There’s a trend in erotica/erotic romance that I particularly hate. I call it “Surprise! Kink!” Like the hero and heroine have been dating for a while and he suddenly tells her he’s kinky, like he's handing her one of those fake cans of peanuts that snakes pop out of. Except instead of snakes, it’s dicks. And they smack her in the face.
I guess I personally believe that if your idea of a perfect committed relationship involves double penetration with your bestie and your girlfriend, maybe you should let your girlfriend know that before you get really, really involved. Because I don’t think the traditional fifth anniversary gift of wood is a good segue way for introducing that.
The Dining Club series by Marina Anderson commits “Surprise! Kink!” and many other sins, in my opinion. I found the relationship between the main characters to be exploitative and awful, and the portrayal of the sex club and its members to be particularly bad.
This is an eight book serial (which I will bitch about later, thank you) starring Grace who has been with her boyfriend, David, for six months. Grace is already in love with David, but she senses that he’s holding back from her. He suggests they take a weekend retreat to The Dining Club, where he is a member. Grace does not know that the Dining Club is a sex club. She expects to spend the weekend playing couples tennis or whatever. Instead David tells her that this is a sex club, he’s a member, and he really wants to introduce her to his lifestyle.
Okay, I’m already pissed that she found out about the sex club part after she got there. That’s a thing you tell a person before you show up. You don’t wait till they’re standing around the hotel room going “Why are there all these I-hooks in the ceiling?” That’s a fucking dick move.
But then David really does it. He tells her that he wants to her partake in the four trials of the Dining Club and expand her sexuality all while playing the emotional-blackmail-for-kink card ala 50 Shades of Grey.
“You leave the Dining Club, and we part as friends,” he said softly. “We’ll have had some great times along the way, won’t we? But there wouldn’t be any point in keeping the relationship going, as it wouldn’t be able to grow. Don’t worry though. I’m not wrong about you. Your body soaks up pleasure like a sponge. Now you’ll have the opportunity to experience ecstasy beyond your wildest dreams.”
[…] Leaning back she looked up at him as his hands slid down into the small of her back. “But if I fail, it will be over for us, won’t it?”
“Yes,” he admitted reluctantly, “but I don’t want that to happen.”
“Neither do I,” responded Grace, shivering at the realization of what she’d learned about this man she’d fallen in love with, and beginning to realize what lay ahead of her if she agreed to go through with the weekend in order to try and gain his love. “I don’t want to lose you,” she repeated, “but I’m scared.”
“Do it for me, Grace, for both of us. Trust me, you’ll never regret it.”
Okay, let’s dissect all the fucking things that are wrong with the above passage.
1. David has no problem keeping his lifestyle from Grace for six fucking months, then ambushing her and explaining “the relationship can’t grow” if she doesn’t agree to participate in the kink. Why spend the last six months leading her on then? I get that you probably don’t want to mention the fact that you’d like to dangle her from the ceiling while your buddy sodomizes her and you watch on the first date (that would be a great conversation to have at the Olive Garden) but maybe get to that sooner rather than later. I can only assume that David gets off on the emotional blackmail piece which is why he’s gone about it in this especially shitty way.
2. He thinks he knows her body better than she does. Now, I am totally down with erotica that has the hero introducing the heroine to new and exciting things, but the whole “Trust me, you’ll like it—I know your body better than you,” right after she says, “Ehhhhh, I don’t think so,” strikes me as rapey and creepy.
3. “Do it for me.” Nope. How about Grace explores her sexuality because she wants to, not to make you happy. “Do it for me” should be reserved for lunch with your mother-in-law or seeing a terrible movie, not having sex with strangers. Not even a little bit cool.
Now, I totally get the trope in erotica where the heroine (or hero) is new to the world she/he is being introduced to and is uncertain and scared. Take Joey Hill’s Unrestrained ( A | BN | K | ARe ). The heroine has always been a Domme, but secretly wants to try being a sub. She is scared. Her Dom introduces her to this new side of her sexuality with compassion and patience. He does not say “If this doesn’t work for you, I’m out. Deuces.”
I even understand erotica where, during a scene, the heroine behaves as if she’s not into what’s happening. There’s a scene in The Siren where Søren shares Nora with his friend, Kingsley, and she’s all “Oh, no, please not that,” but it’s obvious she’s in character and is a consenting partner. Everyone is having a good time.
I didn’t get that from The Dining Club. Grace is uncertain during all four trials, and even when she’s enjoying what’s going on, she doesn’t have agency over her sexuality. She does it for David, always acutely aware that he will leave her if she doesn’t . She is not, at any point, empowered.
So what are the four trials? Well, they mostly involve either not having orgasms, or only having so many, or having as many as possible within a certain time frame. Other members of the club are involved in the trials. Amber, the mistress of the club, Andrew (who falls for Grace because we needed three chapters of conflict that go nowhere), and the twins—Amy and Laura.
I’d like to say that Amy and Laura do not touch each other at any point, but the sex gets a little confusing during one of the trials and I’m not 100% sure who was touching whom. Generally speaking, I like to be 100% sure on that incest thing.
To make things even worse, the supporting female characters are boring archetypes. Amber is a bitch. She is jealous of Grace and David. Amy and Laura are ditzy, bubbly, and paper thin. All of them had a vaguely adversarial role with Grace: rather than being there to introduce her to the club in a supportive and thoughtful way, they deliberately (either by bitchiness or design of the trials) were there to see her fail.
So on top of being a shitty representation of sex club, the books are also kind of ridiculous. I mean, we hear a lot about the Dining Club’s special lubricant “imported from the far east.” It’s special. It makes her warm and tingly. Apparently they went to the “far east” to buy KY Warming Liquid. It’s at Target, you guys.
There’s the scene were David has what I think is supposed to be a moment of emotional reckoning when he thinks he might be falling in love with Grace:
Then, as he made his way in the world, he watched male friends fall into the same trap. Besotted with the women they’d fallen in love with, they changed. The rounds of golf became few and far between, while nights out with male friends gradually tapered off. Falling in love turned them into different people.
What a douche canoe. Love changed them. It gave them stuff to do on Saturday other than golf. Jesus Fucking Christ.
The best writing, sadly, happens during the sexual trials and it’s mostly description of things going in places and Grace being nervous but multi-orgasmic.
So there’s some BDSM, group sex, lesbian sex, and the grand finale…trial four… “The Club Sandwich.”
By this point, I’d hoped they meant an actual sandwich. I had a sneaking suspicion we were talking DP, not bacon, and fuck it, I was right.
David’s last girlfriend bailed on trial four, by the way. Because she didn’t love him enough to have another dude fuck her ass while she had sex with David. The bitch. Of course Grace aces it, and yay, now David won’t leave her!
I already felt sickened by all of this, but then it got even more insane. Turns out there is trial five, where Grace can challenge Amber for position of mistress of the club. Amber’s position is a real job. She runs a real sex club/hotel. She has to worry about staff and guests and all the things that come with running a business. She probably has to worry about participants getting STD tests and about the privacy of her “elite” clients. This is a big fucking job.
But if Grace can have sex with a bunch of people simultaneously with Amber and prove that she’s the better “slave” then she gets to run the club. And she wants to do this. Because having Andrew in her butt made her realize she loves David AND the club.
Yup, suddenly she loves The Dining Club. She’s doing it for the club. The club, which isn’t even a sentient being, is somehow emotionally manipulating her too.
Oh, by the way, Grace is a theater manager so she should be able to jump right into that running a sex club/small business thing. No probs.
Among their tests, Ben Wa Balls are inserted into Grace and Amber, and they have to use exercise equipment like a treadmill, exercise ball and stationary bike while having as many orgasms as possible. What. The. Fuck.
So yeah, that’s why I slapped this book with an F. Dickbag hero, one-dimensional female characters, emotional manipulation, shitty representation of fetish, Ben Wa Balls and treadmill. And special lubricant, from the “far east.”
Now, I have to bitch about the fact that this is an eight novella serial costing $1.99 a book. Each book is three chapters long. Book one took me fifteen minutes to read. Literally. I didn’t consider the format or the price when I graded this book since the author likely has little to no control over either, but I felt it’s worth mentioning how grossly expensive this is.
If you want to spend sixteen bucks on erotica/erotic romance go get some Joey Hill, Tiffany Reisz, Lorelei James or Maya Banks. Do not enter The Dining Club. And please do not sample the club sandwich.