Book Talk: Not Even Close

Posted October 12, 2017 by Lynn E. O'Connacht in Books, Other People's Creations / 0 Comments

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Not Even Close by Lisa Oliver

Dear Author,
I turned thirty this year and I have yet to have my first kiss, much less a relationship with someone. I have yet to find someone that I connect with enough to be that open. I hear terms like gray-sexual and demi-sexual thrown around and figure I’ll just be alone. No one wants to take the time to get to know me; they just want to hop right in bed.

Photo Description:
A black and white photograph just showing two men, who look very similar, their mouths almost joined as they come in for a kiss.

This story was written as a part of the M/M Romance Group's "Love is an Open Road" event. Group members were asked to write a story prompt inspired by a photo of their choice. Authors of the group selected a photo and prompt that spoke to them and wrote a short story.

Not Even Close by Lisa Oliver was brought to my attention… ages ago as being an m/m romance with a demisexual protagonist. Obviously that had my interest immediately. I cannot, in good conscience, recommend it to anyone.

TW: amisia, homomisia, slutshaming, implications that abuse is part of a health relationship, sexual coercion

I tried to do a reaction post set/liveread of this novella (novelette?) until I reached about chapter 3. At that point, the rep I’d been reading was already so badly done that I all but begged my Twitter friends to make me stop commenting on it in as much depth as I had been doing. (They were loves and basically told me to save myself. Multiple times. I am deeply touched. <3)

This is a free story written to a prompt and with a time-constraint, so I’m not surprised to find that the technical side could use some more polishing and I think Oliver really, really tried to write a story that the questioning OP would find enjoyable and that captured what demisexuality is. It just… misses the mark by a substantial margin.

The first half or so of the story is filled with Connor’s demisexuality being mostly a reason for Connor and Leyden to stay separated instead of claiming each other within hours if not minutes after meeting one another. Because werewolf culture in this book is all about the sex. Everyone is hypersexual. Except Connor. Who has never experienced sexual desire for anyone. Ever. He’s never had sex either, for that matter, because it’s not like people ever have sex for reasons other than sexual attraction.)

Anyway, before I get all side-tracked. The demisexuality we see in this book is… Well, it acknowledges that asexuality is a spectrum and it really tries to introduce the concepts to people? It’s a lot of telling of Demisexuality 101, most of which isn’t backed up by the actions in the narrative and at least half of which just sounds like the author doesn’t understand demisexuality or asexuality at all. I get that demisexuality is really hard to wrap your head around, but it’s emphatically NOT the “allosexual who doesn’t want to dive into bed with a person after the first date in a hypersexual world where people usually skip the dating part altogether” that is a far more accurate description of what’s going on with Connor. Or would be if the representation that we get wasn’t explicit and labelled. (Connor, despite the narrative stating that he identifies as demisexual – sorry, demi-sexual – in, like chapter 3, actually says he doesn’t hold with labels in a later chapter, by the by.)

It has some lines or ideas that I genuinely liked. It’s rare for a book featuring an acespec character to recognise that there’s an asexual spectrum, which this does. It’s rare for such a book to explicitly acknowledge that some aces have sex and others don’t and they’re all valid as asexuals. Leyden is actually genuinely concerned about getting Connor’s enthusiastic consent. Allosexual partners putting their asexual partners’ needs first without considering it abuse is also rare. (Sadly, the whole secondary conflict revolves around how other people consider this unacceptable and a weakness on Leyden’s part and attack him for it.) It actually doesn’t end with Leyden and Connor falling into bed to have sex with one another. (Mostly. Apparently the biting-claiming thing is an instant orgasm and superintimate.)

But. These lines are surrounded by ideas and comments that, at best, made me feel erased. At worst, they made me recoil with how much I loathed them because everyone who worked on this story thought these things were okay. There’s a whole chapter of Leyden and Connor ‘getting to know one another’, yes? They go out on an actual date because Leyden is looking to get to know Connor. Which is great and fun! Except… the story summarises how they bond over shared interests and stories about their families and history in a paragraph or two and then shifts over into Leyden asking Connor about his demisexuality and… Different people have different comfort levels here. Some demisexuals may be a-okay with someone asking how demisexuality works in a clumsy manner on a first date. Personally, I’m not. I’ll list the questions he asks for you.

  • How do you know when you know someone?
  • How do you know when you feel comfortable enough with someone to try and have a sexual relationship with them?
  • So some demi-sexuals are actually disgusted with the idea of having sex?
  • But your equipment works, right?

At which point, Connor pre-emptively tells Leyden that he masturbates (also that he gets a hard-on “like any other male” and actually in reverse order.)

See what I mean? The first is okayish. I don’t think it’s first date material because it highlights the asker’s interest in pursuing a sexual relationship regardless of anything else, but in another context I would totally be okay with someone I was dating asking that question. It’s a fair question because it asks about the thing that people seem to find most baffling about demisexuality. (Connor’s answers that he doesn’t know are also fine with me, by the by. Not everyone does know everything about their sexuality, after all.) The second question is… filling me with the desire to scream that that is not how demisexuality works. It’s not about being comfortable enough to have sex. It’s about whether you are sexually attracted to a person or not and, sometimes, with a close emotional bond, you may be because… reasons. Sexuality is weird. The third question is, imo, clueless and highly inappropriate given the context, but I can see it come up in a Demisexuality 101 conversation. And then we get to the fourth question and HELL TO THE BLOOMING NO. This question is not okay. It’s invasive, inappropriate, and a whole slew of words I am too angry to come up with right now. It just. This is not okay.

*deep breath* Anyway, I don’t actually consider that to be the worst of the way the novella handles the representation, so make of that what you will. I just… I hate this book. Passionately. It is garbage for the representation because the narrative misinterprets, misunderstands and misrepresents demisexuality just about every time it mentions it. The handful of times it does something that make me perk up and think it would get better were, by and large, followed immediately by a line that made it all worse.

And the worst part for me? I think there’s some potential in this story’s narrative. It’d look entirely different if it was given the attention and rewrites needed to make the story shine as brightly as it might, but I think it’s possible. The glimpses of something good are there for me. I could even see it offering decent demisexual representation at the end of those rewrites. But as the story stands right now? Sorry, but no. I can’t recommend it at all. 🙁

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