This summer's most-talked-about book is of course the e-novel with the grey silk necktie on the cover. I've read reviews, of course, and read essays about it, though I haven't read the novel itself. It's already spawned a host of imitators; I do know that much. I can't say I have much interest in reading either the original or the imitations. I can't imagine being taken with either the romance or the s/m.
My own vision of s/m romance doesn't involve humiliation or psychological games. There seems to be an ongoing theme here, in original and imitations both, of the wealthy and powerful male lead using his money to isolate and control the female lead. And of course so much of the s/m does seem to involve exactly what I dislike in the professional s/m world: the idea of "breaking" the submissive, of destruction of will and personality. A friend who worked once as a professional domme boasts off-handedly that she can reduce "hipster boys and bankers" to "simpering bitches" in a handful of minutes. That's something that fails to interest me in any way. It's something I can't imagine wanting to do to a lovely girl.
I understand the underlying structure of the romance in these books. The secretly-tormented brooding hero is to be redeemed by the heroine's love and sacrifice. Her willingness to endure humiliation is offered up to show the hero the meaning of true love. I just don't have any interest in that.
I have no problem with the hero having at least some money. An s/m romance requires some money, since money buys time and privacy and accoutrements. But is it necessary that the male lead be a billionaire CEO? There should be money for travel, and for accoutrements. But too much money is a bludgeon, and it's always used to force the heroine into absolute dependence on the hero. Now I know that I've always said the s/m is an aspirational thing, that it involves stylish things. But there's a kind of malicious deus ex machina quality to the hero's wealth in these novels. There's a distinction here, though it's one I haven't quite finalized.
I'm not sure an s/m romance works in a university dorm room. Having to remove two weeks' worth of dirty laundry and three weeks of class assignments from a dorm bed before you can tie a lovely girl up does seem to be a mood-killer. I'm very certain that s/m romance doesn't work in a blue-collar setting. But there does come a point where the idea of wealth becomes too overbearing, where it overshadows the idea of elegance and style with sheer materiality.
There is an s/m romance to be done. I can see that. But it needn't be about humiliation and redemption, and Stockholm Syndrome doesn't figure in it. The hero can be older than the heroine--- after all, I do encourage lovely young girls to prefer older men ---and can have some money without being an embodiment of corporate wealth and power. The heroine can be young and relatively inexperienced, but there shouldn't be a sense of her being victimized. There won't be a ridiculous "sex contract" (something that the original novel has bequeathed to all its progeny). There's no reason why the heroine--- intelligent, thoughtful, someone not unaware that s/m exists ---can't come to the hero, can't keep putting herself in his path, precisely because she's interested in adventures or experiences, because she's willing to try something that's new and unknown and just a bit scary, something she's read about. There's no reason, too, why he has to want to control her life or treat her as a pinned butterfly. The sex can be intense, transgressive, explicit. That's all fine. But, again, there's no reason the sex--- and here the riding whip and the candle wax and the blindfolds are included ---should involve humiliation, no reason why it shouldn't be about measured rituals and formal games, and certainly no reason why the sex can't be done without the whole "breaking the girl" thing.
I don't mind a hint of the Gothic. There are certainly fashion and architecture styles that suggest Gothic romance that I do like. Yet...the s/m romance I'd want to read is a romance that's not based on the idea of suffering and redemption. There's something to be said for the two lead characters sitting on a stoop and kissing before the hero takes the young lady into his brownstone to be blindfolded and whipped. This summer's novel and all its epigones really don't have the kind of aesthetic that appeals to me. I'd wear the grey silk tie from the cover, I think, but I can't imagine an s/m romance where there's no sense of exhilaration and adventure, where the girl doesn't stand up on the brownstone steps and take the hero's hand and pull him toward the door. "Show me," she'd say. "Show me." That's something that would have to be there.