Erin McCarthy is one of those writers who can get me to read things I might otherwise pass over. She writes steamy contemporary about race car drivers, which is pretty far from my usual fare of science fiction, fantasy, and historical. But I love McCarthy’s strong sense of place, character, and family and she’s on my auto-buy list. Full Throttle is not her strongest work but it's still a fun read.
Full Throttle is the latest in a series of loosely connected NASCAR romances (the Fast Track series). This book involves Shawn, a racetrack owner, and Rhett, who is on a pit crew (Erin McCarthy fans will note that he’s on the crew of Eve, from the last book in the series, Jacked Up). Shawn is supposed to inherit the track she manages from her grandfather, but when her grandfather dies he leaves a clause in the will that says that Shawn can only have the track if she gets married. Cue secret marriage of convenience, as Shawn pays Rhett, a cute guy she meets in a bar, to marry her. It turns out that not only does Rhett work for Eve, but he is also Eve’s husband’s brother, and Shawn is Eve’s best friend. Cue funny moments with family and friends. Plus, Rhett is looking for a woman who will be submissive during sex. Cue sexy times.
Full Throttle was an odd book for me because it involves a dominate/submissive relationship, and that’s a dynamic that tends to make me uncomfortable. Although I absolutely respect the rights of people to engage in consensual BDSM, I have a lot of hang ups about it and a high level of ignorance – please accept my pre-emptive apologies if I offend anyone in this review, and feel free to recommend books in the comments that would be helpful to me in developing a more nuanced understanding of BDSM issues. I had a hard time untangling my own hang-ups about Dom/sub dynamics from the actual quality of the book.
Erin McCarthy goes out of her way to establish that Rhett is not controlling in general – only in the bedroom and only with consent. I understand that BDSM does not equal sexism, and the book goes to great lengths to explain that Rhett is not sexist (showing that he respects Shawn and her boundaries as he and Shawn define them, showing him washing dishes and just generally being a decent guy who pulls his weight around the house).
But I felt that this book was actually a little sexist for reasons that had nothing to do with Dom/sub dynamics. The overall tone of the book, beyond the D/s thing, is one of condescension towards Shawn, and that has nothing to do with my personal discomfort with Dom/sub stuff and everything to do with how the characters are written. Rhett says he thinks that in an ideal relationship both partners take turns taking the lead depending on the situation, but the reality of the book is that Rhett is always the one who calls the shots. He is portrayed as mature (although he’s much younger than Shawn), considerate, good at his job, a good communicator (usually), and levelheaded. Even Shawn refers to Rhett as being more mature than she is. Shawn is portrayed as manipulative (although her motives are explained very well), insecure, inept at communicating, ignorant and inexperienced at sex (she worries that having daily sex might be bad for her vagina), possibly not being great at her job (the track is in trouble although that’s not necessarily her fault), and not smart enough to ask a lawyer for a second opinion before getting drunk and promising $100,000 to a stranger from a bar.
SPOILER (Highlight to read): Also there’s a totally weird babies-ever-after thing. Look, in my personal life, I like babies. But this is way out of left field. It’s just – ta-da, random baby. I’m actually really concerned about this baby’s welfare since she or he apparently is going to be raised by impulsive idiots.
The thing that kept me reading was the high quality of the writing overall in terms of dialogue, characterization, and story structure. Shawn and Rhett really do seem to belong together – they are so comfortable with each other when they aren't being stupid, and Shawn does a great job of defending Rhett when his family misunderstands or patronizes him.
The supporting cast kept this book afloat even when the main characters floundered. McCarthy has a talent for creating real, flawed, fun people. They interact like what they are supposed to be – a flawed, slightly insane, loving family. I also appreciate that McCarthy’s characters tend to defy stereotypes and tropes. Her books are light and fun and entertaining, but they also remind me not to make assumptions about what people are like based on age, gender, profession, or any other external marker.
The series has encompassed a lot of personalities and surprises. McCarthy’s characters touch me and make me laugh and challenge my assumptions. Whenever I pick up a McCarthy book, I know that while I might like some of her books more than others, all of them will be fun to read. This is not her best book because it has some writing flaws (the sudden baby thing, Shawn’s general ineptness) and it’s not my personal favorite because of personal triggers, but it’s still a fun, solid book.