This is the strangest mishmash of genres I have possibly ever read, and yet it turned out to be quite compelling. The beginning is pure erotica with an explicit sexual encounter involving a stranger. I almost stopped reading because I couldn’t connect with Stella, the main character. She was distant and disassociated during her erotic encounters. Stella was clearly using these men (not that they minded), and I had no idea for what purpose beyond living in a fantasy.
Then I got a glimpse of Stella’s non-fantasy life.
Her behavior is not random. It’s an attempt to touch a life that seems all too distant as she struggles to survive and be a good, single mom. Everyone else seems to have moved on, but she’s trapped in the tragedy of losing her first born son, cut off from life. It destroyed her marriage and left her in a limbo she can’t get past. She’s focused everything in her real life on raising her younger son while hating her ex and keeping a mausoleum to her older son in the form of his sealed room.
Suddenly, it’s woman’s fiction and everything makes sense. What she calls flying, the encounters with strangers in random airports on the weekends her ex has their son, gives her a moment, a glimpse, of feeling alive again.
No wonder she’s distant and disassociated. She’s wearing a mask that deliberately contains nothing of her so she can’t contaminate what her remaining son needs.
Things get more complicated when her son starts acting the privileged teenager, and then she goes through the roof when she discovers he’s been taking things from the mausoleum of his brother’s room.
That time when she flies, there’s too much of her left.
She meets Matthew, a man in his own mess of a divorce, and all her rules are broken. She’s unable to disassociate as much as she wants to, creating a complicated, long-distance relationship full of twisted moments all the harder because we can only guess at his side of things because we’re confined to her perspective.
At this point, the book becomes a tortured romance between two broken people and also a recovery story.
The characters are strong, well-written, and with powerful problems. They are not perfect and have a very human tendency to wallow, but at the same time, they move mountains to change their paths.
I wasn’t expecting this in erotica, but I was happy to get it. I don’t read many erotica novels, but I chose this back when I was exploring the genre, and it got lost in the shuffle for a while. If you can’t handle explicit sex, this is not for you, but I realized while there is implied sex with a lot of strangers, the only detailed encounter not between the main couple completes without consummation, if that makes a difference.
Most of the story deals with loss, divorce, childrearing, and recovery. That’s what makes this a strong novel, but at the same time, don’t get the impression that the erotica is tacked on. It’s not. To really capture the gut-wrenching truth of Stella’s life and limitations, you have to see what she’s done to survive and understand how it affects her. This may be a mishmash of genres, but each have a role to play in the whole, and this odd, melancholic story would have been less without each aspect.
P.S. I received this novel from the publisher through Netgalley in return for an honest review.