When I was assigned to review Broken, I quivered with anticipation. Here was a serious BDSM novel, or so I’d heard, written by a lifestyle Domina with years of experience in the scene. I expected that her book would not only get the details right, but would succeed in conveying the emotional impact of a D/s relationship—the intimacy of submission, the intensity of enduring pain in order to serve one’s master or mistress, the thrill of topping a willing slave.
Alas, I was sorely disappointed. Broken does indeed describe punishments and pain in lovingly graphic terms. However, the psychological dynamics behind these relatively extreme scenes are distorted or missing, to the point where I sometimes found the book offensive.
Jessica, the book’s protagonist, is a spoiled rich girl gradually working her way toward a Ph.D. in psychology while shopping, eating out and driving around in her Mercedes. When her father commits suicide, Jessica learns that she is suddenly penniless. In order to survive and continue with her graduate work, she is forced to drop her preferred research topic and advisor, and beg for a T.A. or R.A. position from Professor Lawrence, the creepy head of the department. The Professor refuses unless she also agrees to serve him as his collared slave. Desperate, Jessica agrees. She is savagely beaten and abused, by the Professor as well as his gorgeous subs Felicia and Sandra. The Professor requires her to submit not only to him, but also to his party guests. In addition, he finances his lavish lifestyle by renting her out to his kinky colleagues, giving her a pittance of the proceeds.
Jessica endures all this, but only because of the money. She despises her master and all the other men who use her. She cheats, arranging private engagements with her most devoted customers, delighting in the fact that she’s getting the better of her sleazy Dom. Although she does appreciate the Professor’s intelligence and connections as he works with her on her dissertation research, she can’t wait to be free of him. Her experiences in the BDSM world gradually lead her to the understanding that she is a natural dominant herself. As she begins to exercise sexual power over others, including a delightful little blonde named Dora whom she steals from the Professor, she finally experiences some pleasure and satisfaction.
Broken is competently written, but the characters are unsympathetic to the point of being repellent. Jessica is scheming, selfish and judgmental. She takes advantage of everyone, whenever she can. She has no sense of devotion or even responsibility to her master. Her servitude to Professor Lawrence does not break her, as suggested by the novel’s title. It merely hardens her.
Meanwhile, I will admit that, apart from his intelligence, the Professor offers nothing to inspire devotion in a slave. He is bald, short, dumpy and impotent. He too is selfish, and genuinely cruel, caring nothing for the welfare or happiness of his subs. Worst of all, he is disgustingly mercenary. His beautiful slaves are nothing but his meal tickets. Meanwhile, he uses the lure of money to enslave them.
For the most part, I found the “sex” scenes in Broken completely unarousing. Certainly, Jessica is never aroused. She is nothing but a body to be beaten, pierced, bound, whipped, raped. She knows this as well as her partners do. Her primary desire is to get through the scene somehow, avoiding pain as much as possible. She and her tormenters share nothing, no connection, no understanding, no sympathy.
This changes toward the end of the book, as Jessica recognizes her sadistic tendencies and acquires her own slave in Dora. At this point, some sparks fly, precisely because Dora has willingly and lovingly submitted to Jessica. Even Jessica melts a bit when confronted by such perfect devotion. Alas, at this point, the damage was done, at least for this reader. I shook my head as I watched Jessica turn into a Domme just as money-hungry and superficial as her former master.
I may be naive, but I felt that this book violated some of the core tenets of the BDSM lifestyle. Jessica’s enslavement stretches the meaning of consensuality nearly to breaking. Yes, Jessica agrees to become the Professor’s slave, but her submission is borne of desperation. Furthermore, it is not genuine. She shames the collar that she wears by cheating her master.
Not that the Professor deserves her devotion or respect, of course. In fact, he is nothing but a well-educated pimp.
I will admit that there were one or two scenes in this book that engendered a kind of queasy excitement, despite the novel’s emotional sterility. Two and a half pages devoted to needle play had me squirming and wondering whether I would, could, endure that, at my master’s hands. I had strange dreams afterwards. For Jessica though, this was not a test of submission, not a peak experience, not a pushing of limits. It was merely one more thing to be gotten through, for the sake of the money.Broken left me feeling cheated and depressed, hoping that it was not, in fact, an accurate picture of the BDSM lifestyle that so fascinates me.
Of late I have had the pleasure of reading several excellent books for Erotica Revealed. They showed insight about the possible meaning of sex and eroticism as well as a measure of literary invention, unique style and structural grace. Dommemoir by I. G. Frederick is not one of them.
Dommemoir is a fictional autobiography of a dominatrix interlaced in equal parts with that of her slaves. The title itself is a clumsy construction in the mouth and a curious butchery of the French words from which it is cobbled. This structure of the book we presume is adopted to give us both ends of the lash, a convention that has been observed many times before. The narrative leapfrogs back and forth through their evolution from farm team flagellants to their ascendancy to becoming one of the great dommes of Greater New York; and her slave, respectively. This is Trumplike hyper-consumerism in the book’s effort to be trendy. An endless colloquy of details about branding the slaves supplements the plot.
If these amphibious leaps of focus from chapter to chapter were not annoying enough, we also get bulletins on her problems in acquiring suitably advantageous real estate deals in a bubble market. Her narrating slave by contrast has the dour tone of Lurch, but lacks his sense of comic irony entirely. He will lick anything he is told to lick but always with the same sense of unhygienic gloom. No one here is having much fun sexually or otherwise, including the reader.
The entire work has a petit bourjeois air about it as of someone trying to look couture while shopping at Target. The domme’s roots tend to show. As a headline it would read, ”Kinky Long Island Housewife Tells All. Bear Market Buttocks Tremble!” or on TV, “The Real North Shore Housewives of Kink.” That would be fine if the book had the deftness of camp, but it takes itself with the deadly earnestness of a community college creative writing class. The domme for lack of style comes off as a self-indulgent slob.
The simplest way to illustrate that is to quote Frederick who writes, “Lady threw back her head and laughed, reminding me of chimes tinkling together on a windy day. Kitty giggled. I just knelt in front of them, my hands trembling.” No wonder the poor fellow is trembling. He has spent quite some time licking pussy only to find himself surrounded by a roomful of hoary cliché’s. The worst of these bromides is a woman who “throws back her head.”
Think about that image. Either it is some sort of cornball gesticulation left over from the silent screen, or it is an activity best left to Ann Boleyn after the axe has fallen. Ladies whose laughter reminds one of “chimes on a windy day” have some sort of throat disorder if you ask me. Kitty quite rightly giggles at all this hammy stuff though it seems likely to cost her bottom some abuse; and the orally gifted slave? He just sits there with his hands trembling? Hands trembling? Why? Is this some sort of cunnilingually induced palsy?
The book appears not to have been edited, as it is full of clumsy sentence structure and fumbled word choice. The characters have no affective connection other than their sexual rituals and self-indulgent obsessions. Fanny Press bills itself as “Erotica with an Edge!” but reading Dommemoir is a desultory chore.