and I never was, so I'll drop this line of inquiry.
Okay. So then let's get to the trash fun. I'm extremely disappointed by how land-locked this book was, about how the pirate had been pardoned and was home to do some lording. I don't want reformation; I want recidivism. The trash wasn't trashy enough, imao, which may be a failure of the marketing. We picked this book for the group read solely on the basis of the cover and title – well, that and Ms. Bryan is a Goodreads author (sorry Emily!) and we wanted to support that. There IS fun to be had. There's secret passages and pirate gold, kids tying up a grown man and setting him on fire, and an almost deliriously silly passage where the hero cures the heroine's hypothermia “Viking-style” by getting them to climb in bed together naked. Ha ha! I heard about that at camp once too! But these flashes of humor were discouragingly brief, and punctuated by stuff that just made me mad. One of the Bad Guys tries to enact child-rape as part of his dastardly plan, and, while child-rape certainly lets us readers know he's a bad, bad man, it's just too damn upsetting to maintain a tone of lighthearted trash fun. It's like if a reenacter at the Ren Fest were to yell “gardy loo” and toss a bucket of piss on your head. Sure, things like that happened, but, dude, you just COVERED ME IN PISS.
So, let's move onto the sex. In the interests of science, I read out a couple of the sex scenes to my husband. We were kind of hoping that they'd have a snap
, you know, but the end result was giggling. I have two words for you: “throbbing vulva”. It was like a bucket of snickering ice-water had been tossed over us. This sparked a big conversation about how one might actually write a sex scene that was actually sexy, and then how very few of the terms available were not either euphemistic or clinical, and then how the verb “to lave” as in “he laved her nipples” was gross and weird, and then how we should market a sex-toy and/or douche named “VulvaLav”. Maturity, we have not. Fun, we did, but certainly not the kind of fun that's, um, implied by the reading. The sex is ultimately not about the sex, it's about fantasies of consuming pleasure for women whose own sexual histories are, well, sometimes unpleasant.
I fully expected this book to massage my cultural girl parts into some Big O of unrealistic sexual/romantic expectations, and in this regard, I wasn't disappointed. Just to strain this already creaking metaphor, this is RenFest sex: clean, wholesome, taking place between two people who look good naked and magically know how to please one another. Drake and Jocelyn have a wordless understanding of each other's bodies, but back in the real world, people who can't say what they want in bed don't get what they want in bed. When the heroine loses her virginity, it felt really hopeful, really mythic, something to imagine and paste over the reader's much more likely experience of discomfort and doubt. Jocelyn isn't a character, she's something like an avatar, who jerks her limbs about, or has them jerked, wallpapering over the reader's more earthy experience. She acts out a feeling of pleasure driven by a lover being so overcome by her beauty, her desirability, that he cannot help himself, and his need is the externalization of her desire in a kind of sexual mirroring that makes total sense. Wouldn't it be great if we could all find lovers who knew instinctively what we wanted, without sneezing or farting or telling them to move a little to the right? No? Well, maybe you're right, but it's fun to imagine.
I think there's a bunch of stuff in PtP about restraint and domination, even though the author is very loudly telegraphing issues of consent - she's obviously worried about her sex slipping into rape fantasy, so draws a big line under the fact that Drake asks Jocelyn for a big fat yes before he slips her the sausage. Then I start musing about how some real restraint and domination may be actually interesting to read about, might make the characters seems like people, who bump their teeth when they kiss and sneeze and giggle and all the other goofy stuff that goes on under the sheets. My ears actually perked up when Jocelyn drives Drake to, um, make love
* to her so hard she has bruises, because now, this is interesting. This is fucked up, but it's interesting – let's talk about this!
Heretofore, there was nothing realistic about the social strata, the history, the piracy, the sex. I'd given up on realism. I'm not saying I like this sexual violence – I don't. No thank you, uncheck this box. But so much of this story relates a dreamy, sexual experience, tied up with a bow of wish-fulfillment, and the violence felt real
, like something a real character might do because she has sexual idiosyncrasies, odd things that resolve down to some weirdo experience she had when she was 12 or 15 or whatever. People, real people, have things that are so personal they can barely talk about them with people they love: fetishes, hang-ups, insecurities. Wanting your lover to bruise you all over your body seems to qualify. Unfortunately, I think there's probably a difference between real and honest, and this burst of the violence of the real was swiftly ignored so we could concentrate on more sighing and bleating about a bunch of crap that didn't make any sense to me. Wtf English courtesans and some dumbass pardon of the pirate/lord that doesn't extend to London or whatever? I could explain the latter complications of the plot, but it comes down to many people being too dumb to live. George I gets lowered onto the stage as rex-ex-machina and everyone lives happily ever after. Blerg. Wake me up when something interesting happens.
Oops, I think my shotgun accidentally went off there. Gardy loo! Seriously though, I think this may be one of the longer reviews I've ever written, and I have had just spectacular amounts of fun in my discussions about this book. This book didn't really do anything wrong, and I feel a little bad for crushing it with the weight of my expectations – one book can't speak for the genre, and asking it to is bound to be disappointing. So, sorry Pleasuring the Pirate
. Let's go get make-overs and talk about boys.