Emma Holly was recommended to me by my sister. How cool is my sister? Pretty fucking cool, because she’s the kind who doesn’t hesitate to recommend fun, smutty books to her younger sister. This may not sound like a big deal; hey, we’re all adults, right? Well, you have yet to meet my family. Most of them are firmly convinced I’m still a ditzy 14-year-old who can’t remember where she left her keys most of the time, which so does not apply any more. I’m now a ditzy 27-year-old who can’t remember where she left her purse half of the time.
This book started off with a bang. I mean, it pushed allll the right buttons for me. How good was it? Let’s just say that after reading about 6 pages in the bookstore, I toddled right up to the counter and bought it. Unfortunately, the fun sexiness of the book is dragged down by sloppy New Age pseudoscientific feel-good squishiness masquerading as quantum mechanics, not to mention a completely unnecessary suspense side-plot. I get what Holly was trying to achieve with the suspense-y bits, but when I can hear the Deus Ex Machina clanking away busily to create the necessary setup, that’s a sign that the author should’ve tried something else. Luckily the psychobabble and the Machine don’t make too many appearances, which means the happy, sexy bits outweigh the clunkiness.
The setup is pretty simple: B.G. Grantham is a Scientist of Very Big Brain who lives and conducts research in a mansion located in an isolated part of Washington. When he’s tired of conducting research into the more arcane aspects of quantum physics, he turns his attention to human psychology. Specifically, he’s interested in the mechanics of desire and how people behave when the circumstances surrounding their sexual release are tightly regulated, and to this end his entire household participates in a sexual game in which he has the ultimate control. Every once in a while he invites new candidates to the mansion to participate in the game. He’s assisted in this endeavor by his childhood friend and long-time lover, Eric Berne, who becomes the guest’s “keeper” throughout his or her stay.
Their latest candidate is Charity Wills, who’s beyoootiful (aren’t they always?) and sassy but not exactly on the fast-track to success. Charity is initially skeptical, but agrees after they promise to pay for a college educationâ€”a promise that’ll be honored whether or not she decides to play the game for the entire duration. Eric rating five out of five rrrowrs on the Studliness Scale doesn’t hurt, either. Eric, of course, finds himself moved in all sorts of uncomfortable ways by Charity.
The rest of the story can be summarized thus: Much Crazy Sex Happens, occasionally interrupted by the aforementioned squishy claptrap and suspense plot. Along the way, Eric falls in love with Charity, B.G. finds more than his trouser monster being moved by Charity, and Charity? She has two hot men sexing her up and then some. That lucky bitch is having a ball.
Er. I swear the pun was completely unintended. But it’s making me snicker and it’s pretty appropriate, so I’m leaving it in.
The sex scenes and the love story in general break several taboos held dear by many traditional romance novels, namely:
1. The hero and heroine shall be straight as an arrow. If anyone has gay urges, it’s going to be the villain, y’hear? Bonus points if he molests children, double bonus points if the children are his, triple bonus points if he molests the family pet and THEN the children.
2. The hero and heroine shall be monogamous. Once the hero meets the heroine, that’s it, he’s found his soulmate, and he won’t be able to get it up with his mistress even if he tries because the power of True LurveÂ® will have sucked all the vigor from his dicky-poo, said vigor being restored only by the unschooled yet wildly arousing touch of the heroine.
3. Hot, skanky, meaningless sex with minor characters shall be indulged in ONLY by either the villain(s) or the hero before he meets the heroine.
4. Heroes shall be plentifully be-furred, especially on their chests, to indicate their virility. Shaving body hair is for women and faggots, and you know how we feel about faggots. See point 1 for reference.
Holly breaks all these taboos with great glee, and hoo boy is it fun to read. Like the first time Eric and B.G. get down when Eric comes back from college for summer vacation? Damn. And when Eric and Charity finally hop in bed with B.G. and decide that he needs to be hoist with his own petard? GOOD GODDAMN.
It’s not that I haven’t read other books with lots of rumpy pumpy in them. I’ve read a fair share of Susan Johnson, for example, but reading too much of one of her books in a sitting often leaves me feeling mentally numb because those geysers of love are just squirting non-stop in them thar hills and well, it gets kind of monotonous after a while. What makes Strange Attractions stand out from other sex-fest novels is how Holly creates genuinely likeable characters. Eric, Charity and B.G. all have baggage, but they’re decent people and minimally annoying, despite B.G.‘s resemblance to a particularly lifeless android when he talks. Holly also introduces a lot of variety in the scenes, and she makes the characters wait. And wait. And wait. AND WAIT. B.G. figures out early on that Charity savors the sexual suffering of others brought on by pent-up desire. All I can say is: me and her both, buddy.
The book, alas, isn’t perfect. B.G. is a typical romance novel geek, for one, a peeve which I’ve already discussed at tedious length. When he’s having sex, or when Holly isn’t paying attention and allows B.G. to talk and act like a human instead of an RNG, he’s pretty damn sweet.
And then there’s the parts in the book where the author extrapolates the science wildly and sloppily, like countless other people who read about quantum mechanics and subsequently have their minds blown by the idea of wavefunctions, or by the fact that quantum entanglement (a.k.a. non-locality) has been proven to exist. This leads to mush-minded talk about how “consciousness creates reality” and “you are a quantum being and you embody all possibilities”â€”shit a knowledgeable quantum mechanician like B.G. should’ve been embarrassed to say because it so grossly misrepresents the science. I’m not going to address all the silliness in this review (I know, big sigh of relief all around!), but if you’re interested, this excellent article debunks some popular misconceptions revolving around quantum mechanics.
One particularly heinous part I will mention, though. Towards the latter half of the book, B.G. explains that particle accelerators can warp spacetime severely enough that the effect can be felt by the whole mansion. Why? Ostensibly because the sub-particles it generates from the collisions travel at the speed of light and therefore pull “pure, undigested quantum stuff” into our dimension. Leaving aside pressing questions such as “What in the fuck is ‘quantum stuff’?” and “What does a quantum gastrointestinal tract look like?” this badly misrepresents how particle accelerators may be able to affect time.
Yes, I know it’s a romance novel. Honestly, I’m not expecting rigorous scientific detail along the lines of hard science fiction, but I would’ve appreciated it if the appalling pseudoscience had been left out. Quantum mechanics is pretty fucking cool as it isâ€”why add extra kookishness to it?
Oh, and the suspense side-plot: really, the less said about it, the better. Let’s just say that some of B.G.‘s experiments have yielded unexpected and not necessarily desirable results, and ultimately it’s all a very transparent machination to speed up the HEA. I don’t object to suspense plots in general; I just want them to feel less slapdash.
However, despite all my bitching and moaning, this book is definitely a keeper. It has the honor of being the first novel specifically labeled as “erotic romance” that I’ve enjoyed reading. It’s also the first love story I’ve read in which the affection and attraction felt by two men equals, if not surpasses, that felt between the hero and heroineâ€”but this is the first romance I’ve read that involves two bisexual heroes who love to play.
May it not be last.