I like romance and boys loving boys in my books.
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I had to remind myself a few many times of the following, while reading this book:
1. Lisa Henry/Cari Waites is a nice person. She warned her readers that this book was going to be a mind-fuck. She wasn't kidding.
2. The scenes in the book aren't real - this is fictional.
3. The characters aren't real - they're all fictional.
4. It's okay to cry in rage and in fear and in sheer terror.
The characters, the scenes, the terrible things happening in this book aren't real. This is the stuff of nightmares. And when I approached the words on page from that perspective, for a few moments I could pretend it was maybe okay to be oddly fascinated by the horrific happenings inside. That, because this is a work of fiction, it was maybe okay to not recoil at the terror within.
And then I realized that while this book may be fiction, may be just the dark imaginings of a terrific writer, the stories told here do happen. Behind closed doors, in the house next door, in basements hidden from prying eyes, out of desperation, and born from the sick minds of sociopaths and psychopaths - this shit happens.
Human trafficking is a real thing. It's not entirely unfeasible that a compulsive gambler would allow his barely legal son to sell himself to pay the debts, and then pay the price for doing so. It's not completely out of the realm of possibility that a doctor in a mental hospital abuses his patients after dark for his own sexual gratification while keeping them drugged and using his position of power for evil. It's not out of the question that a cuckolded stepfather cooks up a plan to seduce his cheating wife's son to exact his revenge. And snuff films do exist. Young men are taken from their poor families, for one reason or another, to become slaves of rich men, forced to live their short lives in fear, terror, and unimaginable pain, lost in their minds, grateful for the smallest reprieve, completely exposed, exploited, and then discarded like trash.
What the author is doing here is exploring the deepest and darkest of what one could call sexual fantasies, executed by men who seem to have no conscience and feel no guilt. Sex isn't part of a romance, it is power, and love does not exist.
But they aren't fantasies for some people in this world.
This is the stuff of nightmares, but the nightmares are real.
What this book did to me was make me feel dirty, sick to my stomach, and disgusted. But it also made me see the psychology behind the actions of the victims, how Stockholm Syndrome works, how a victim can get lost in his own head when deprived of even the most basic human needs, how a person can take a good hard look at himself and choose the easy way out for fear of his own depravity.
I'm not sure I'm explaining this the way I want to, and I don't want to put anyone off reading this book, because I think it will likely appeal to many of my friends, as long as you understand that what you're feeling while reading is most likely what the author intended you to feel.
And don't forget - while these are fictional characters, and fictional scenes, and fictional outcomes, and this is truly the stuff of nightmares, there are people in this world for whom this isn't fictional at all. There are people for whom the terror and the fear and the pain are very real, indeed.
Which hopefully explains my reluctance to rate this book. On one hand, I want to decry it for creating a fantasy out of real life, of exploiting, for entertainment purposes, the sick and horrifying things people do to other people. And on the other hand, I want to laud this author for the exquisite writing skills displayed here, for her unflinching look at the depravity that exists within the human race, and for making me question some of my reactions to what I was reading.
So, no rating. Heed the author's warning. The stories within are one complete mind-fuck after another, and she wasn't kidding when she told us that. There are no happy endings here, in any of the 4 short stories in this book, and love is at best a delusion. There was only one story that made me feel that it ended sort of on a good note, and that was the story of David, the stepfather who 'seduces' his wife's barely legal, virginal son. A good note, albeit only if you "tilt your head and squint".
** I received a free copy of this book from its publisher via Netgalley. A positive review was not promised in return. **