Posted in: willaful, willaful reviews
Tags:Aspergers/autism, BDSM, Contemporary Romance, Delphine Dryden, erotic romance
The Theory of Attraction by Delphine Dryden. Published by Carina Press. Sensuality rating: Blistering
Dryden did something really interesting here — created a hero who is clearly somewhere on the autism spectrum, with the accompanying literalness, rigidity, anxiety, and lack of social skills, but who’s also the world’s best Dom.
Camilla has been attracted to her geeky neighbor Ivan ever since she saw him respond calmly during an emergency; the hot bod he shows while running past her window — “6:30 in the morning, out for a run each and every day” — doesn’t hurt either. When Ivan enlists her help in learning how to behave appropriately at an important social event. Camilla is happy to have the chance to get closer to him. What she discovers when she does is quite a shock — far from the inexperienced virgin she envisioned, Ivan is an extremely adept Dom. And he has a lot to teach her, as well.
If you asked me to name three romance tropes I hate, “lessons” would be right up there. Here it works, because Camilla’s instructions to Ivan about social interactions are so insightful. His lessons for her are rather more commonplace, if you read erotic romance, but still interesting and well done. (And probably super hot if you don’t mind reading about pain; I’m easily unnerved by anything that involves clamps on sensitive parts.)
Whenever I read a book featuring a character with Asperger’s Syndrome, I can’t help but filter it through my knowledge of my son and other Aspies I know (which in this case, made me pretty uncomfortable a few times!) Ivan was generally believable to me, especially with this explanation of how BDSM was suggested to him by a therapist: “He suggested I try a venue where people were more open-minded and communicative about sex, and the roles might be a little easier to understand.” Ivan approaches domination and submission in an experimental fashion — which buttons to push to get the results you want? It’s surprising, but authentic, that he has areas in which he is particularly competent.
In many ways, this was a story filled with contradictions. Camilla’s narration is generally lighthearted and funny — “Two arguing geeks were unstoppable. Three arguing geeks created an infinite argument vortex of doom that sucked time down like a black hole” — but her feelings during the sex scenes are extraordinarily intense. Ivan is often anxious, but in his Dom role he’s completely confident. The narrative doesn’t always feel entirely cohesive, but it all made sense when I thought about it. And the depiction of the differences between Camilla and Ivan’s Dom/sub relationship and their everyday relationship was very well drawn; Camilla quickly learns when to take on her sub role and when it’s okay to drop it.
My biggest problem with the story was that it copped out in the end. Camilla has some concerns about Ivan, and they’re quite reasonable:
‘Will you come upstairs with me?’ He seemed not just hesitant about asking, but actively uneasy, and I wasn’t sure what answer he wanted to hear. I was pretty sure about the answer I wanted to give, however.
His eyes shifted over to his plants. But then his fingers moved over my skin again, weaving into my hair, and he turned back to me, looking perplexed and frustrated. And like a light bulb going on over my head, I realized both the problem and the solution.
‘But, Ivan, you should probably finishing taking care of your tomatoes first. And I need to deadhead a few roses. And then we can go up, okay?’
The sheer relief on his face was equally gratifying and worrisome. Gratifying to know I’d gotten it right in one shot. Worrisome to know that he was really bound by his routine, and by all the compartmentalizing he did to minimize his exposure to the unknown. Almost as though his entire life was one big coping strategy. I really wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that.
At the end though, Camilla has swept all doubts under the rug; the last words of the story promise a rosy future, which pissed me off. Not that I don’t believe they can be happy together, but it would have to be with the understand that Ivan has limitations which aren’t going to magically go away.
Overall, this was an original and entertaining story; I might have liked it even more if it weren’t for the previously mentioned clamp thing. (Shudder.) I give it four out of five stars. You can pre-order it for Kindle here. Thanks to netGalley for the review copy.