There’s a sex scene coming, but it’s in the next part. Hang with me through some cultural analysis, if you will.
Perrin has been researching “S and M” on the internet. I can only imagine he came up with shit like this because he didn’t turn off Safe Search:
But the sexism in this chapter is off to a rollicking start:
Even though his Victorian sensibilities and inherent cultural characteristics of a Gargoyle were telling him that Gillian required a little strong-handed guidance, he was worried that she might think the light spank of the previous night was anything but a gentle, playful reprimand.
Because Perrin is clearly in a position to give Gillian any guidance, because he’s a man and, like every other goddamn dude in this book, he has every right to give her a reprimand. What is it with the spanking in these books? Is it a particular fetish of the author’s, or just the opposite? Clearly it’s the author’s vision of punishment and control of Gillian, but I can’t decide whether that control is meant to be titillating. I know, I know, I’m probably reading too much into what is obviously some poorly thought out word vomit, but I paid $80,000 for a degree in Cultural Studies, so let me have my analysis.
Perrin has been creeping on Gillian’s conversation with Team Shit for Brains, and he’s trying to decide whether she’s banging Trocar or Aleksei. He claims she’s “the kindest person he'[s] ever known.”
This is simultaneously hilarious and so, so sad. If I didn’t know this was yet another lame insistence that Gillian is a Good Person, I’d say this is a reflection of the life of abuse and isolation Perrin has faced. Another one of those moments where the book could display some maturity if…it were actually mature at all.
Here’s this head-scratching paragraph:
Perrin didn’t realize what a dangerous game he was playing with himself. They had not yet completed his therapy and yet he was still holding on to his old truths— truths that spoke of a magical, altruistic, esoteric love between fully dressed and proper people, rather than two naked bodies intertwined, sweating and straining toward the culmination of raw desire. He wanted her to care. She did. But not in the way he hoped.
I can only assume this is an awkward intrusion of authorial voice here. What exactly am I meant to understand from this? I think it’s that Perrin is confusing Gillian’s role as a sex therapist, with whom he’s going to sweat and strain, with his desire for “proper” esoteric love. But what I actually read (see: $80,000 degree) is that, through Perrin, we’re apparently only meant to see two kinds of “truths.”
I can’t help but read this in the context of Gillian’s relationship with Aleksei and her statement in a previous chapter about jumping into an “intense” (read: sexual) relationship and her desire to step back and have “space.” I also can’t help but think of her sexual relationship with Tanis and her lack of desire to keep it, not because he’s an abusive twatwaffle but because she found something better (read: not yet sexual) with Aleksei. So we have sex with Tanis –> non-sexual “romance” with Aleksei –> sex with Aleksei –> backing off from Aleksei in tandem with (what is ostensibly meant to be read as) her romance with Perrin. She steps away from her carnal relationship with Tanis to form a relationship with Aleksei, then steps away from Aleksei in order to form a relationship with “pure” Perrin. If you think about it, it’s pretty gross on a couple of levels.
First, we can’t forget that Aleksei and Perrin are/were her patients, a relationship that comes along with a particular power dynamic. It’s weird and conflicts with the sexual politics of the book, which I’ll explore at the end of this post. Second, the narrative is clearly privileging relationships between “fully dressed and proper people” by giving them more screen time but also having Gillian skip from one to the other. Nowhere is she allowed to exercise her sexual agency or do whatever the fuck she wants with whoever she wants without being shuffled off to something “better” and ostensibly more appropriate. You could argue that she does what she wants with Tanis, but she runs away from that in part because of her fear of commitment. We’re meant to believe that sex will/is meant to eventually lead to commitment. No casual relationships are allowed to continue here.
In other words, Perrin has become a repository of typical romance novel sensibilities, which obviously attract Gillian on a personal and not just a professional level. This love triangle thing, while eye-rollingly cliche, might actually be interesting from a cultural analysis standpoint.
Moving back to the snark…
There’s some half-decent characterization/reflection for a couple of paragraphs, then we’re back to Gillian approaching Perrin. More awkward prose:
No teasing in her tone, he noted. She was at her most pleasant tonight. Anyone who knew Gillian knew that if she was being overtly pleasant, it was time to take cover. Perrin was her patient; there was no way she was going to blow a gasket and scare him to death. But she was trying to tread lightly. If he opened up to her too fast tonight with her own emotions on edge, she would have to leave and see him later. Angry meltdowns were an inappropriate therapeutic tool for an oversensitive genius recluse to be subjected to.
Okay…what? She’s being overly pleasant but overly pleasant is bad, but she’s being pleasant because she doesn’t want him to freak out, but she’d have to step out if he “opened up to her too fast” (isn’t that what you do in therapy??) and who the fuck is expressing what in this paragraph?
Perrin summons a glamour. Why, I don’t know. What is a glamour, even? Yet another thing squeezed in as it became expedient without any background or explanation whatsoever.
Gillian notices he seems confident for once, because by god she can’t bone a man who’s anything less than confident. They decide to go for a walk. Predictably, Perrin has been shopping at the Vintage Romance Hero’s Emporium and managed to score a ruffled shirt before Jean-Claude and the other vampires ran off with them all. She shows him how to hold hands using the “current methods” because he’ll be dating in the future and all. Sigh. In response, he says, “So you have hope for me to overcome my ineptitude in these matters?” to which she responds, “Perrin, you are a lot of things but inept isn’t one of them.”
Yeah, see, that’s a problem. Someone who grew up with a minimum of social contact is going to be inept, especially when it comes to intimate interactions. I hate the way he magically gets to be smooth about this, thereby eliminating any sincerity in this situation. Like, what if he’s just awkward about this whole thing and has to fumble through it to eventually be comfortable? I know most people don’t want to read awkward in a romance novel, but it doesn’t have to be cringey. It can be endearing and humanizing. But what am I kidding, that’s ten steps above the level of these books.
Eventually they wander out in the middle of nowhere, and Gillian senses something Bad out in the darkness. Once again, she doesn’t have the sense God gave little chickens, much less the sense of a Marine who would know a stroll through the castle grounds in the middle of a war when you have a bad guy in the goddamn house is a bad idea. She tries to herd him back to the house, but he says,
“Gillian, I may be a social phobic, but I assure you I am quite strong and am capable of defending you. I am part Gargoyle, you remember.”
Another opportunity for a creature with a dick to protect her defenselessness! YAY. Jesus Christ.
Ah, but no, it’s Finian (one of the elves) hunting the “deep dwellers,” whatever that means. He calls her “Kynzare,” which he doesn’t explain and I bet never comes up again. Gillian gets Perrin back to the house and can we please just get to the lame sex already??
Since I’ve rambled a lot in this post, I’ll split it in two.
The power dynamics are weird and complicated in this book, and I don’t think that’s on purpose. I think it’s a consequence of Gaslighting Gremlin, the narrative presenting one thing but constantly insisting it’s the exact opposite.
On the one hand, Gillian’s position as clinician puts her in a position of authority over Aleksei and Perrin. The halfhearted gestures toward propriety–in Aleksei’s case, waiting until they no longer have a therapeutic relationship and in Perrin’s, making it a sexually therapeutic relationship–are really halfhearted and really stupid for reasons I could go on and on about. I’m trying to let this go, because these are romance novels and basing romance on a premise that would be hideously inappropriate in real life is romance’s stock in trade, but it’s still especially troubling in Perrin’s case. The narrative frames Perrin as an “innocent,” which automatically makes their sexual interactions unequal.
The sexual politics in this book have, as you and I have observed, consistently set men as the authority figures. Every single fucking man, Perrin included, has asserted his authority over Gillian with physical or emotional control or both. The narrative itself, by diminutizing Gillian constantly, makes this normal. So the question becomes, is Gillian ever really an authority figure here? I don’t think this is an answerable question thanks to Gaslighting Gremlin.
Then there’s the constant “I’m supposed to protect you, no, I’m supposed to protect you!” bullshit, which Gillian and Perrin are just about to indulge in. Male vampires are supposed to be “genetically” overprotective, and all the men in this book are behemoths, yet tiny Gillian keeps insisting that she’s supposed to protect them. This is extra gross because when she’s given the opportunity to prove she can, which is exceedingly rare, she makes an idiot of herself and it turns out she didn’t really need to. These goddamn books are all about putting her in situations where she makes an idiot of herself. Gaslighting Gremlin has its fingers in this, too. She’s a Marine and she’s a badass! but everyone else needs to protect her while she bumps around about as effective as a newborn naked mole rat.
Fuck you, Gaslighting Gremlin.