When it comes to erotic fiction, I’m prepared to encounter sexual material that may not necessarily appeal to me. After all, it’s pretty much anything goes in erotica, so I try to keep an open mind. But I’m never prepared to deal with flat, unappealing characters, an awkward narrative style, and/or a story that moves at the pace of a particularly interminable funeral dirge, all of which are featured in Passion.
Like Lisa Valdez’s much-discussed debut last year, the title reflects not only the storyline but the heroine’s first name. This Passion has fantasies about being ravished by a highwayman, so she decides to take horseback riding lessons. Her friend Gwen recommends the stables her boyfriend Steve owns, and Steve quickly arranges for Pash to work with Ivan Kozak, an old friend who’s working for him for the summer. They’re both instantly attracted to each other, and eventually they act on it.
The book starts out slow and never picks up. We open with one of Pash’s highwayman fantasies. Then she goes to her first lesson. Then Ivan and Pash masturbate thinking about the other. Then she goes to her second lesson. Then they think about each other more. Then she goes to her third lesson. It’s dull, and the author’s decision to tell the story in first-person, alternating between Pash and Ivan, doesn’t help. It’s just repetitive, as we read most of the same scene from each person’s perspective. Some of the dialogue doesn’t match the second time we’re shown a scene, also a problem. The new dialogue doesn’t entirely contradict what was shown before, so it’s likely the author is just giving us parts of the conversation in the first time and the rest the second, an odd choice. Sometimes the P.O.V. switches for only a few paragraphs before moving back, and what we’re told is so negligible it just seems even more pointless.
Eventually, the perspective changes become smoother and less distracting, but the larger problem remains – the characters are so uninteresting that the story gains nothing by being told in first-person. The author doesn’t give them distinctive voices, so it’s like reading the same narration by the same boring person no matter what P.O.V. we’re in. The story might as well be told in third-person. It wouldn’t make any difference if the I’s were “he’s” and “she’s”. I was truly puzzled at how flat and unengaging the characters are, since the heroine’s initials, like the author’s, are P.F., and the book is dedicated “To Ivan.” That would seem to indicate the characters were at least inspired by real life people, yet they have none of the depth or nuance of real, three-dimensional beings.
Anyway, they finally go on a date, and Ivan makes plans for them to go to an inn so they can spend the night and get to the inevitable sex. During the encounter, he’s rough and dominates her. At first she’s angry and scared, then naturally gets turned on. Half-lulled into a narcoleptic state by this time, I just didn’t care. Some of the dialogue is lame. I probably shouldn’t expect characters to be at their wittiest in mid-coitus, but lines like “Passion, I’m going to screw the arse off you!” are real eye-rollers. (I guess now’s as good a time as any to mention the book takes place in England, hence the use of “arse,” though the setting isn’t portrayed vividly enough to make an impression.)
The next morning, Pash bursts into tears thinking about how her feelings for Ivan have already gone beyond a simple affair. She tells him that if all he wants is sex, to please break things off before she falls even more in love with him than she already has. Gee, three horseback riding lessons and one night of sex and she’s already in love with him?! I thought that was unbelievable, not to mention sad. Oddly enough, Ivan isn’t completely turned off now that Pash is channeling Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. Instead, he tells her something the reader already knows. A university professor by trade, he likes bedding his young female students, and Passion is older than he’s used to. I found his behavior with his students gross. He seemed like a creep and she’s pathetic. At least they deserved each other.
When Pash gets home, Gwen calls her to tell her that Steve told her about Ivan sleeping with his students. Then Steve tells Ivan that he told Gwen about Ivan sleeping with his students for the express purpose of her telling Pash. So Ivan is, like, totally furious with Steve. Steve is sooooo surprised at how mad Ivan is, so he calls Gwen to find out how Pash took the news. Then Gwen calls Pash to tell her what Steve said about Ivan being mad. Like, oh my GAWD, you guys! It’s like I wandered into the most dramatic Sweet Valley High book EVA!!!
As ridiculous as the characters’ behavior was, at least it was a momentary respite from the tedium. But then the tedium begins again. Ivan and Pash are supposedly intellectual types, so they exchange quotes by Shakespeare and Percy Shelley. Rather than seem smart, I just thought they were unbearably pretentious. More sex ensues. Afterward, Pash tells Ivan she’s definitely in love with him. This time, he tells her he’s in love with her too. Again, I didn’t believe it, but at first I just was relieved, thinking that the book must be over. After all, they’re “in love” (puh-leeze), so that must be the end, right? Then I realized this was page 158, and the book was only half over.
What happens after that? Nothing. Just a bunch of boring characters sitting around having dull conversations, with some occasional sex and a light dusting of cheap pop psychology. I kept reading, dutifully turning the pages, even though I started to realize I was reading absolutely nothing. They make plans to move in together, despite only knowing each other for a few days. Steve continues to act like a jerk. He seems so obsessed with trying to break up Ivan and Pash that I became convinced he was going to turn out to be secretly gay and in love with Ivan. But no. As cliched as that would have been, such a development would be too dramatic for this book, and Steve is just a jerk. I guess I should be grateful for him trying to stir up any trouble, since there’s virtually zero conflict in the relationship otherwise.
Passion is the most boring book I’ve read in years. I usually reserve F’s for books that offend me in their awfulness. This one didn’t offend me, but I honestly can’t think of anything I liked about it. Dull, flat and unbearably tedious, it’s a three hundred page sleeping pill.