Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Finally, my sort-of-review of Dirty

Every once in a while a post springs up in the blogosphere on what words work best in fiction for naming female anatomy. Because, as the sentiment usually goes, there aren’t really any good names. In a way, it’s true. I have never been a fan of her sex, which seems only a tiny step up from her stuff, but it has the advantage of being innocuous and therefore more fitting when authors want to maintain a certain decorum.

Then there is folds with an adjective, usually soft or wet, and that’s okay, but you can’t rely on it exclusively. Vagina is out, and cunt tends to be pretty controversial, and clit is sort of too specific to name the entire region, and also tends to have baggage. Oh, right, then pussy, which people seem to be sort of split on.

Dirty by Megan Hart just blows that discussion clear out of the water. I was so impressed with this book! This is a book that goes to show it doesn’t matter what words an author uses, but how she uses them or how much she owns them. Like with a dress, you either wear a dress or a dress wears you. And Megan Hart wears the dress and totally works it. I mean, she goes for words like cunt and even clitoris, with total refreshing straightforwardness, and the baggage is nullified, because they are right in this book, and right for the narrator character, Elle.

This is the most honest book I’ve read all year. It’s honest in more than sex scenes. it’s honest in how the characters speak and behave, honest in how the plot works. Hemingway once said something like, he writes one true thing, and then another and another, and that’s how he writes a book. And I thought about it with this book. I couldn’t get enough of it.

The plot is deceptively simple, satisfying. Basically the main character Elle only wants to have anonymous sex with guys, and she especially enjoys it if they order her around. But Elle doesn’t want to ever have a boyfriend, and she never even tells her real name. Then she starts having sex with Dan, who really wants to get involved. Dan really likes her, and he struggles to give her the distance she wants. And through the book, you get the slowly and expertly-revealed story of why Elle feels the way she does. For the first time in her life, she come to terms with her past.

Sometimes, reading the story, I’d think a clichéd plot move was coming and be sort of sad, but then Megan Hart would do something way better. There is a subplot with a work friend and Elle’s life at the office where I worried that a lot, but I shouldn’t have.

Interestingly, I read this book around the same time as I read this essay on erotica cover watch around submission, female objectification and feminism, and it made an interesting counterpoint. I guess in a way if I fully discussed why here, it would be spoilery, but you could have an interesting argument about how the book was resolved, and I could see both sides of that argument.

In a recent comment here on the Thrillionth page, author Katie Reus worried that it would have a dark ending, one that, let’s just say, does not satisfy. Never fear, Katie!

Can I even recommend this book enough? It’s in my top three of the year. It’s dark in its own way for sure. Dark like a box of yummy chocolates.

Late-breaking link: For a fantastic discussion on using the word cunt, see this Kristina Lloyd essay


little alys said...

I've been hearing a many great things about Megan Hart, but I'm not quite sure if I'm ready for her (emotionally).
Stop recommending good books. i'm trying to save money, ya know. >_< In other words, great sort-of-review. ^_~

Anonymous said...

I'm so psyched that you liked it!

I love your point about honesty -- it's a big issue -- at what point does secrecy becomes dishonesty?

and thanks for the link to that great discussion, which I haven't had a minute ot read, but have bookmarked for AFTER the last day of classes...Friday (yippee).

Carolyn Crane said...

LA: thanks so much!! Someday you have to read this.

Jessica: Oh, interesting about secrecy. I just realized as a first person narrator, Elle does keep a lot from the reader until later, about her past. Though it feels natural, like it just didn't come up. But obviously that is very constructed.

Anonymous said...

Hey, your sort-of-review totally sold me on this book!

I've only read Tempted so far by her, but always meant to pick up more of her work. Now I know which one to get, so thanks!

AuthorM said...

"Like with a dress, you either wear a dress or a dress wears you. And Megan Hart wears the dress and totally works it."

I think this may be my all-time favorite quote about my work. Ever.



Carolyn Crane said...

Kmont: I'm so glad. I think you'll like this one. I may go for tempted next.

M: What a wonderful surprise to have you visit, and thanks for saying that!!

AuthorM said...

A friend sent me the link, and you know...sometimes it's not such a good thing to read stuff about yourself on the internet and I generally just don't. ;) But this was a pleasant surprise and much appreciated, so thank you!


Kwana said...

Thanks for the review. I'm intrigued.

Tracy said...

CJ - thank you so much for this sort-of-review. Like Kmont you've totally sold me on the book. I've looked at Hart's book a couple of times but have never bought. I'm thinking this should be my first.

Carolyn Crane said...

M: no, thank YOU!!

Kwana: Thanks for stopping by!

Tracy: oooh, I hope you like it. But I think you will.

Kati said...

You know, I hear over and over again how fabulous Megan Hart is, and I can't begin to think why I've never bought any of her stuff. This will be rectified immediately. I like the idea of a darker erotic story. Not dark like beating the hell out of each other, but dark, like coming from a dark place emotionally. Does that sum it up correctly, CJ? I just want to be sure I understand so I have the right expectations going into reading the book.

Oh - As always, you are diabolical with the "not" reviews. Damn it.

Carolyn Crane said...

Yes, you have that right. Nobody is beating on each other here, and the character is working out of a dark history, but with a minimum of navel gazing. Honestly, the stuff that is directly dealing with events that shaped her take a mimimum of page time, which is nice. It's all very here and now, and really about the relationship. And there is a lot of goodness. Oh, I think you'll like it! I hope. We have differed on a few things lately. But never contemporaries! I will be so interested to see what you think.

Joanna Chambers said...


I'm a-buying.

Anonymous said...

Dirty was the first book I read by Megan Hart. I thought it totally refreshing in its - like you called it - honesty. I just love this about her writing and her stories, and I like that she doesn't shy away from the "messy" things in life.

I'm really looking forward to her next one, Stranger.

Kristina Lloyd said...

Thanks for the link to my essay on Erotica Cover Watch! Much appreciated.

Can I shamelessly plug another piece you might be interested in? A while back, I wrote a post on Lust Bites called Cunt or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the C-word. It looks at the point you make, the lack of language for female genitalia (even the medical profession doesn't have a word), and also how this affects writers of erotica.

I love 'cunt' (and honesty) but you're absolutely right: the word needs to be used well and be suited to a voice for it to work. Black Lace (my publisher) are currently really nervous about cunt, presumably thinking erotic romance readers can't cope with it. So congrats to Megan for doing it dirty. Sounds an intriguing read.

AuthorM said...

Hey, Kristina. Interesting about Black Lace -- I used cunt in my novel with them, Taking Care of Business, and they had no problems with it. Maybe they're changing...?


Kristina Lloyd said...

Megan, Black Lace seem to change their mind on cunt every couple of minutes! Not so long ago, authors were being advised to tone it down (on many levels) when BL were pushing to break the US romance market. I tiptoed linguistically when I wrote Split (2007) (and, yes, the title's a play on female genitalia (among other things) - and, oh boy, did the marketing dept hate it!) but when I got the proofs, I thought, 'Sod it, this feels wrong' and added lots more cunt. The changes went through, no problem.

I'm not sure where they're at now. I know they're less invested in the US market (esp. paranormals) but they recently removed every instance of 'cunt' from a short by one of their most popular, well-established authors. Understandably, she was annoyed. Perhaps you caught them on a good day! Or perhaps they're going back to the way things were before the big US push. I do hope so because authors were faced with an awful lot of restrictions when that was going on, and I don't think soft and sensual is what readers want or expect from BL.

Carolyn Crane said...

T: Can't wait to see what you think

Taja:Ooh, I have to put that on my list!

Kristina: I just read that essay and it's excellent! Thanks for shamelessly plugging. It made me also sort of wonder why quim when out of fashion. And do you think quim and cunt both evolved out of Chaucer's queynte?

On the cunt-usage restriction, one battle at a time, huh? Once you get the covers handled...

AuthorM: I bet you're glad you didn't have that rule!

Ladytink_534 said...

I read one of her books before and I liked it a whole lot more than I thought I would.

AuthorM said...

Carolyn -- I dunno about others but "quim" has a historical or fantasy feel to me, and I've used it in my fantasy stories but wouldn't in my contemporaries. Also...I never got any rules when I submitted to BL, so... LOL!!! I guess I really lucked out. Wrote the story, submitted it (with my co-writer Lauren Dane) -- Adam Neville bought it, we had a few minor changes and that was it, we were done! I guess I didn't know how good I had it. LOL!


Kristina Lloyd said...

Hey, Megan - you mean Adam never even wailed, 'But it's got to have a human head!'?

CJ, thanks for liking my piece and for the link. I don't know the etymology of quim but I'm pretty sure it's not connected to 'queynte'. The origin of cunt is impossible to pin down. If I remember correctly, Chaucer's queynte is thought to be a pun on cunt (maybe 'coynte' back then?) Some claim the word has Germanic origins, some say Latin, some Indo-European. And I'm pretty sure there was a time when cunt wasn't deemed offensive and written evidence exists of it being used as medical terminology. I don't know when it became so taboo but I'm all in favour of using it as both a sex word and a swear word.

Anonymous said...

When Megan sent me Dirty to crit I remember thinking, "holy crapdoodle, this is so amazing, it's going to change EVERYTHING for her."

It's one of my very favorites of all her books.

BTW, on cunts - I use cunt, when the scene warrants, all the time. With Berkley, with Black Lace, with Spice, with Samhain - no one has ever asked me to tone it down so I guess I'm lucky that way!

samantha.1020 said...

Great review! I've already added this to my TBR list :)