by Lilah Pace
Series: Asking for It #1
Published by Berkley on June 2, 2015
Sub-Genre/Theme: Contemporary, Erotic
Format: ARC, Ebook
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I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley.
“This is who I am. This is what I want. Now I need a man dangerous enough to give it to me.”
Graduate student Vivienne Charles is afraid of her own desires—ashamed to admit that she fantasizes about being taken by force, by a man who will claim her completely and without mercy. When the magnetic, mysterious Jonah Marks learns her secret, he makes an offer that stuns her: they will remain near-strangers to each other, and meet in secret so that he can fulfill her fantasy.
Their arrangement is twisted. The sex is incredible. And—despite their attempts to stay apart—soon their emotions are bound together as tightly as the rope around Vivienne’s wrists. But the secrets in their pasts threaten to turn their affair even darker...
I’m just going to preface this review by posting a mild spoiler alert upfront, as well as a trigger warning. The publisher has attached this note to the book description:
Reader Advisory: Asking for It deals explicitly with fantasies of non-consensual sex. Readers sensitive to portrayals of non-consensual sex should be advised.
After I finished reading Asking for It, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Even so, I struggled with the right words to describe the book, because it’s so emotionally rich and complex while dealing with such sensitive subject matter.
Vivienne is an artist and graduate student. For years, she has kept a secret: her sexual fantasies involve rape. We learn fairly early on that Vivienne was raped as a teenager. As an adult, she’s seeing a therapist, who has helped Vivienne work through her feelings of guilt and shame. Yet still, the fact that she fixates on rape fantasies troubles her deeply. She continues to struggle with the feeling that she’s somehow damaged beyond repair.
When Vivienne meets Jonah, a scientist and professor, it’s almost like it’s meant to be. Through an awkward and mortifying turn of events, Vivienne’s secret is revealed in the presence of Jonah. Later, Jonah approaches Vivienne and reveals his own secret: his sexual fantasies involve rape as well, but with him as the aggressor.
The two of them come to an arrangement that they’ll explore their fantasies together while somehow remaining mostly strangers. At first, their agreement is almost businesslike in nature. There’s no contract signed, but they do speak candidly and with a specific level of trust. It’s an enormous risk for both of them, especially since the scenario could go horribly wrong. But after their first encounter, it’s clear that they understand each other deeply.
So begins the relationship, which is anything but typical. The games between Vivienne and Jonah escalate as time goes on and as they gain more of each other’s trust. As this happens, the lines between their original arrangement and their evolving relationship blur considerably. The intention was never to become attached or emotionally involved, but that’s ultimately what occurs.
Throughout all of this, Vivienne is faced with her complicated family relationships. When she was raped as a teenager, she confided in her mother, who didn’t believe her. She also attempted to tell her sister, but denial overruled Vivienne’s truth. So it’s easy to see why Vivienne closes herself off emotionally and isn’t willing to share all her secrets with the people in her life, even her closest friends.
In turn, Jonah comes across as aloof and distant to those who don’t know him well. But over time, Vivienne learns how wrong that perception is. Even after their brutal encounters, Jonah treats Vivienne with the utmost care and concern for her safety, both physical and emotional. There are so many dichotomies happening here: Vivienne’s needs versus her shame, Jonah’s seeming coldness versus his tenderness. In fact, that’s a huge part of Vivienne’s journey throughout the book–her learning how to reconcile her desire now with the traumatic events of her past.
When Vivienne and Jonah finally open up and tell each other their stories, it feels like catharsis. But Jonah’s got demons of his own. They’re hinted at in the beginning of the book and revealed toward the end. Although Jonah has to step back from Vivienne as well as their deepening relationship, I know that it’s necessary for him–but it’s also temporary. At least, that’s what I’m betting on while I await the sequel.
I want to be clear that this book is not controversial for the sake of controversy alone. It addresses some very vital issues related to trauma, shame, and recovery. The scenes between Vivienne and her therapist are especially revelatory because we get to see Vivienne’s progression between her sense of self-loathing in the beginning of the book toward more of an acceptance of who she is by the end. She’s still not fully there yet, but she’s getting closer. I like to think that Jonah will get there, too. I’d be really interested to read the story from his point of view, if only to give a clearer understanding of what shaped him into the person he has become. Vivienne has started to release some of the shame she had felt for so long; perhaps, in time, Jonah will let go of his as well.
After I finished the book, I thought about it for days upon days afterward. This book will not be for everyone, but it handles the subject matter so well and I highly recommend it.
Rating: 5 stars