Asking for It by Lilah Pace
I have no doubt that Lilah Pace’s Asking for It is going to be much-discussed and, most likely, widely read.
In addition, Lilah Pace was gracious enough to answer some of our burning questions, which you can read here.
Trigger warning: This book depicts sex scenes in which fantasies of non-consent are acted out between consenting adults, but also includes flashbacks to actual rape.
I have no doubt that Lilah Pace’s Asking for It is going to be much-discussed and, most likely, widely read. I have no doubt that some people will pick it up, if only out of somewhat morbid curiosity, and others because it speaks to their particular kink. What I do doubt is whether the novel deserves any of that attention, even if it’s being given out of curiosity. While I don’t think any novel should be dismissed out of hand for dealing with taboo subject material, I’m inclined to think that certain things should not be the realm of romance. If, as we learned from the great “sad ending” debacle a few weeks ago, romances must have conventionally happy endings, than I think certain subjects are just too complex and require too much subtlety, to be tackled in this particular genre. The trauma and difficulties of being a victim of rape is DEFINITELY one of those subjects. I don’t think it’s fair to treat a subject this weighty as something that can be wrapped up in a couple of books with a nice, pat happy ending and a little red bow. And yet, here we are. So let’s talk about it.
First and foremost, can we talk about the title? Just… What? Really? An adult human being looked at this and agreed that it was a good concept? It’s such a laughable idea to title a romance novel about rape “Asking for It” that I don’t even have a joke. Well, I do, but the joke is, “did you hear about that new romance novel all about rape?” “No, what’s it called?” “Asking for It!” (Ba-Dum-Ch!)
Now. I want to say a couple of things before we go further. For starters; no one should ever be judged for how they react to a sexual assault. The way a woman works through trauma is hers, and hers alone, and there is no “normal” way you “should” react to something that has scarred you. Additionally, rape fantasies are incredibly common, and totally normal. Personally, I have a huge soft spot for kink--bondage, domination, submission--love it. There is nothing inherently wrong with almost any sexual fantasy, so long as it isn’t acted out on people who aren’t (or can’t) consenting.
Additionally, Pace makes it very clear which sexual encounters are and aren’t consented to over the course of the novel, and doesn’t forget to throw in her safe words, etc. to keep it just this side of unforgivably creepy.
Unless I’ve missed something important, however, this is not an autobiography; this is a fictional character. This was actively invented by someone. Even outside of the darkness of Vivienne’s back story, Jonah’s big dark secret is so incredibly fucked up that I am a little concerned about Pace’s mental well-being, just because she actually came up with it, committed it to paper, and (one assumes) went back a few days later, reviewed what she’d written, and went, “yeah, that seems like a great plot device.” Then shipped it off to an editor who, somehow, looked the same passage over and thought, “yes, this truly is the stuff of romance. The nation’s panties shall never be dry again!”
The combination of real rape and play-rape, mere pages from one another, just isn’t arousing in the slightest. It’s incredibly uncomfortable. Watching the two of them get off on her fear and pain is just sort of… icky. It feels different from even the more extreme kink stuff I’ve read over the years, maybe because it’s more committed to making sure the reader can’t miss that what they are after is the full, authentic, rapey experience.
I have to give credit where it’s due, though. Outside of all the consensual non-consensual sex, Pace manages to construct some really solid, sympathetic and interesting side characters and subplots. She draws a portrait of Austin and of a group of friends that are engaging and interesting, and they were really the highlight of the novel, as far as I was concerned. In fact, Pace is a very talented writer, overall. I’d like to see what else she could bring to the table, and I might wind up giving Begging for It a shot, if only to see what on earth she plans on doing with all the drama she came up with.
As I said before, my issue with Asking for It isn’t the subject matter, really. I think the novel could have been about two people sharing a dark fantasy in a healthy way, and as such, could have been some good, kinky fun. Alternately, a woman who has been victimized standing up and learning to embrace her sexuality without guilt or shame would have been a great story. But that’s not what I got from this story. What I got were two people using each other to reenact the most traumatic moments of their lives, over and over, in ways that border on very real violence. It just strikes an incredibly odd chord.
Asking for It no doubt already has both enthusiastic fans and uncomfortable detractors. While I fall fairly firmly on the latter side, I would like to point out that there is no right or wrong way to get off. Other readers may pick this up and think that it’s the sexiest gosh darn thing they have ever encountered. For them I say, have a blast! I support your fun button in all of its endeavors. I just can’t quite get behind you on this one.