Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Spice (January 1, 2007)
This is what happened...
I met him at the candy store. He turned and smiled at me and I was surprised enough to smile back. This was not a children's candy store, mind you--this was the kind of place you went to buy expensive imported chocolate truffles for your boss's wife because you felt guilty for having sex with him when you were both at a conference in Milwaukee. Hypothetically speaking, of course.
I've been hit on plenty of times, mostly by men with little finesse who thought what was between their legs made up for what they lacked between their ears. Sometimes I went home with them anyway, just because it felt good to want and be wanted, even if it was mostly fake.
The problem with wanting is that it's like pouring water into a vase full of stones. It fills you up before you know it, leaving no room for anything else. I don't apologize for who I am or what I've done in--or out--of bed. I have my job, my house and my life, and for a long time I haven't wanted anything else. Until Dan. Until now.
When I first read this blurb on the back of the book, I wasn't too impressed. The premise just didn't interest me, plus "Dirty" is marketed as an erotic novel, from the new Spice line, no less, and as a rule, erotica has never been one of my favorite genres to read. The picture on the cover also seemed to enforce my belief that it wasn't my type of story. It's a gorgeous cover, a bit naughty, but tied in with erotica, I pegged it as a woman's sexual journey, filled with frequent and wickedly raunchy encounters emphasizing sexual freedom, and to be honest, I would rather read something from Ellora's Cave or Samhain Publishing because then at least I'd be guaranteed the HEA.
But in my sporadic blog-hopping, I came across a few extremely compelling reader reviews (this one's from Wendy) that got me thinking that I might actually want to read this book. So I took the plunge and bought it.
And oh, let me tell you it was one of the best decisions I've made in my recent reading history. I was completely hooked into it. I actually had to read it twice before I could find the words to describe this book to my satisfaction. However, let me also start out by saying "Dirty" is not a "safe" read in any sense of the word - it takes you to some rather damaged places and might make you feel uncomfortable, but at the same time, it's rather a heartening story; I ended it with a smile on my face, both times. Be forewarned though: if you are looking for a light-hearted, fluffy romance, you won't find it here. But at the same time, this is a romantic story, just not something you'd find in most romance novels.
Elspeth "Elle" Kavanagh is a junior vice president at an accounting firm, and she dresses as you would expect in black skirts and white button-down shirts with her long hair pulled up. Though now she's chosen to be celibate, 3 years ago it wasn't unusual for her to have random sexual encounters with complete strangers while trying to fill the emptiness inside, and to stop the endless counting that only ceases when she's drunk or having sex. To Elle, the sex is easier than intimacy of any kind, but after awhile even the sex wasn't working, so instead of living, she exists. And for awhile, that works for her.
When Elle first meets Dan Stewart in that fancy candy store, she can't stop thinking about him, and ends up wanting what she hasn't had in 3 long years. He makes good with some hot sexual encounters, and once Elle is convinced he got what he wanted, she is ready to cut bait and move on. After all, she doesn't date, so she sees no point in seeing him ever again. Yet clever boy that Dan is, he finds a work-around, and they continue to meet for sex.
Now you might think that what follows is one endless sexcapade after another, and while the scenes are frequent and explicit, especially in the beginning, they are really stepping stones in the blurred glimpses into Elle's life. She is trying to hold the pieces of her fragile solitude together, convinced if anyone gets too close, her protective shell will disintegrate. While having casual sex, in an attempt to fill the vast emptiness inside herself, is considered harmless to her self-control, any act of intimacy or genuine friendship threatens this shell. Elle would rather face the future alone than take the risk of having something meaningful with a decent guy.
"Dirty" is told in first person, which can be tricky if in the wrong hands, but I think it works amazingly well here. This is Elle's story, told best by her, and I felt her ache of loneliness, the incessant need for something to fill those empty places inside. In the beginning I admit to having feelings of apathy towards Elle, but slowly, almost without me being conscious of it, I began to seriously worry about her and sincerely wanted her to experience if not a happy ending, at least a hopeful future of some kind. Dan was more solid than I originally gave him credit for, sticking with Elle through some of her worst moments when most guys would have bailed long ago. I wasn't sure if I should root for him or call him an idiot, but before the end, seeing how he was with Elle, and watching as he truly began to care for her, I fell completely under his spell, and could see that he had a way about him that helped her to find the courage to heal.
While most of us read romances to escape, to fantasize and to dream, sometimes you come across one filled with true pain and misery, and it's actually a good thing to follow it through to the end. This was a heart-breaking story, and it will stay with me for a long time to come. Not so much because it was so painfully wrenching at times, but because the ending was not a ride into the sunset, but a promise to take it one day at a time and to trust in the here and now instead of letting the ghosts from the past control you. Who would I recommend this book to? Anyone not planning to wear rose-colored glasses while reading it. Someone who's not afraid to go to dark and scary places or to cry when you get there. Someone who knows that sometimes the best stories are the ones that are the hardest to read - not because they are boring or ineffective, but because they take you out of your comfort zone and force you to figure it out. Those are the readers I'd recommend this book to...