How Not to Fall & How Not to Let Go (CBR9 #43 & 44)

A note before we get started: I am reviewing both parts of Emily Foster’s duology The Belhaven Series. I will likely get a bit spoilery about these two books, as their author set out to do an interesting thing, and did it.

These books were on my radar because of Malin’s reviews from last year (#BlameMalin). Well, specifically her review of the first book, How Not to Fall. I was particularly intrigued by the fact that the book ends both on a cliffhanger, and that it is not a HEA. This is rather rare in Romancelandia, really. I knew from Malin that the story would continue in the second book, so I decided to wait a bit and read them close together, even though I had not read her review of the second book, other than noting that she rated the book highly. Once I finished How Not to Fall in less than 48 hours, I immediately bought the second book How Not to Let Go and started it, needing to see how these characters continued to develop and where the story would go. That book however, took much longer to read.

The two books are quite dissimilar, while managing to tell one story. The first book is in many ways a quick, sexy, erotica leaning romp with bright scientists dealing with a power and age dynamic. Sexily. At about the two-thirds mark though, the emotional undertone of the story breaks wide open and our main characters, Annie and Charles, are forced to reckon with his demons and her naiveté.   They also have to deal with love, and what happens when it cannot be returned even where it exists.

The second book, How Not to Let Go, is structured completely differently from its predecessor. The narration moves between the two characters, where previously we had only gotten the story from Annie’s perspective. It is also a reckoning with trauma, and rebuilding a relationship that nearly destroyed both of its participants based on its depth. It also takes place over the course of two years, while the first covers approximately two months. As I said, very different books. But, somehow it all comes together in a believable manner, even though we’re dealing with extreme wealth and once in a lifetime intellects.

What really got me though, was what I learned after I was done reading these books. You see, all that Emily Foster accomplishes, and it is quite a lot, was done with purpose and precision as an author. She writes on her blog that this entire enterprise was in response to the trash that was 50 Shades of Grey I have never read those books, I don’t have a desire to. My mother and sister have, and when I asked my mother about it at the time she turned to me and said “eh, it’s not good smut, it’s just there.” I think beyond “just being there” it is also damaging to women and Ms. Foster (really Emily Nagoski writing under a pen name) lays it out beautifully.

“It delivers the story – even if the story is awful. And that is not nothing. But the plot fucks up because in the end Ana defies the biology of attachment in order to do what the plot demands she does: a woman who has spent 450 pages worried that she made a guy mad is not going to FIGHT after being spanked with her consent. When she’s in pain, she’ll turn TOWARD her attachment object, not away. That’s what mammals – especially insecurely attached mammals – do. But the plot structure required that she turn away, and so that’s what she does, despite its biological implausibility. And THAT’s why this book is bullshit. Or rather, it’s the final piece of bullshit in The Worst Book I Have Ever Finished. Grey is Ragey McRagington, Ana is the most dishwater heroine I’ve ever read (which is, I suppose, a kind of distinction), and their relationship is abusive, which makes all the sex gross.” Foster goes on to explain the biology of her argument on her blog.

So, feeling so enraged by that book, Foster set out to prove that the basic structure James’ utilized could be done successfully, without devolving into an abusive mess.  She set out to write a novel that featured a virgin college senior experiencing her sexual awakening with an older, more experienced, powerful man who treated her with dignity and respect and affection. What we all got out of the equation is a  hopeful story that is pro-woman, pro-sex, and pro-pleasure. Not only did she do that, but she took her work in her “real life” and grew the story out, while sticking to the structural limitations she gave herself by mimicking the structure of 50 Shades (having to end on a cliffhanger, for example).

The last bit I’ll mention is that this author was already on my radar for her non-fiction work. Under her real name, Emily Nagoski she is the author of Come As You Are a book about the science of female pleasure. That has moved up the list as well.

I realize that I’ve been pretty vague on details after all, and I’ve decided that’s okay.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. We read what we want, review it how we want (with a few guidelines), and raise money for the American Cancer Society in the name of a fallen friend.

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The Geek Feminist Revolution (CBR9 #20)

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Kameron Hurley’s collection of essays is incredibly prescient to the world around us, as women continue to suffer an unheralded epidemic of violence. In The Geek Feminist Revolution Hurley isn’t just focused on that, but she brings around the idea that the type, quality, and diversity of pop culture we consume and produce is directly affected by the cultural norms which lead to the erasure of women in public spaces, and the violence experienced by this group and others who are erased.

I wish I hadn’t returned this book to the library already. This book clocks in at less than 300 pages, but it is broken up into four sections, and each of those sections contains probably a dozen essays. Hurley writes sci-fi/fantasy novels, is a copywriter for a Marketing firm as her day job, and is a consistent blogger who writes 1500 – 3000 words a day. What that translates to for this work is that there are far more essays than I can recall to tell you about (that, and a fair amount of awe.)

Instead, I’ll talk about the themes these four sections bring together. The first section, Level Up includes essays about improving the craft of writing and the importance of persistence. It was very good, but not necessarily, what I had signed up for with this book and took a bit of time to get through. The Geek section discuss various media and conversations around them. The essay Wives, Warlords, and Refugees: The People Economy of Mad Max particularly spoke to me (so much so that I took a photo of the opening page) and the next chapter about True Detective season one and the monsters as men narrative it tells had me nodding my head in agreement, even though I never watched that show. These chapters break open important discussions about what behaviors are normalized in society.

Let’s Get Personal is exactly what it says, stories about Hurley’s life to this point and the personal struggles and victories that got her to now. Probably my least favorite section because by this point it felt very repetitive.  The last section, Revolution deals with fandom’s recent dust-ups and a call for revolution, for change, in how fans and creators alike deal with reckoning with their privilege.  This last section includes Hurley’s Hugo Award winning piece for Best Related Work in 2014, We Have Always Fought which discusses the ways in which tropes do the erasing of lived experience.

As I mentioned, these four sections are linked by Hurley’s main thesis: that all we have to better ourselves in this world is persistence, hard work, self-awareness and perspective. She is not wrong, and while this book is far from perfect, it is a good and healthy addition to your reading diet.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.