Review of Hurt by Varian Krylov

Thursday, May 17, 2012 0 comments
Title: Hurt
Author: Varian Krylov
Publisher: Excessica
Length: ~100k
Primary Relationship: MMF
Other Relationships: M/F, M/M
Category or Genre: Erotic Romance, Erotica, Contemporary
Does this Review contain spoilers? A few spoilers about sexual content.
How was the copy provided? Already owned.
Has this review been posted before? Yes, it's a slightly modified and expanded version of this one.

This book is stone cold amazing and deserves wider recognition. I've since looked up other books by the writer, only to find that a) she hasn't written in years b) most of her other books have themes and content I can't handle. Hurt, raw as it is, might be her most accessible book. Wherever you are, Varian Krylov, come back! Write more MMF erotic romance! Sigh...

(I do know on a rational level that such commands to authors are of dubious effectiveness and, at worst, are just plain offensive. People write what moves them. I can't help feeling that way in my heart, though, as a reader.)

Another urge I have is to tell everyone to read this book. Then I calm down, take a step back, and realize no, that's wrong. In fact, there are two great big things that could put off potential readers: the breast cancer and the consent issues. I'll talk about the breast cancer now and the consent issues later.

This is not just a book about a three-way relationship (although it is, I think, the best MMF book I have ever read). It's also about the relationship of a woman to her own body, pre- and post-mastectomy, and about her relationship with death. I have a light history of breast cancer in my family, although no one has died of it, and I still found the book very hard to read at certain points. Vanka has to construct a new sexuality for herself that is not defined by her operation but still incorporates it. The descriptions of this process are raw in physical terms and even rawer in emotional terms.

I'll also admit right here in this review: I almost always hate heavy hurt/comfort narratives in romance or erotica. I understand their appeal on a logical basis in terms of exciting extremes of emotion and power play. But I just don't find them sexy. The only thing less sexy to me than caregiving or "putting someone back together" is the idea of someone taking care of me. So the why the hell did I love this book called "Hurt"? Maybe because the sex didn't really rise from comfort, but developed in an antagonistic relationship with it. Vanka handles her diagnosis with a complicated mixture of laudable stoicism and stupid denialism which ends up harming some innocent people in her life. It's a flawed but understandable reaction. And we perceive her lovers as also flawed and understandable as we gradually come to understand the issues that are messing them up and loading them down with jaw-dropping but weirdly believable angst.

There's a vibrant atmosphere to this book. The characters have distinctive voices. No, they don't talk like real people, but they talk with a compelling fluidity, so that the occasional long passages of dialogue are smooth and enchanting. Especially Khalid. I just want him to keep talking and talking. His speech is highly exoticized, but in the context of the narrative his racial/ethnic difference isn't his primary quality as a character. His appeal struck me as much more complicated and layered. The dialogue in general is beautiful. Too much erotic writing has people talking in an incredibly stilted fashion, so that whenever the characters aren't moaning, "fuck me harder" they sound like they stepped right out of a Mary Worth comic. Krylov's dialogue sounds like pure poetry, in contrast.

The descriptive language is so sensuous (there's one part where Vanka is just staring at a grapefruit that stunned me with its prose style) that it creates a kind of suspended reality or lucid dream effect upon reading. 

There's real suspense. I truly did not know what was going to happen next at many points, and parts of the revealed backstories shocked the hell out of me. This is a multicultural/interracial relationship where people's cultural backgrounds are an integral part of their identity. So was their sexuality and gender identity. One of the men has awful issues with internalized homophobia, for example. And the menage relationship was incredibly complicated, more than the sum of its parts… parts which were themselves complicated.

Oh, and if you get turned on by intellectual history, this book will thrill your pretentious soul like it did mine. I've never read a more charming combination of ass-fucking and French existentialist name-dropping.

I will now go on to talk about the dubious consent. But if you're not put off already, I suggest you just buy the damn book and let it be a surprise because you will almost certainly love it. This was 100k words and I would have enjoyed it at twice the length.

So, the sex. The glorious, weird, superemotional, blazing hot sex... This book starts off with the roughest sex, and from there it really goes all over the map, including strap-on and fem-dom. The first chapters have some male-dom/fem-sub stuff that does not strike me at all as SSC (safe, sane, consensual). But it's done in a way that seems very real and appropriate to the characters. Where they are in their life, they're not good at communicating limits, and they want to be pushed over those limits. Several times in the book in both het and gay sex you have passages where one character says no and another keeps going because they could tell the other person really didn't mean it (and no, there weren't safe words established). But I don't get a sense that the narrative itself approves of this, and I never got the vibe of "if someone liked it, it wasn't rape". In fact, there are multiple times when a character freaks out because they realize that what they did could, indeed, be rape. 

Personally, I love reading about rough sex and fighting sex and being pushed over limits, but there's a line I don't like to cross and this book hovered on the edge of that. There's even a flashback to gunplay between the two men (and if that's your thing, it's scary hot). Some of the things that happen in this book could cross over reader limits—not during the few instances of structured BDSM play, but in other areas.

There's not a single classic sandwich in this book that I remember. I didn't miss it, though, because the sex was so imaginative and fitting to the characters' emotional states. The ass-fucking during chemotherapy was surprisingly hot. Does that sound wrong? It was wrong. But still hot.

Lastly, the flaws. This book (I bought my version from Fictionwise) could have used better editing and formatting. There were multiple instances of dropped quote marks in the first half of the book. Chapters were demarcated terribly and seemed to cut off at almost random points. Several transitions were problematic. Some adjectives (e.g. "umber") and adjective-noun pairs suffered from unnecessary repetition. The French language portions lacked accent marks! But really, that's all that stuck out for me.

I loved the book. And I loved its emotional journey, which ultimately ran along a true romantic arc—in a delightfully winding and tortuous fashion.

I want more of Krylov's prose. I even dared her 200k post-apocalyptic forced-breeding-program erotica that all takes place in a series of small rooms. I had to give up a third of the way through that, but I tried, dammit! That's how much I love Hurt.


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