AS SHE'S TOLD is a book that has been recommended to me multiple times over the years because somehow I became everyone's pervert friend who reads the really weird shit that you wouldn't be caught dead reading on a bus. It's probably because of that one summer four years ago when I read all the lactation erotica for science, because if it wasn't going to be me, who was it going to be? I rest my case. Be careful what you read and write in front of your friends, guys. That kind of shit follows you for life, and you'll have people periodically hitting you up on Twitter saying, "Hey, Nenia, remember that one time you compared the veins in someone's dick to garlands wrapped around a Christmas tree?" and asking if you've read any books about sounding.
This is the-- I hesitate to call it a "love story" because I personally don't feel it is-- story of a relationship between Anders and Maia. Anders and Maia are dominant and submissive, respectfully, but neither of them are getting what they want out of their relationships. One day they connect on an IRC room and Anders is intrigued by Maia's speculations on the limitations of being a submissive within a scene. When they meet in person at a munch, it's not just a mesh of kinks, but also a mesh of minds as they talk well into the evening about everything from economics to politics, and can hardly wait until they get home before tearing off each others' clothes, despite promising to take it slow.
For the first 50% of the book or so, I was pretty into it. I like BDSM erotica-- the actual stuff, mind, not the stupid stuff like FSoG-- and even if it's not something I personally find attractive, I still think it's interesting. I don't think I've read a book that wasn't captive/mafia erotica that's about a master/slave relationship, so I was pretty confused and interested to see what would drive someone to want that and how it would work. I'll admit I wasn't entirely sold on Maia's giving Anders carte blanche to do anything he liked with her upfront, regardless of whether or not she liked it. Especially when this begins to edge into body modifications (pretty invasive piercings, including some to lock her up down there), pet play (and not sexy cat or unicorn girl pet play, but, like, "eat out of this dog bowl, she-bitch" or "pull me around in this cart while wallowing in the mud and getting drool all over your naked boobs, you sexy dappled gray"- type stuff, which is waaaaay out of the realm of human interest for me, even hucows have more dignity than that). When he invites his friends over for a "wine and humiliate and violate my human slave" party, that was kind of the last straw for me.
I think part of the reason I had such a hard time with this book is because the characters are so obnoxious and so pretentious. It has the same disdain for scenes and safe words that Maya Banks's characters did in her erotica books, in that they want to make everything a "lifestyle" and disdain the people who only want to do it in the bedroom. 1) no kink-shaming, please, and 2) I feel like that's a fundamental misunderstanding of why people do BDSM in the first place. Sure, some of it is probably a game, but I think a healthy sex life also plays an important role in physical and psychological well-being, so if that is what people want and need to do, and it isn't hurting anyone, and it's between two consenting adults (emphasis on both those words), then who cares how serious it is? Honestly, this is like the sexual equivalent of nerds showing each other up at Comic Con and being all, "I'm a better nerd than you because I'm so much more hardcore!" Being the most out there doesn't make you better than anyone else, and I wasn't really 100% sold on the premise that Maia was into this, considering how much anxiety and uncertainty she experienced over the novel.
I also really wasn't all that keen on the way women are viewed in this book. We're told constantly how small and petite and perky Maia is. She's 5'0" with a perfect rack. Anders on the other hand is 6'7", which felt... I don't know. Slightly scary considering some of the things he does to her in this book. I'm 5'10" and I've dated a 6'8" guy before and he fucking dwarfed me. He could pick me up and was almost a full foot taller than I was, and I am not a small lady. In fact, I'm often one of the tallest people in the room. A guy that tall could pick up a girl who's 5'0" and carry her around under one arm like a human basket, which, of course, he does. When she's not in her crate (yes), or wallowing around in the litter box he's built for her in their bathroom (yes), or sleeping in the little pony stall he has for her on his bucolic farm (yes). Maia is held up as an ideal-- which, okay, she is, she's his kink match made in heaven-- but all the other female characters in this book are awful. The jealous wives size up her perfect rack and waist-trained waist with jealousy. The female Dom in this book was a bitch, and not in the fun way but, like, an actual bitch and kind of rapey. Everyone in this book was mean and disrespectful and smarmy, and I never really got that vibe you get in good BDSM books where there's objectification and humiliation, but the recipient is cherished, in their own way. Maia even goes on a rant about how men are better and how women are bossy and how she doesn't like their bodies and how they feel wrong, which okay, Ms. Zero on the Kinsey Scale, don't hold back, tell us how you really feel. It's weird too because in the beginning of the book she talks about how she's a feminist and how it's hard to reconcile her desires with what she was brought up to believe, but it isn't even that she doesn't apply those tenets to herself but still believes other women should have and uphold them-- she does nothing in this book but hate on other women and bring them down.
Lastly, I didn't like how claustrophobic and isolated Maia's homelife was. She has a job but considers throwing it all away to be with Anders in the beginning, when she barely knows him. She's happy to give up control of all her money and isolate herself from all her friends. She consents to this in the beginning, once, because she doesn't want choice, but she doesn't really have any hobbies either. Unless Master lets her read books in between chores and beatings, she just lies in the kennel or by the door, waiting for him to return. I saw another review where someone was questioning what is going to happen to Maia when her tits are sagging and she's got nothing on her resume but Human Scrabble Table, and I thought, "Good point fellow individual brimming with good sense, what then?" I mean, I get that this is truly some people's kink and I get that, but it's hardly sustainable. You've got to be brimming with privilege to be able to give up so much and spend so much time at home with a Master to take care of you full time. This is not a fetish that caters to people who are lower income and struggling. Anders blows thousands (probably tens of thousands) of dollars customizing his home and ordering handmade locksmithy type stuff for Maia (even when they've just started dating). It's brimming with privilege, and it feels weird, because they spend so much time talking about the lower income people of Canada while literally blowing cash on artisinal chastity belts, and meanwhile Maia is fretting about how to eat out of her dish without getting her hair in her food. What a hobby. He times her internet sessions, has cameras in the home to monitor her, and doesn't let her deviate from her acceptable work route unless she calls him in advance. I just... why.
I think this is an interesting book because it definitely goes to the extremes of erotica and there's a lot of character development and detailed sex scenes that go into the day-to-day minutiae of people who have made kink their lifestyle. When I was working on a kinky book of my own, I actually read a blog post by a woman in a TPE relationship writing about her experiences (although she was apparently allowed to use the internet and not expected to pull a plow). What she had sounded loving and at least a little tender. This wasn't. I was kind of horrifically fascinated by what Maia would let Anders do to her, although nothing about that kink really interests me at all. In the beginning, I thought Maia was interesting but annoying (v. needy and kind of hypocritical) but Anders was hot. By the ending, I kind of loathed both of them. I think WILLING VICTIM, SOFT LIMITS, and ONE CUT DEEPER are more my cup of tea with regard to what I want out of kink fiction.
Now excuse me while I pour myself a drink.
3 out of 5 stars