**THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**
I'm sorry, there's just no way to discuss this book without talking about how it ends. If you don't want to be spoilered, and you haven't read the book, I STRONGLY RECOMMEND IT. It does contain some elements that may be disturbing, including extreme BDSM, underage/teen participants, and a sexually active Catholic priest.
Published by Harlequin MIRA
Publication Date: Kindle - available now; Paperback on July 24Edition Reviewed: electronic ARC from NetGalley
The first time I ran into the concept of meta-fiction, I was absolutely fascinated. I was taking a creative writing class, and the prof had us read a different short story each week which illustrated a different element of fiction.
For the notion of point of view, with an unreliable-narrator bonus, we read Robert Coover's "The Babysitter". It blew my mind like Pulp Fiction blew everyone's mind when it came out.
So I kind of love a good metafiction experience, which is how I would describe The Siren. There are multiple layers of story here, both literally and literarily*, with multiple frames that echo and reflect in a completely elegant way. The Siren is, at the most literal level, about an editor and an author working together to revise a novel for publication. So the layers of story include the one by Reisz, which I downloaded, the one that Nora (the main character) is writing with Zach as the editor, and Nora's own backstory, which her work-in-progress references.
It's a little bit like that cereal box from the '70s that showed a kid holding a cereal box, with himself on the smaller one (and so on), only if the repeated image is a video that's continuously changing--it's a little dizzying but worth the ride. As you read Reisz's story, Nora's work-in-progress changes, as does the affair that it's based on. It's sort of a literary kaleidoscope.
If that sounds confusing, it's because I'm not nearly as good at explaining it as Reisz is at writing it. It's not confusing to read - the structure of this story has an elegance of architecture that you can't help but admire.
Its first line draws Zach in, just as it did me.
"I don't want to write this story any more than you want to read it."Zach didn't want to read the novel because he thought it was a romance. I didn't know if I'd like because I knew it wasn't a romance. It's really almost a puzzle - it's romantic, but not a romance. There are some erotic and intensely sexual scenes, but I didn't find it to be a particularly erotic book (at least, not as a whole. There were definitely a couple of ice-bucket-worthy scenes). The protagonists find their Happily Ever Afters, or the potential for such, but not with each other. See? All the elements, yet it breaks all the rules.
I'm toying with the idea that Zach's experience with Nora is a metaphor for the experience that readers** of romance have with the genre itself: He is embarrassed by her, considers himself "better" than her, but is compelled by her ability to touch his emotions and his sensuality. He's surprised by her brains. He doesn't expect to be attracted but he is, intensely. He visits an exotic fantasy world, discovers new things about himself and releases a few things that were locked away down deep. Then, in the end, he goes back to his real-life relationship, feeling more ready to connect emotionally, more forgiving of his past sins, and with a few new ideas to explore with his wife.
I really felt completely satisfied with Zach's character arc. His interlude with Nora, his story, was a gift to him. He started out pretty unlikeable and unhappy and Nora helped him find his way back to what he needed. Some may interpret his journey as being about control, but I think the layer under that is forgiveness - Nora helps him forgive himself.
Nora's story is more complicated and less tidy. She is the catalyst in the middle of three men, three affairs that are all wildly inappropriate for various reasons. She is telling all their stories and directing the action. The way things end with Wesley is heartbreaking and inevitable and excruciating and beautifully written.
As for her relationship with Soren... I don't know if I can fit that into my metaphor. It doesn't feel like an HEA. Perhaps I'm more naive about BDSM than I would've thought--and more judgmental than I had thought--but a session shouldn't land anyone in the ER. I can't like that. I think that Reisz could have made me like Soren more, made me understand why Nora loves him, but she didn't.
There's a thread running through the book about hurting each other. There's a lot of "hurts-so-good" consensual pain in this story, but also, people hurt each other all the time: lovers hurt each other when it's the last thing they want. There's the idea that people need to be hurt, need to inflict hurt, in order to forgive themselves or others. A very Catholic notion; perhaps that explains Reisz's decision to make the chief sadist of the story a priest. Early in the book Nora surprises Zach:
"Excuse me," Zach began, trying to regain control of this conversation, "but didn't I repeatedly insult you this morning?"She says things like this all the time, flippantly, but when we get to the end and see what her choices are, it seems that every flip comment was deadly true. I honestly don't know what to make of this but it seems particularly dark to me, beyond the parameters of even her own community. The way she hurts Wesley feels like it had to happen, that there is some healing in there; my sense is that Wesley will be better off in the long run because she breaks it off with him. Going back to Soren, though, I don't know. It's consistent with her character, but I wish she hadn't. I wish her character arc ended by breaking with him. I feel like Reisz is maybe hurting me, with this ending, in one final meta-literary act. And....
"Your kvetching was very fetching. I like men who are mean to me. I trust them more."
and like Nora... I like it. Hit me again, Ms. Reisz.
*spell-check informs me that "literarily" is not word. But it should be. And this is the internet, so, it's a word now. Because I say so.
**not ALL readers, of course; there is no one experience. But I think it's valid for a general case.
Around the Blogosphere
Mandi at Smexy Books, made me want to read it.
A Buckeye Girl Reads
Good Choice Reading
There are quite a few reviews out there, so have a look for yourself if you've got favorite reviewers. As always, if you have reviewed this book please feel free to leave your link in comments.