But for the first time, I feel the power of praying words alongside someone else, the power of praying words so familiar and ancient they come from some hitherto unknown part of my mind. The part of my mind that isn’t consumed with accounting and finance, the part that isn’t even rational or entirely civilized. It’s a part of me so deep, so elemental, I can’t even name it. But it responds to the old words like trees to wind, rustling awake, stretching roots deep, deep down. The words don’t care about my feelings, about my petty sulks and mortal frustrations. The words are there anyway, just as the humanness inside me is there anyway, and for one clear, shimmering moment, I understand.
I understand how you can convict God of terrible crimes and then go to evening prayer.
I understand that hate was never, ever the opposite of belief. I understand that belief isn’t a coat to be put on and worn in all kinds of weather, even the blistering sun.
Belief is this. Praying when you don’t feel like it, when you don’t know who or what is listening; it’s doing the actions with the trust that something about it matters. That something about it makes you more human, a better human, a human able to love and trust and hope in a world where those things are hard.
from Sinner by Sierra Simone
There’s also butt sex.
Sinner is somewhat of a miracle. It’s a book in which a profound commitment to understanding faith AND a plethora of scorching sex scenes are each well-written and intrinsic to the story. It’s an erotic romance that makes you think, hard, about spiritual, ethical, and metaphysical questions.
Sinner is the third book in Simone’s Priest series–I haven’t read the first two–and functions as a stand-alone. It’s the tale of thirty-six year old millionaire libertine Sean Bell and 21 year old virgin Zenobia Iverson. (The two reminded me, incongruously, of a modern day Sebastian and Evie.) Zenny is the young sister of Sean’s oldest friend and is beyond forbidden to Sean for any number of reasons, several of which I agree with. (I believe strongly in the half your age plus seven for romantic pairings.*)
When the novel begins, Zenny and Sean meet hot at a party. He doesn’t recognize her. (She, however, knows exactly who he is.) They flirt, Sean talks some serious sex smack, and they begin to kiss but are interrupted–Sean has to race to the hospital where his mother, a terminal cancer patient, has been taken to the ER. The two part and Sean–he narrates the book–thinks he’ll never again see “Mary.”
This is, of course, not the case. The next day, Sean’s boss sends him to finesse kicking a bunch of nuns out of the shelter they run–Sean is a deal closer extraordinaire–and, wouldn’t you know it, Mary turns out to be Zenny and a postulant there. She also turns out to want Sean to show her all she’ll be missing when, in a month, she marries the church and foreswears sex and men forever. And she does mean all.
This is not a story line that calls to me in any way. And yet….
I like this book a lot. Simone is at ease in both the smutty and the spiritual–even better, she sees the connection between the two. As Sean’s brother Tyler tells him:
To be fully human is to be fully sexual, and while that doesn’t mean having sex or even sexual desire, it does mean being fully in your body. It means recognizing that there’s nothing any less holy about your body than there is about your soul, that as long as your body is treated with consent and respect and affection— and that you treat the bodies of others in the same way— there’s nothing inherently sinful about your flesh.
Faith, and what it means to live a life guided by it, is the heart of this story. Zenny and Sean go through all the expected stages of a contemporary romance as they find their way to their HEA. The reader is rarely surprised by their story but, whoa, the discussions they have as they work their way there are intricate and enthralling. Sean, with Zenny’s help, learns to understand God, death, and love in profound, life-affirming ways.
There are flaws–yes. There’s a reveal about a secondary character that was as surprising as an anvil. Zenny is too young for Sean. The first person narration feels, at times, limiting.
But, damn, if you’re looking for a book that successfully combines sex and (the path to) salvation, read this book. Sean, Zenny, their families–I <3 Sean’s mom so hard–and their discussions have stayed with me long after I finished Sinner. It’s almost glorious.
*The half+7 rule states that couples under the age of 45 should preferentially pick partners who are no less than half their age plus seven years. Once over 45, the seven number should slowly rise.
Buy it at Amazon/Apple Books/Barnes and Noble/Kobo