I had to confess to Elissa that I hate this cover. First there's the painting style, which sets my teeth on edge. I associate it with LeRoy Neiman, who did so much illustration for Playboy Magazine, and who set the style for so many book covers in the sixties: it says to me: Cold War, doublespeak, and above all naughty. I don't do naughty. And then there's the grim, menacing, masterful man, having his way with someone: the stereotype of masculinity that made my life a misery, when I was young, because I was a gentle, tender, and shy person, not at all what was wanted in a boy. I was – up until I was saved by my wonderful, hippie-free-school high school – completely wrong, non grata, weird. I bear the scars of that still.
But I love this novel, and I think it's an important one. It's about submission. Not submission as an act, or a state, or a perversion – submission as a drive: as a fundamental human impulse. It runs from the sweet chivalric devotion of the first protagonist's Russian husband – a totally socially acceptable form – to the totally socially unacceptable work of the professional submissive, Nan, whose devotion lights up the other main narrative of the book. In between these two magnificent characters, the two protagonists, twin sisters, are making their way: what sort of submission, at what cost, with what limits? There are two very poignant love stories in this book, one of finding and one of losing.
The predominant mood is forlorn. Perfect submission, it turns out, is as unachievable as perfect equality. The intense joy of fearful service is something hard to obtain and impossible to keep, like everything else our hearts most desire.
And in the meantime, we have other things to do: we have jobs to keep and children to raise and homes to keep. I can't pretend to have read many BDSM-themed books, but I'd venture to guess that none or few others end like this:
He poured two flutes of champagne, nudged one of them toward me and lifted the other.“To family,” he said. And we drank.