The Red by Tiffany Reisz
8th Circle Press/self published | Buy through the author’s website
Warning: this review will contain major spoilers for the book.
So let’s get this out of the way: this book has what I would consider two major content warnings. One is “dubious consent” — that is, a scene that seems like sexual assault the whole time, but turns out it’s not. The other is incest: a grandfather and his grandson have a threesome with the main character of this novel. The grandfather and grandson don’t play grabass with each other (because it is a boring “straight person” threesome) but to me this is still incest and I was still pretty . . . squicked by it. Too bad I was not reading on Archive of Our Own — I would have gone straight to the report button to ask for more tags to be added to this fic!
How do they have this threesome, you’re wondering now? (Or maybe you have clicked away already! Bye!) This book’s back cover copy says it is a work of “erotic fantasy” and it is probably the only book of erotica to mean that literally.
Mona, our heroine, is grieving for her mother, who asked on her deathbed that Mona do anything to save their art gallery, The Red. Appear from nowhere a dashing man who promises to save the gallery if Mona will be his whore for one year. “I very much wish to fuck you,” he tells her. And his favorite type of woman? “Elegant prostitutes.” And he tells her it’s “foolishness” to want to be appreciated for her brain —
The brain is an organ of the body. Whether i use you for your mind or use you for your cunt, I’m still using you for an organ of your body.
This actually makes perfect sense to Mona, somehow? She literally thinks to herself, She could hardly argue his logic. Uh, what?
Okay, nevermind, let’s move on. Obviously she agrees to this because she finds him charming and handsome and wants to fuck him and, of course, promised her mother she’d do anything to save the art gallery. ???
Throughout the book, their assignations (one per month) become more and more wild. At one point she accuses him of drugging her to make her see things, and he tells her she only sees what she wants to see. She is furious and hates him, but can’t live without his cock because the sex is magical. (The sex is frequently boring for the reader; the mystery man’s eternal degrading of Mona is also boring, although Mona seems to really get off on it — Your Kink Is Not My Kink But Your Kink Is Okay.)
At the end (yes, let’s skip to the end for a moment), Mona learns: her mystery man is dead, and has been dead for a while, and she wasn’t having assignations with him, but realistic dreams. And one dream (the threesome) she shared with his grandson. Who comes looking for her because she found some Art hidden in a bed, including a Picasso and a picture of the mystery man, and the grandson wants the picture of his grandfather. Since she refuses to sell it, the grandson just takes it, and then tosses her over his shoulder, brings her to his car (kidnapping), and says:
Would you rather be married in Scotland or America? I’ll let you make that decision. Marriage, I hear, is all about compromise.
He continues to insist they are getting married and she will be his countess (he’s an earl, you see), and sexually assaults her, all while she insists to be let go, that she wants to call the police, that she wants to go back to her art gallery, etc. Then he repeats to her the same thing he said to her in the dream threesome, and she orgasms, and decides she wants to be married in Scotland.
The prose of this book is decent. I think it’s bizarre that it is put to such a use as this. There’s no connection to Mona at all throughout the book — why on earth are we supposed to care about her? She is a one-dimensional sock puppet of a character, thin as a piece of paper, only as good as the man she’s fucking. She has no friends, no relatives, and in the entire book consults only one colleague — whom she fucks, and disgusts with her salacious sexual appetite. She’s supposedly 26, but does not use a computer (no Tumblr, no Facebook, no Twitter), and does not seem to have a cell phone (no Snapchat, no Tinder, no Bumble, no Candy Crush); she deliberately isolates herself, but doesn’t even get pedicures — doesn’t even go to a salon to get waxed when she wants a wax. Is it actually because she’s this isolated, or is it because the author can’t write more than one character at a time? I’m suspicious, especially because in “group sex” scenes (there is one with nymphs…?, where Mona watches each nymph fuck her mystery man one at a time), the dialogue and action verge on children’s book storytelling.
More to the point, Mona, who has made this gallery, The Red, her life, is willing to throw it all away to go to Scotland to marry a British earl at first orgasm. Why? How did Mona go from feeling ashamed of being called a whore to loving it? How did Mona go from resenting her mystery man to loving him? She went from resenting him to literally begging for his child — how did that happen? That’s not in the book.
It’s a disappointment because I see that this book could have been so much better if it had dipped under the surface, and instead it just let me down.