Review: Market for Love, Jamaica Layne

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In which my inner bitch is unleashed upon the blogosphere.

Previously published as an ebook with New Concepts Publishing (yes, that New Concepts, the one of the web furor earlier this year at  Karen Knows Best and Dear Author) Market for Love is published under the Cheek imprint, a division of Random House, which is “about female pleasure. …but it is also about the pleasures of pampering, shopping, dressing up, having great times, and enjoying all that young life has to offer.” Chick lit meets erotica, basically.

The plot of this book is simple: a stock analyst has sex with her new boss without knowing who he is. Mortified and concerned for her job, she tries to put a stop to the affair, but he demeans and harasses her repeatedly in the work place, uses questionable means to obtain personal information about her, and stalks her at her home. She eventually gives in, only to have him decide he has to push her away in order to save her from himself. They declare their mutual love. The end.

My biases: I need to admit to two things that may well have caused my mere lack of enjoyment to morph into strong dislike. First, when I was asked to review it, I Googled the author, whose name was not familiar to me. It turns out that Jamaica Layne is a pen name for a playwright whose works about women have been recognized by the National Women’s Studies Association and performed at universities (often sponsored by Women’s Studies programs) around the country. I wasn’t stupid enough to expect “empowerment erotica”, but I confess that the sting of this book was more painful due to how little I expected the anti-woman sensibility which animates it.

Second, on Monday of last week, I found out that one of my male students was stalking and harassing one of my female students. I know both of them fairly well, so this situation was upsetting on more than one level. The female student was moved, with a security detail, to a safe house, her studies abandoned, her sanity in shambles. Restraining orders aside, she cannot walk across the quad without fear, day or night. Suffice it to say that when I poured myself a glass of wine Friday night and sat down to enjoy some light contemporary romance, I was not in the mood for “sexual harassment erotica”.

Without further ado, what’s not to like about Market For Love?

1. The sexual harassment. Can office romances be hot? Sure. Do I think no romance should never be written that features an alpha boss and his or her employee? No. I really liked The Raven Prince, by Elizabeth Hoyt, for example. But the way this is written, Miranda is a victim, pure and simple. Her body “betrays her”, sure, but in her head, from her first meeting with Max (when, a complete stranger, he chastises her in public at a coffee shop), he makes her feel only negative things: scared, sad, angry, embarrassed, incompetent, powerless. When Miranda rebuffs Max, trying to establish some boundaries, he reminds her that he’s the boss and she can be fired at any moment, referring to her privately as “a stone-cold frigid bitch.”

2. The characters. Max is the classic alpha of yesteryear, the reincarnation of Steve Morgan of Sweet Savage Love, except that unlike Steve, who was at least self-reliant, Max has a self-pity streak a mile wide. His lowest moment? Before he was a millionaire, “He had driven a used two-door Honda to work and was miserable.” (Poor baby. Let me loan you my used two-door Volkswagen. At least it’s European!) To him, women are “pretty accessories”, whom he uses as they deserve, for “sex, entertainment, or just boring dinner conversation” (with your subtle, nuanced view of human relations, I wonder whose fault that is, Max?). Nothing more to say there. Except that he has a deeply romantic way of coming through when the chips are down and his affair with Miranda is revealed:

“Do whatever you want with the information I just gave you, Joe. Just get the national media talking about something other than how much of a skanky whore the beautiful woman I love is. That’s all I ask.”

Do I need any more romance in 2008? I think not. I’m full up until at least 2009 with that line.

But what about Miranda? She’s a high powered, capable executive, right? Well, you tell me. She has a very bad morning, losing millions for her customers, and falls apart, walking around her office complex like a zombie with raccoon eyes, weeping copiously. At a meeting, by just looking at her, Max nearly brings her to orgasm, making her flustered and completely incoherent. And here’s a typical Max/Miranda interaction at a “business lunch” when he propositions her yet again:

“I’m afraid that’s impossible, Max. I’m leaving.”

“Not if I can help it.”

The nerve of this guy, manhandling her in a public place! Miranda was furious. She struggled to free herself of Max’s grasp. “Let go of my arm, asshole,” she whispered.

The couple in the booth across the aisle started to stare. Miranda felt her face flush — but not from embarrassment. As much as she hated to admit it, being manhandled by a handsome CEO in a public restaurant was damn sexy.

… but, before she could move a inch, Max tossed some cash on the table and half-led, half-dragged Miranda out of the restaurant. She stumbled behind him, teetering on her kitten heels as she struggled to keep up.”

But how does Miranda, our tough executive, deal with all of this?: “After all that had gone on with Max and her job over the past week, she decided she needed a new wardrobe.”

As an aside, the phrase “kitten heels” is mentioned so often that I looked them up. They are sexy low heels, with a thin, set-in heel. More here. As I was reading, I was thinking of a fun drinking game: do a shot every time (a) Miranda has an orgasm (she tends to have 4 in a row), (b) the phrase “kitten heels” appears in the text, or (c) the word “squidgy” is used. However, I decided by about page 30 that to do so would be to encourage alcohol poisoning and desisted.

3. The sex. What if the reader is not an obviously uptight politically correct academic? Is the sexxoring at least good? I’m not an expert in erotica, but I think not. And here’s why. (a) For erotica, there ain’t much sex. There’s a lot of mental lusting and only a few (like 3) actual sex scenes. (b) The sex is only sexy if you like arrogant men, genitals that have personalities which rival the hero and heroine’s, and purple prose. Here’s an example which showcases all three:

“Is this what you’re looking for, sweetheart?” he said, pointing at his very healthy, very prominent and obviously very excited prick.

“Yes.” Miranda breathed, feeling her nether parts swell and sweat with heady anticipation, her already throbbing clitoris screaming for the pull and push of his hard thick long member against it. The folds of her sex blossomed like a wet lily.

I fully admit I was not in the mood for the plotline of this book when I read it, but I don’t think I possess whatever mood might be necessary to appreciate writing like this.

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