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She Left Me Breathless [book, review] - Elf M. Sternberg
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She Left Me Breathless [book, review]
"Abuse of power comes as no surprise." - Jenny Holzer

She Left Me Breathless by Trin Denise, is billed as a love story, but the overarching theme of this book is much more about getting away with the abuse of power.

Sydney is a high-powered CEO and owner of a company that produces specialty office hardware and software products. Rachel is the woman she loved in college 13 years ago; at the time, Rachel had a daughter, Caitlyn, aged 6; as the book opens Rachel is married, living a heterosexual life, and has a second daughter.

Sydney has never forgotten Rachel. She hires a private detective to investigate Rachel and collect as many manipulative levers as she can to crowbar Rachel back into her life. She hires Caitlyn, now 19, straight out of high school. Caitlyn is supercompetent in that way only people in novels can be. (In fact, Sydney is surrounded by so many hypercompetent women she either nicked them from a Heinlein universe or Vorkosigan House.) Sydney buys the company Rachel works at just to get closer to her. Ultimately, she blackmails Rachel into a close professional relationship with her by threatening Caitlyn's job.

If a man did that-- no scratch that-- if anyone does this in the real world, it's sexual harrassment. It's stalking. It's bullying. And it's blackmail. At one point, after Rachel has made it clear she's faithful to her husband and her church, Syndney briefly contemplates taking Rachel into her arms and forcefully kissing her. The term for that is "corrective" sexual assault, and it's no different from when a man or woman forces themself on a homosexual of the opposite sex in the belief that exposure to a "real man" or "real woman" would "cure" them of a false consciousness. Everything the gay and lesbian community has built around the ideas of the culture of consent and the equality of all persons is cheerfully ignored in this book. Everything my time at Queer Nation taught me is sacrificed to get these two women into bed with each other.

The villians are all mustache-twirling idiots, even the female ones. With rare exceptions, the men are all incompetent, foul-mouthed, drunk, or generally bad dudes.

And when it comes to character growth, well, there is none. Sydney gets what she wants and isn't chastened for or by her bad behavior. Rachel is a dishrag to her upbringing at the beginning of the book, and a dishrag to her infatuation with Sydney at the end. In the middle there is a lot of painful exposition about an embezzlement scheme that drives one external conflict (you know the type, "I suffered to do this research, and dammit, you're gonna read it, because I need word count!"), a lot of as-you-knows about how rich and powerful and wise and wonderful Sydney is. Ms. Denise could write crackling good dialogue if she knew when to turn it off, because when she starts she goes on and on in a "see how clever I am" bantering way that may work for sitcoms but not for literature. And I don't think she's spoken to an eight-year-old, not even an excessively brilliant one, since she was eight years old herself, because that scene was painful to read.

But all is forgiven for love, and the love scene is actually very good. Too bad it's really the only thing the book has going for it.

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Current Mood: disappointed disappointed

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