Harlequin’s new imprint Spice, is the stalwart publisher’s entry into the hot, and increasingly bloated, erotic fiction marketplace. If erotic fiction and Harlequin—the publishing home of countless 30 year old, virginal heroines and conflict that can always be resolved in a precise number of pages with a ring and a pregnancy—seem an unlikely and uneasy partnership, that’s because they are. Spice’s aim is to offer the women clamoring for super hot, non-traditional reads, erotic fiction that isn’t bogged down with all that sex. The result is a line of books that shines bright lights into shadowed corners, smoothes out the rough edges, and generally feels like a favorite strip club that is now run by Disneyland.
Spice’s latest offering is M.J. Rose’s Lying in Bed, the story of a sexually repressed woman, Marlowe Wyatt, whose inability to move on from an emotionally damaging teenage relationship, handicaps her adult relationships and stunts her emotional growth. Marlowe funnels her sexuality into Lady Chatterley’s Letters, an erotic letter writing service, through which she can write about sex and love for her clients while leaving her issues and hang-ups untouched.
Soon enough, Marlowe’s cocoon is threatened by a new client, Gideon Brown, who makes Marlowe feel safe enough to let go. Things between them unfold slowly and subtly—the opposite of what would be expected of a more traditional relationship in erotic fiction—as Marlowe confronts her inhibitions, one by one, and overcomes them. Unfortunately, Gideon is the most obvious, and predictable, opposite of the man who so badly damaged Marlowe: her stepbrother Cole. Cole’s a bad-boy, soul-stealing, art world darling, while Gideon’s a sensitive to every emotion fellow not given to bouts of prima donna-isms. That said, Gideon is still largely unexplored and lacking in motivation for his actions, such as when he insists on being part of Marlowe’s creative process, and thus his actions often feel forced to fit the story rather than organic.
Marlowe’s journey is at its most provocative and daring with the inclusion of the relationship with Cole. What happened between Marlowe and Cole as teenagers isn’t the least bit incestuous, as their relationship, while sexual, was never sibling-like. Still, what troubles the novel is that the damage Marlowe feels is not from the fall out of having an affair with her stepbrother (which, even though it isn’t incestuous, is no less taboo and verges on audacious), which would likely cause long lasting inter-family strife, but that she feels emotionally betrayed by Cole. It would seem that there are issues here Rose is simply not exploring that would have caused larger – and more interesting – strife, both internal and external.
Despite the book’s sexual nature, with Marlowe crafting erotic tales and a sexual past that starred her stepbrother, Lying in Bed, is oddly circumspect with sex. Marlowe’s letters, even when she recites them story-like to Gideon, lack heat. It’s this deficiency of truly erotic content that is where the purpose of Spice, and its line of books, comes into question. What is the point of erotic fiction that isn’t erotic, that is no more sexual or sensual than other books on the shelf? Why see a niche in the marketplace and offer a product that doesn’t fill it?
What separates Rose from the vast majority of writers tackling romance and erotic fiction today is that she is a professional writer (this delineation has nothing to do with monetary compensation). The end result is a slick, tight production, written in a sparse style that effectively distances Lying in Bed from genre fiction or Harlequin’s usual fare. It is perhaps this higher level of skill that demands the work accomplish more than it does. The book is a largely interior, character driven piece, yet it fails to plumb the reader’s emotional depths. Intelligent, erotic fiction needs to be evocative, and should force readers to examine themselves. Lying in Bed doesn’t and as such, feels as though it plateaus before reaching its goal.
You can visit M.J. here and purchase this book here and here.