This article originally appeared in the Portland State Vanguard here. It has been revised slightly for use on OJ&T.
The young woman with short dyed-blonde hair frowned over her computer. Lisa Dunn was…reading, you might say, but it felt to her more like she was eating Cheetos while watching Real Housewives. She threw her head back and sighed deeply. Her editor had foolishly assigned her a romance novel.
A bad one.
One with too many adverbs.
One that used the word “literally” literally three times.
It was unsatisfyingly called Satisfaction (Brothers Ink, Book One) by Sarah Mayberry. Satisfaction is the tale of Maggie Hendricks, a beautiful unicorn of a woman who doesn’t realize how utterly smart and amazing and hot she is. A woman who is clearly meant to be so bland that anyone who reads the book can pretend they are Maggie.
Maggie, when we meet her, is a 27-year-old bookshop owner who has never orgasmed. Not even on her own! She is resigned to her shameful fate, until one fateful destiny-filled night of fate during book club, her slutty friend Cleo tells her and the other girls over wine and Wolf Hall about a sexcapade she had with a tattoo artist. Cleo winks and giggles her way through a (literally) unbelievable tale of bareback madness with a complete stranger, and Maggie becomes intrigued by her friend’s bravado.
So Maggie comes up with a plan. A plan to achieve orgasm with the tattoo artist Eduardo, a sex-god sent from heaven. Because, she tells herself, if he can’t do it, no one can.
By a stroke of luck, Maggie accidentally gropes the wrong brother and ends up in a strange pact with Eduardo’s even sexier, even more amazing, even richer brother, Rafel. He’s tan with green eyes, narrow hips and abs. He reads pension-planning books at night and has a huge cock.
Rafel can’t quite figure out why he is so incredibly attracted to the reader’s proxy, because by all accounts she’s a wet blanket. But he is. And so he vows to help her overcome her problems.
Satisfaction is one of the highest-selling books on the Kindle store, and my editor is a mean man, so I had to read it.
“I don’t expect you to read the whole thing,” he said.
“It’s just for laughs,” he said.
But of course I finished it. Every last goddamn page of insulting, pseudo-feminist, badly written word porn. How could I not? I finally found a book that used the phrase bone-deep not once or twice but seven times. Hell, Mayberry describes Maggie’s ear as “that small, secret space.” Rafel, at one point, sends “shockwaves of sensation ricocheting through her.”
At one point, Mayberry writes the actual words, “[She] proceeded to tell the book club about it in intimate, very detailed detail.” Not just intimate detail, but detailed detail.
But the bad writing is low-hanging fruit. What I’m really interested in is what the popularity of a book like this means. Maggie owns her own bookstore at only 27 years old. That doesn’t look like the typical romance novel wilting flower who needs to be rescued by pirate Fabio. That’s a woman who is smart and driven.
But below the surface—behind the successful business, the supportive friends, the cutesy little cottage she owns, and the self-proclaimed independence—she’s miserable. As self-possessed as she seems, it’s all just an act. Because she can’t come. In her 27 years on earth, she has, and I quote, “had fun” but she has never actually felt the big earthquake down under. And that makes her otherwise lovely life feel, well, empty. She’s utterly incomplete as a woman if she can’t experience the big O.
She needs a man to do it for her, she says, or she’s doomed. She needs a man, in other words, to be whole. The logic lies somewhere in the idea that she’s gone this long without being able to do it for herself, so she’ll never be able to do it without the help of a hunky sex god’s throbbing peen.
And, thank god, Rafel understands Maggie better than she understands herself. She’s been living with this affliction for years, and yet it takes this dude’s insight for her to break free. From what, you may ask? Oh, you know, just from her brain and stuff. Mayberry writes, “The challenge, [Rafel] decided, was going to be getting Maggie to stop thinking.”
Oh, hunky Brazilian, save me from my burdensome brain, won’t you?
Of course Maggie and Rafel transcend the creepy teasing in order for her to find what she’s looking for. But oh wait, it turns out that it wasn’t an orgasm she was missing. It was love. Duh. I mean, the underlying theme of this book isn’t new by any means. It’s something you see in most romantic comedies and romance novels: the protagonist—usually a harpy career woman—only finds happiness when she finds her mate, most often a rich (or at least a well-to-do) laid back dude who helps her let her hair down, so to speak.
There is something disturbing at work in this book. It’s not just 300-ish pages of poorly-written sex scenes, awkward movement, and adverb abuse. It’s demeaning to women.
In an age where we’re still fighting for fair wages and, hell, bodily autonomy, there’s something unsettling about the idea that a woman’s deepest fantasy is to give into the compulsion to just let the men decide.
But, hey, he does drive a Bentley. Maybe I’m missing something.