Private Pleasures, Bertrice Small’s latest offering, is billed as “her first contemporary novel – and her sexiest tale yet!” That’s not quite how I’d describe it…it’s mostly shoddy porn. The book consists of crude sex scenes interspersed by Small’s occasional attempt to remember an actual plot besides the frequent boinking, shagging and lusting. Honestly, I have to say that it’s utter bilge.
Nora Buckley is a faded forty-something who has just realized that her marriage isn’t working. Finally she opens up her eyes and realizes that her husband, with whom she hasn’t had sex in five years, has been cheating on her and is about to leave her. Comforted by the group of old friends who all live nearby on the same upper-middle-class neighborhood, she allows herself to confront the simple fact that everything is in her husband’s name, she has never worked, and she’s about to become homeless and broke.
Her husband, Jeff, is a major asshole. The stereotypical midlife crisis philanderer, he’s a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am chauvinist who wanted to marry a “good girl” like Nora to help his career. He has stooped so low as to rob his kids of their college funds in order to buy his new girlfriend some happiness, and is depending on a smooth divorce from his wimpy wife so he can sell their mortgage-free home and use the proceeds to line his own pockets. He expects his children to blindly accept his choices, and gets angry when his wife seems unhappy with this outcome. He ignores the fact that each Christmas he used to show the children their bank statements and promise they would be secure, and that his father-in-law originally kicked in quite a bit on the down payment for his and Nora’s lovely house.
However. Into each life a little rain must fall, and there is a major thunderstorm on the way for Jeff. Outraged by his infidelity, Nora’s girlfriends let her in on a little secret called “The Channel.” It seems that there’s a secret channel on the TV that allows you to order your deepest fantasy, in much the same way you would order a regular movie. When a curious Nora decides to indulge, she isn’t expecting her suburban home to become the apartment of her dreams, and an Adonis to beg her to touch the screen and walk into another world where her every wish is indulged.
Soon, Nora is having wild sex every way imaginable with two hunky young guys (Kyle, who falls inevitably in love with her, and Rolf, her Austrian masseur, who also has a thing for Kyle) – anal sex, threesomes, you name it. And these are not artfully written scenes. Just to give you a little flavor of what’s between the covers, phrases like “hot maw,” “moist nether lips,” “jism” and the c-word abound. At one point Nora visits her best friend Carla’s pirate fantasy, and they swap lovers – this scene is particularly distasteful. There is a lot of moaning and groaning and being “spermed” from both ends, but not a whole lot of interesting dialogue. And the sex scenes either came from a very bad porn movie, or were written by a teenager who knows the technical aspects of what happens but hasn’t actually ever done it, because they were not arousing in the least.
Frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if the book had arrived covered in baby oil and smelling rather like two-day-old pants. There was practically smoke rising from between the covers, and at points, I found myself holding the book at arm’s length and wincing as I read with one eye closed. The sex, as I said, has nothing remotely erotic going on for it. This isn’t Lady Chatterley’s Lover; it’s more Lady Smutty and Her Two Monkey Boys. Please don’t make the mistake of buying this book on the premise that the raunchy side of it will be interesting. It isn’t.
In between frequent visits to her fantasy world, Nora begins to form a plan to stop Jeff from taking away her house. This is a highly clichéd plot, with Nora’s Stepford-wife victimhood and Jeff’s utter bastardy dramatized to very high levels, so there’s nothing original in it. Nora’s helplessness in the face of her husband’s malice is almost childlike. Of course there are many, many women who are divorced by the husbands to whom they have been devoted all their lives. However, the author does nothing to make this very real plight come to life, and Nora just came across as pathetic.
The only reason this book got a D and not an F is because the way the book is resolved. Nora’s finally standing up to her jerk of a husband is quite nifty and he comes to a somewhat suitable end. Her comeback, and the way she ropes Jeff’s self-absorbed new fiancé into it, were not bad at all as hooks go. Also, the paranormal aspect of “The Channel” was not a bad little idea; it’s just a pity the idea didn’t occur to a different writer.