The Wild Side
One brief foray into The Wild Side is enough for me. With its annoying heroine, mean hero and clinical sex scenes, Harlequin Blaze No. 11 is not the book you should pick up if you’re intrigued by all the hype about this new line of “romantica” (or romantic erotica).
Built on the premise that the mysterious is sexy, this is the story of a modern-day bluestocking who, inspired by her friend’s sophisticated promiscuity, decides to embark on an erotic adventure or two before settling down. Melissa Rogers asks Rose (“Just Rose. Like Cher is just Cher”) to help her meet someone appropriately wild and exciting.
Riley Anderson, a private investigator, usurps the place of the blind date Rose fixed up for Melissa. Riley is looking for a miniature painting that Rose’s lover has stashed in her apartment, and which the FBI now wants him to recover as evidence against a powerful mob boss. He thinks Melissa is Rose, whom he intends to seduce in order to locate the painting.
The fast-paced plot and humorous writing style lend an air of sexy edginess to the book, a promising combination that is promptly ruined by the least likable characters I’ve read about in a long while. Constantly bombarding the reader with whiny commentary about how boring she thinks she is, Melissa makes you wonder if there’s more to her life than a single-minded pursuit of temporary sexual escape. All you get to know about her is that (a) she’s convinced that she’s destined to live out an eminently dull existence, and (b) her overriding ambition is to have at least one wild fling before she consigns herself to her fate.
As for Riley, his actions belie his thoughts about how attracted he is to the heroine. In a fit of anger, he stalks into the kitchen, snatches a jar of honey, and rudely upends it over Melissa’s nude body. Whether or not the author has intended that scene to come across as sexy, I can’t be sure; all I know is that it wasn’t. And when Melissa discovers Riley’s true identity and confronts him, he lashes out at her for not trusting him – as if their several soulless sexual encounters were the basis for trust, never mind that she’s fearful for her life and oh, by the way, he has indeed deceived her.
“Mystery and lust – what a wild combination!”, trumpets the back cover blurb. But because Melissa and Riley never progress beyond being complete strangers, both to each other and to the reader, the “love” scenes are neither satisfying nor even remotely erotic. The cathartic moment is invariably ruined by Melissa’s self-centered demands and painful self-consciousness, so that all you have are two people doing kinky things in bed – which fast becomes boring.
Although I’ve always found that a well-developed sense of trust makes love scenes resonate; its general absence doesn’t have to make a story any less sexy. Edgy thrillers are undeniably erotic because they enshroud the characters in mystery and danger. However, a book is ruined for me when I can’t identify with or at least remotely like the hero and heroine. As far as I’m concerned, a love scene between characters who’ve earned their intimacy – even if it’s written in the purplest prose imaginable – still beats the mechanical union of two strangers in bed.
Fortunately, a secondary story features another couple: Rose and Slate (Riley’s partner). Their interaction is more appealing to watch, as it’s between a seductress who is confronted with the first man she can’t figure out, and a plain ol’ average guy who only wants her to be herself. The sensuality of their story is relatively tame, however, which is a shame, because love scenes between them could have delivered what the ice cubes and the red thong and the handcuffs didn’t with Melissa and Riley.
Does this mean that romantica doesn’t work for me? Maybe; maybe not. All I know is that somewhere there’s got to be a book that combines the best elements of romance and erotica without robbing the love scene of its unique poignancy. Unfortunately, The Wild Side isn’t that book.