Without a doubt, Rye was the most fascinating erotica I’ve read since I started reading for Erotica Revealed. That may sound condescending, and I don’t intend it that way in the slightest – from the first page, I was captivated by the characters in Rye.
Though not my first brush with genderqueer, gender fluid, or trans stories – here I should shout out to D.C. Juris and Rachel Kramer Bussel – Rosenthal’s novella is the first full-length tale I’ve read. As such, there’s a lot more time to give to genderqueer and trans discussions, and Rosenthal does so with relish.
The voice of the tale, Matt, is a father, biologically male, poly, and identifies as genderqueer – and much of the discussions Matt has with other characters revolve around one or more of these facets of himself. His preferences for androgynous looking biological women – he likes bois, and is sometimes unsure of his own state when he finds himself with biological males who otherwise fit his preferences – is the source from which most of the narrative flows.
Matt’s relationship with the titular Rye – the boi in question – is more or less a love story, without the traditional trappings of gender and singular traditional relationships, and the road is all the more rich for the detours from the typical. Matt’s son Mischa, and a second boi – Rain – offer the other two pivot points for Matt. While Matt wants to be with Rye, Rye is in another city, and Matt doesn’t want to move away from Mischa, or move Mischa away from his mother. As Rye and Matt grow closer, there’s a hesitation on Rye’s part to relocate. Rain offers different complexities, and the revelations occur with a gentle sort of pacing.
Matt’s desires run a wide range beyond his predilection for androgynous bois, as a top, as a role-player, as a lover of “scenes,” and this is where the erotic content generally comes to the forefront. Here the writing can effectively descend into the near guttural, and where Matt’s discussions and thoughts about gender fluidity, gender roles, societal norms, and his desires are scholarly and literary in style, the sex is sweaty, sticky, and real. It’s effective, as I said, though it did smack me a bit out of the narrative now and then shifting from these two styles throughout Rye.
Sensually speaking, most of Rye delivers. I had to skip a few scenes with Rain – I’m not sure I have it in me to ever find role-play scenes where someone is in the role of an adolescent successfully erotic, rather than cringe-worthy – but the play of voyeur and exhibitionist, verbal play (often over the phone or computer) and Matt’s visits to SexxCamp were well written and dirty in the right ways. At the same time, I struggled with my own limitations while reading – I fumbled over the imperfect world of pronouns, struggling to recall which character was being referred to a few times – and found that Rye was so far removed from my own personal tastes that it was sometimes hard to connect with the boi as wholly as Matt did.
Rye is hard to pin down, and I can’t help but feel that’s purposeful. The discussions Matt has with others about genderqueer, identity, fluidity and polyamory are thought-provoking and interesting in a way that captivated. Rye is a wonderful foil for many of Matt’s points of view, and their discussions crack on the page. Mischa, and Matt’s relationship with his son, is another delight among the telling of the tale, and it was refreshing to find a character in an erotic novel who had a child – and all the mundane and life-affecting issues that come with a child – that wasn’t a walk-on/walk-off character. Rain, similarly, was an intriguing character, who begins as a mild mystery that is unveiled in pieces, but soon became my favourite piece of the overall puzzle that was Rye.
I’m glad I read this, which is likely the best thing I can say. I think there’s so much in this novella that made me stop and ponder and rethink some of my own points of view that I came out of it with a few new ways of looking at the world – which can never be a bad thing. If some of the scenes didn’t quite connect to me from an erotica point of view, that’s okay. For someone else, this might be just the right thing. In many ways, that’s something Matt exemplified: he knew what was right and what worked for him, and wasn’t too keen on labels or words to thereafter sweepingly identify what that was for everyone else. We should all be so willing to live outside the lines.