Saturday, 28 November 2015

Review: In Her Closet by Tasha L. Harrison

3.5 stars

The official synopsis of In Her Closet describes it as such:
Entertainment columnist Yves Santiago unapologetically lives her life as carelessly as a man. Her day job keeps her flush in men, with few regrets and even fewer mistakes. By night, she details her exploits on her anonymous sex blog, Lust Diaries.

Yves leads a happy, delightfully filthy life. Until she meets nonfiction editor Elijah Weinstein.

Moss green eyes, sun-kissed shoulders and a mouth so damn sensual that it should have a NC-17 rating, this perfectly suited and coiffed, Fifth Avenue prince is everything she never wanted yet can't resist. He methodically lays waste to the walls she's built around herself, looking to get closer to the real Yves Santiago.

With the the promise of a fairytale turned real, Yves must dig into the depths of her past. But once she shakes out the skeletons in her closet, will she be ready for all Elijah has to offer?
It sounds like a fun, sex positive romp with maybe a wee bit of angst, right? But if you thought that, you'd be wrong, just as I was. In Her Closet was so dark it needed neon lighting, perhaps as massive signs reading 'trigger warning: domestic violence and near-rape'. If someone had told me that when I was looking at buying it, I probably would have steered well clear. However, I actually quite enjoyed In Her Closet and this has left me a bubbling stew of mixed feelings.

Yves is set up initially as an anti-heroine, coming across as a tad reckless and self-absorbed. That's not a coded censure of her sex life, but it is influenced by it. In the aftermath of her encounters with men, she was sometimes quite callous, including towards her brother, who was indignant that Yves would sleep with his boss at the potential expense of his career. As the book introduces the ghosts of her past - namely an abusive, stalkerish ex - it becomes clear that this cognitive dissonance is a coping mechanism. The reader is able to relate to her, even pity her, but the downside of this transition is that the sex positivity also disappears. In fact, Yves goes from "living as unapologetically as a man" to being racked by doubt, shame, guilt and feelings of being complicit in the abuse she suffered. It's an understandable response, given the deeply conditioned social mores that tell us that, as women, we are responsible for the ways men act towards us.

Yves does an admirable job of challenging these concepts, but they remain an insidious undercurrent throughout the book. By and large, I respected Yves as a heroine. She was strong, independent and stuck to her guns. For example, her ex was been a friend of her brother and remained very close to her family, so when his abusive nature is publicly revealed and Yves' mother refuses to believe it, Yves promptly tells her to leave.

If I've talked a lot about Yves and not much about Elijah, it's because there is not much to say. He seemed like a nice guy, but most guys would in comparison to the ex. In retrospect, the two were largely developed in opposition to each other. Elijah cares about Yves' feelings, Cesar doesn't. Cesar was a controlling, vindictive mothereffer, Elijah (mostly) isn't. Cesar continually slut-shamed Yves for her body and demeanor, Elijah doesn't. Elijah's kink isn't really explored that much, and it made me a bit uneasy because Yves doesn't really seem to know what, exactly, she's getting into. But she also has a right to make her own decisions without being judged. It's not my job to label things as problematic - that's been a way of policing women's sexuality for generations - but I will say that there were certain aspects of In Her Closet that produces knee-jerk reactions for me.

Overall, In Her Closet was an emotional and enthralling read. In several ways, it broke and inverted stereotypes associated with erotic romance: Yves is sexually experienced, Elijah is not domineering and the implications of non-consensual sexual violence are discussed. It's left me with a lot to think about, not least of which is whether or not I will read Everything She Never Wanted, the second instalment of Yves and Elijah's relationship. I think not, actually. I don't like the idea of Yves going through yet more emotional trauma, and from the Amazon reviews it sounds like that might be in store.

In Her Closet
also represents the culmination of my WNDB challenge to read 20 books with diverse characters. It's served its purpose admirably, widening and refining my understanding of the world. I don't think I'll be taking part in the challenge next year, but that's not to say I won't be reading diverse literature; I'll be reading diverse because I enjoy and respect it, not because I need to meet a self-imposed quota.

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