Monday, December 24, 2007

Enslaved, by Hope Tarr [1]

*/***** (1/5)

Hope Tarr's ENSLAVED showcases its sexually-experienced showgirl heroine enslaving her honorable, handsome hero Gavin Carmichael. I'd characterize Gavin Carmichael as a regular doormat of a hero and the novel represents another case of grinding an honorable guy to dirt for a sexually accomplished heroine (apparently, in the romance genre being an honorable guy loving a sexually-experienced heroine means he has to debase himself for her). As much as the book likes to think the enslaving was mutual, all the evidence points elsewhere: Gavin's instant lust and shock at any number of Daisy's staged lascivious gestures and outfits, his lovesick thoughts (relatively early), his gentle tenderness, his monetary protection, his support of her acting career, his suffocating need of Daisy in the long-term, the book's detailed account of Gavin going down on Daisy every single time to persuade her to stay with him long-term, Gavin loving Daisy's daughter and taking her in as though she's his own daughter, Gavin returning to Daisy after one of her lies and rejections, etc., etc., etc. What exactly is Daisy bringing to the table here? Her sexual expertise? Please. Certainly isn't love, affection, caring, honesty, trust and loyalty. Daisy relishes controlling Gavin like the lovesick lapdog that he is and even when he's repeatedly going down on her, it's a form of manipulation (because he wants to give her pleasure to convince her to stay with him forever).

Another reviewer said guys could read this book. I strongly disagree, I wanted to tear my eyes out from the emotional melodrama mostly chronicling Gavin's lovesick angst (like a virginal heroine) and Daisy's (s)exploits/fear of commitment (like a libertine hero). This book's message: no matter how badly you treat a besotted, honorable guy and how many times, don't worry, he'll come back to you so feel free to keep running roughshod all over him. Tarr's previous book VANQUISHED (**) featured a gripping plot dealing with the women's suffrage movement and the villain contracting the hero to destroy the heroine's reputation. all of which paralleled a budding romance. ENSLAVED, however, offers little more than juvenile misconceptions, misunderstandings and cliched introspective thoughts we've seen from a myriad of other romance novel characters. The writing in this one, though above average, deteriorated from VANQUISHED significantly, the settings are nonexistent and the plotting is a big stinker (adolescent musings and predictably trite). Again, Hope Tarr doesn't shy away from brassy carnal scenes, though ENSLAVED's lead pair severely lacked the passion and chemistry portrayed between VANQUISHED's h/h. The positive? Well the book is a page-turner and definitely qualifies as a mindless, vacuous read which you might find enjoyable if you're not so annoyed by the plotting and disgusted by the lovesick puppy dog hero as I was.

Possible SPOILERS ahead.

No guy would put up with Daisy's shit and continue to pursue and protect her like Gavin does. If she wants a simple fuck partner, fine, screw her and be done with it already. But of course our honorable hero is a glutton for punishment and returns to be abused again and again. I grew tired of the constant references to Daisy's past lovers. I think one or two references is fine since there's a natural inclination, but not 100! Also consider Daisy's thoughts comparing how wet she is from Gavin's touch compared to her past lovers. The book is more interested in having Daisy contrast and compare Gavin with Daisy's past lovers than build any meaningful chemistry and romance between Gavin and Daisy. Daisy contrasts her eight prior liaisons ending with her current affair 252 pages into the novel.

When her other liaisons ended, it was usually with a minimum of bother and a suitably expensive parting gift. No lover from her past had managed to make her feel so wholly miserable, so utterly lost.

And here I am thinking: you know what, Daisy, I really don't give a shit about you. You've consistently failed to show Gavin the smallest fraction of the devoted loyalty, support, respect, tenderness and love he showers you with. I cannot relate to Gavin's gluttony for punishment time and time again and I simply can't abide Daisy's callous disregard for his feelings. I have no respect for a hero that clearly fails to have any self-respect and a little pride of his own.

"...stay with me, not only to see the week out but for always." --Gavin (p. 241)

After Daisy rejects Gavin's plea (again), Gavin resolves to just go down on her again and try to convince her to stay with him forever that way. I don't know about you, but sounds like a deft manipulation to me on Daisy's part to get him to pleasure her more. He's too lovesick to care.

When Gavin initially finds a letter in Daisy's room addressed to a "dearest darling Freddie," Gavin jumps to the wrong conclusions. Daisy perpetuates Gavin's misconceptions about Freddie and allows him to believe the worst while rubbing salt on his wounds.

"I see. You love this...Freddie. And yet you let me make love to you. No, not let me, seduced me, made me so mad for you I'm all but your slave. What was the point of it all?"

She had the effrontery to shrug. "A month is a long time to sleep alone. I wanted you. You wanted me. If we choose to barter our bodies, why shouldn't we? We're both adults. Where's the harm?"

She goes insofar to imply it doesn't mean anything (she did it before too). He storms out only to return for more of Daisy's shit. On p. 229 of this 376-page paperback, Gavin thinks, "He'd been making a great many assumptions lately, including that the passion and tenderness Daisy had shown him must mean she was as head-over-heels in love as he was." What tenderness has Daisy shown him? She's just manipulating his lovesick attentions to have him go down on her every time, what's she doing as a show of tenderness? All of the love scenes at this point has Gavin go down on her with Gavin constantly thinking (and I paraphrase): "he wanted to taste her, to lick her, to inhale her scent...", blah, blah, blah. Great for the female readership to get off, I'm sure. Immediately following the letter incident and his injury, Gavin reasons he needs to eat Daisy's pussy more to convince her to stay with him and not go back to this Freddie (p. 229). That "proximity and history" places him in the driver's seat to win Daisy's long-term commitment. After putting everything on the line for her prior and having her reject him, he comes back for more of Daisy's shit here and I just wanted to throw up. Enough already! I found myself begging for Gavin to be done with her and start fucking other women.

Ah but the torturous read gets worse. Following a lecture from Daisy's adoptive mother Flora regarding Daisy's fear of commitment on p. 256 (like so many libertine heroes), evidently Gavin needs a lecture of his own on his snobbish attitude (pp. 262 - 263). First, Gavin's friend Rourke reminds Gavin of Daisy's sexual experience (as if we could forget) and then admonishes Gavin on his lofty expectations so much like his evil grandfather. So after laying his heart on the line for Daisy, protecting her, supporting her, loving her, going down on her repeatedly for her pleasure alone, it's now unfair to expect a little honesty? Rourke advises Gavin to fight for Daisy (p. 263) as though he's been picking his nose this whole time. Gavin puts Daisy first in everything all the time. And after getting lied to and rejected (from a long-term commitment), it's Gavin who must beg and crawl on hands and knees to Daisy? How does that remotely compute? This is yet another case of grinding an honorable guy to dirt for a bitchy whore. In fact, Gavin's emotional angst and self-loathing over feeling bad about his "snobbishness" (pp. 264 - 266) far outweighs Daisy's self-reflection earlier. When Gavin comes calling to Daisy to beg her to take him back, it's as though she's doing him a favor to allow him to even talk (p. 272). After she takes him back for a week before her big show, she once again rejects (again again again) his marriage proposal and ring. No romantic victory is worth that kind of roughshod treatment, especially at the hands of someone like Daisy Lake.

The denouement depicts a heart-to-heart where again Gavin is begging and crawling for Daisy to have him after Daisy rejects his proposal for marriage. As an added bonus (as if he hasn't already given everything to her), he bestows her the deed to her very own theater. I was sickened by Gavin's incessant (and unwarranted) groveling for a woman who constantly lies to him and shuns him. It's a dumb and very trying pattern: they have some sex, she prevaricates and lies, misunderstandings exacerbate the situation because they never talk it out (until the very end), Gavin cannot stay away and comes begging and crawling back to her, they have more sex, rinse and repeat.

The plotting and introspection essentially reverses the common hero-and-heroine gender roles in the romance genre. Similar to Julia Ross's GAMES OF PLEASURE (*), the sexually accomplished and cynical heroine makes a mockery of the honorable, sex-crazed hero who is too witless to notice and too pathetic to care. Certainly, Gavin Carmichal is no self-respecting man and bereft of any semblance of pride. Gavin is always blushing, always shocked, and completely manipulated by Daisy. Daisy holds back any long-term commitment so he'll just go down on her every time and she'll enjoy his tongue and mouth on her pussy every single time.

She thought if they made love enough, sooner or later she'd be sated and ready to move on. Unfortunately, the very opposite was proving true. She couldn't seem to get enough of him...

A thought so reminiscent of libertine heroes, don't you think? Of course Daisy can't get enough of Gavin. Gavin wants nothing more than to eat Daisy's pussy 24/7, and as long as he's being manipulated to do it, hell, why not? Also consider, for example, Daisy sleeping the night away with Gavin following their first sex scene. No matter if sex with men (in general) lasted an hour or turned into an all-night fuck-fest, Daisy studiously sent her lovers away forbidding them to actually sleep with her (p. 187). Gavin, she allows to sleep with her. Just like notorious libertine heroes slumbering with their virginal heroines after their first night of sex and the libertine thinking how he's never cuddled and slept with any of his previous mistresses. Furthermore, there's some marks on Daisy's abdomen which Gavin starts to pet but Daisy pointedly censors. She eagerly wants him to touch and lick her everywhere except the abdomen. Just like a tortured hero forbidding his virginal heroine from touching some scars on his back, for example. All the plotting is the same, and I've seen it all countless times in other romance novels with the genders reversed. Which is why I cherish Madeline Hunter's unique depiction of her sexually experienced pair in STEALING HEAVEN (*****) so much.

I find romance novels concentrating on sexual experience and past lovers (like ENSLAVED) an empty, aggravating reading experience mostly. They tend to be repetitive because they have no real story to tell other than psychological introspection and trite plotting.

If, as Daisy says, lying and rejecting Gavin constantly hurts her more (p. 369), why then were all the moments when she's lying and rejecting him portrayed from Gavin's perspective highlighting his hurt? Just saying at the end that she hurt more doesn't make it so when all the evidence in the book points to the contrary. We're privy to Gavin's angst and hurt a lot more. And he didn't deserve it, she didn't deserve him!

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