I recently read Kenny Wright’s most recent book, Because He’s Watching: Ian’s Obsession. It is an alternate version of Kirsten McCurran’s book Because He’s Watching. As I understand it, the two books were written as part of a collaboration, though Kenny waited some time before publishing his version.
This is sort of a joint review of the two books. There are some, I guess, some modest spoilers, so I would definitely encourage you to read the books first. They’re worth the time.
Anyway, I have a soft spot for this sort dueling narratives approach. Two of my favorite stories I’ve written work the same angle — The Crush and The Crush: Annie’s Tale (I feel very mature for having resisted calling it Annie’s Tail). Part of the reason I think this works particularly well in erotica is that good erotica is, in my opinion, very challenging to write from a third person perspective. (I’ll explain in a moment.) So if you want to really give different characters their due, it often works to have the stories told explicitly from different perspectives.
The issue, I think, is that the erotica I find interesting is that which deals fundamentally with flawed observers. I mean, that strikes me as the most interesting dynamic. People don’t have a clue, for the most part, about what their real motivations are. (I don’t claim this is my insight. Thanks Freud.) And under the influence of lust or jealousy or anger or resentment, their judgments become even more flawed. I think consciously writing from the perspective of an imperfect narrator can capture that. It is much harder, I think, to do so from a third person perspective. At that point, why is the narrator flawed? As both a reader and writer, I always hate fiction that requires the narrator to withhold information s/he ought to know.
In these two stories, Kenny takes the husband’s (Ian’s) perspective. Kirsten takes the wife’s (Emily’s). And they both do a very nice job telling a sexy story. I think ultimately, Ian is a more interesting character. He’s more flawed, more introspective. I read Ian’s side of the story first, which may be clouding my judgment. Emily, perhaps by design, is a bit of a shallow character. She’s not very self-aware.
Anyway, this is one of those stories where the husband is turned on by the idea of his wife being with another man. We don’t get a real sense of where this fantasy originates for Ian. It doesn’t seem to be any sort of eroticized fear. We don’t get the sense that any formative experience particularly fed this fantasy. It just turns him on. And that’s okay. It is his kink. But even still, I think I’d like a better insight into his mind.
I am less willing to give Emily a pass. She knows Ian wants her to do it. But why is she willing? Sometimes it just seems like she likes the attention from Ray (the “Bull” in this scenario). Sometimes she seems like she’s actually attracted. But more often she seems to say and act as if she’s really just doing it because it turns Ian on. That suggests a weird degree of passivity, especially since she does not just wait for Ian to contrive encounters, but actively plans them herself. She just strikes me as too aggressive for this to be mostly or even largely about Ian’s desires. But maybe that’s the point of writing Emily that way?
I would also have liked to see the narratives diverge more. Part of the fun of this dual approach is that you can flesh out the motivations of the characters by exposing private actions and information. And indeed, there are a couple of minor new plot points in each story, and one pretty significant one that comes out in Ian’s story. But I think the authors missed an opportunity here to give readers of both stories some value added by introducing plot elements that really you could only fully appreciate if you read both. An Easter Egg if you will.
Finally, just thinking about the plot, there are various places where both authors hint at a coming confrontation that never quite occurs. It isn’t quite as if they’ve place a gun on the mantle, but more that they sort of hint that there might be a gun there. Or maybe I just wanted there to be a gun? My stories tend to feature more explicit conflict and confrontation than Kenny’s. I tend to be pessimistic of these extramarital dalliances, seeing a lot of risk and danger in addition to the potential excitement. My characters are more jealous, more duplicitious, more manipulative than his. Perhaps that just reflects my darker view of human nature.
But that said, these are a fun, sexy pair of books, and definitely worth a read.