Book Review: he & She by Wayne Clark

March 11, 14 by T.C. Mill on LibraryThing | 4 of 5 stars

I was very excited to win this one through a LibraryThing giveaway. It’s more of a literary novel that incorporates BDSM than an erotic novel, but still very much in line with my interests. The prose is deftly crafted, the plot…well, again, it’s a literary novel, but the action is never stuck in a rut without the author intending it, and the characterization is fascinating.

Literary novels about older men rediscovering their zest for life through sex, usually with a younger woman, can carry some truly distasteful undertones of misogyny. This story happily avoids that, and I’m convinced the sometimes flat and not infrequently fetishized female characters are written that way because of K’s perspective, not the author’s. Even so, this does not make K a detestable, dirty old man–on the contrary, he is sensitive and generous, and some may find his sometimes tired fantasies just a little sad. Still, other readers may understandably find that small comfort as they have to read about girlfriend Alana’s “Inner Latina” who is both submissive and sexy (okay, yeah, I’m not a fan of that one either, nor do I want to excuse it). But the “Egyptian Princess,” who is the She of the title, clearly has her own independent goals and concerns, some of which the reader and K never get to the bottom of. (Yes, her nickname is another instance of racialization, one that gets picked apart as it turns out to be her marketing angle–she variously attests to actually be from Morocco, Texas, and New Jersey).

For all my opening grumps, the book is well-written–each word is clearly chosen with care–and I enjoyed the depiction of a freelancer’s life (not always glamorous, as I can appreciate even more since hanging up my freelance editing shingle myself) and how K’s sexual desires are handled matter-of-factly but with touches of lyrical romanticism and even sexiness. No purple prose here, but it’s also not coarse, achieving a sense of realism that focuses as much on the emotions involved as the actions and sensations. Again, this isn’t erotica–as a pro domme, the Egyptian Princess doesn’t do sex with clients.

In fact, inability to keep a professional distance between K and his Princess is what spurs the main conflict of the story. While it’s a bit predictable, and certainly well foreshadowed, the execution is compelling and at times acutely painful. Even more so because of how happy I was when K’s new relationship was helping him get a grip on his life.

Many of the things that grated me in the beginning had me downright emotionally invested by the end. And I especially like the lingering question of whether the Princess ever cared for K, or if she was only using him. There’s evidence in all directions. (My personal answer is “both”).

My complete review can be found at my blog.

Wayne is a Montreal based writer, editor and translator.

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