The Deep End
I hated the first half of The Deep End and had I not been reading for review it’s likely I wouldn’t have finished it. But I persisted, and thank goodness the second half was better.
Amélie is top Domme at an expensive, exclusive sex club called The Bee’s Honey, but she’s bored with her prospects. That changes when she spots Olivier, a self-described ‘alpha submissive’. The two hit it off sexually and, when they finally get around to having their first conversation, personally.
If we had a sensuality rating above burning (say, volcanic?) this book would merit it. Olivier is constantly tied up, tied down, spread open, you name it. There are cock harnesses. There are paddles and switches. There are threesomes. There is every kind of action for hindquarters, including toys with tails attached.
What offended me in the first half of the book was the utter impersonality of it all; all that binds the protagonists is their kink and mutual lust. They know nothing about each other and don’t ask. Amélie frequently describes Olivier as a ‘beast’, fetishizing his 6’6″ frame and bulky appearance. (She thinks his fingers are “longer than most cocks”, which is insane and/or disgusting when you consider that the biggest hands in the NBA are in the 10-12 inch range, and that includes the palms). I actually made a note on my Kindle that it was 38% of the way through the book before Amélie and Olivier have a personal conversation. Maybe this is an accurate depiction of the rules of the club, but the author also doesn’t choose to show us much about them when they’re apart until the second half.
I would have been happy if those first half sex scenes had left me feeling unmoved. Instead, they left me actively repulsed. Their first encounter is the worst, because Amélie asks Olivier for his boundaries and then proceeds to violate his wishes and completely ignore both of the things he mentions. Somehow she ‘just knows’ that he’ll get off on it (of course, he does.) I know he has a safeword, but it struck me as coercive at best and a gender-flipped version of old rapey narratives at the worst. Olivier is right to be angry and broody about it after. I felt kind of gross looking my child in the face after reading it.
Fortunately, around the halfway mark, the characters start to like each other personally. They take to calling each other Olly and Leigh (or ‘Leigh-Leigh’) outside of sex scenes to show their deepening personal connection and to help the reader see which zone they’re in. They become invested in each other, and in sex as a way of pleasing a person they care about instead of sex as a way of triggering a physical response in another human body. I still didn’t feel that I, the reader, got to know them much outside of their sexual identities, but at least the characters felt like they did. I understood both Amélie and Olivier’s insecurities and discomfort as they struggled to even broach with the other that they might want a relationship beyond sex. The big misunderstanding is a bit too big, and followed by one that is downright silly, but both come from sincere and character-based places.
Once the relationship becomes personal, the sex scenes read a lot better. They are still confusingly technical, with too much time spent on visual narration that still somehow leaves gaps in explaining what’s going on, but they never again feel squicky. Olivier comes to terms with his sexual personality, which has previously felt shameful to him, and I was actually happy for him and for Amélie that they were able to have enjoyable experiences together. In the second half, when Amélie asks Olivier for consent and boundaries, she abides by what he tells her. Sometimes they have elaborate D/s experiences; other times they have “vanilla” sex. As opposed to before, when Olivier was a dehumanized ‘beast’ body that Amélie liked to play with, I came to feel that he was a very idiosyncratic sub who was lucky to find a woman who enjoyed all of his quirks.
Ashley’s prose is polarizing. Not in the sense that some people think it’s good and some disagree – I think we can pretty much all concur that it’s relatively catastrophic – but in the sense that some people care and some people don’t. I care. I had an e-advance, so it’s possible that things will be fixed, but based on my previous experience reading Ashley books, I doubt it. The editors know who she is and don’t bother to mess with it. I therefore anticipate that you, too, will see sentences like
“Julie,” she bit out, obviously not giving a shit whoever Julie was was next going to get it because Aryas was going to lose his fucking mind he had an employee who fucked any of his members over.
Olivier talks like every other Ashley hero, which is to say with a lot of swearing and manly noises and monosyllables. The sentence “Fuck no,” Olly grunted. may be the Platonic ideal of a Kristen Ashley sentence. She has a writing tic of gratuitous parentheticals that drives me nuts, including one epic double parentheses that isn’t even closed correctly. Her word choice can be weird or downright wrong. Eyes “swelter.” There are “infinitesimal” ways to skin a cat. Once she goes off on how whiskey is not as good as whisky, which is “the pure kind that didn’t need another letter of the alphabet.” Um, actually, the convention is to use the -ey spelling for American and Irish products, and the -y spelling for Scotch and other national products. Worse, a female is described as ‘Latino’ instead of ‘Latina’. That could just be as sloppy as the rest of the prose, but it primed me to be extra peeved later when Olivier was “approved by that huge fucking black guy” for his Honey membership.
Ultimately, it’s hard to arrive at a grade for a book this wildly different within itself. The first half was so repugnant that I didn’t feel F was an adequately critical grade, and I was considering asking if I could give it an F- without breaking the data entry structure of our site. The second half was thoroughly acceptable, if held back by prose problems and a silly subplot. On average, I’ll give it a D.