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    Smart and Heartbtreaking

    This is gentler, more emotionally complex, more subtle and less flatly pornographic than what passes for “erotica” in most fiction/film. It is more about who feels what because of whom than it is about who puts what where. (It is, perhaps, more in keeping with the root of that word, “eros,” which refers either to the god of love, according to the ancient Greeks (Eros, who is like the Roman god Cupid), or to, in Freud’s terms, the “life instinct.” In those terms, yes, it’s erotica for sure.) In fact, I’d call this “feminist erotica”, in that it does not rely on dehumanizing the participants for its effects. In fact, the narrator and the women with whom she deals are allowed to be relentlessly human: confused, inarticulate about their feelings at times, proud, sometimes in the wrong, sometimes behaving badly, but still stubbornly doing it, complex, sympathetic, smart-and-stupid, real women. Plus, they’re too old and their bodies too lived-in to be porn vixens. Zia, the ex-wife who comes closest to being a villain in this story, is given the same attention and intelligence in her portrayal: the reader understands her more as a complex, angry, hurt, relatively powerless woman trying the only avenues she knows to get what she needs, rather than as a villain. I think of her more as the narrator’s antagonist; she’s the fly in the ointment, sure, but a sympathetic fly. In fact, the only characters here who even skirt—excuse the pun—the edges of being stock are the story’s two most relevant men (the narrator’s ex-husband and her current lover), a turnabout kind of condition that could feel quite Ha-Ha-Now-YOU-be-a-substanceless-trope-for-a-change-satisfying though not necessarily right, but the novel avoids this trap, stays feminist, and fleshes these guys out, too. They’re not the simple villains we’re inclined to make of them, there’s no just desserts here, or grand ironies; there’s just real, complex people getting by in the ways they know how. These characters, in other words, are not paper dolls—one always has the feeling, when reading, of having stumbled on a secret, of being let in to spy on something real and fraught and difficult that will go on whether or not one’s watching. But you can’t, in the end, help but watch anyway.
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    Enjoyed the reading a lot. Such a different book. Loved the social plots in present times. Highly recommend.

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