review: A Life Less Monogamous

So this is a new thing for me – a book review! I hope you enjoy it.


Cooper S. Beckett
A Life Less Monogamous
Chicago: Hump & Circumstance Press, 2016
318 pages, paperback, also e-book and audiobook formats
ISBN (Paperback): 978-1518685712
Available from CooperSBeckett.com

Ryan and Jennifer Lambert married young and are now anxiously confronting relationship bed death at the ripe old ages of 32 and 31, respectively. Their sex life may have tanked, but they love each other and want to make it work, which is why they’ve been going to couples therapy — not that it seems to be helping. They just can’t find the spark. And truth be told, their lives are rather bland. The Lamberts are the youngest among their circle of friends, three other couples all in their 30s, who are also bland, bored, and seemingly just clocking time until retirement.

And then at a Christmas party, the Lamberts meet Bruce and Paige Shepard: in their mid-40s, they’re vivacious and have an unfamiliar — and attractive — zest for life. Who are these people? Intrigued, the Lamberts decide to try to make some new friends, so Ryan contacts the party’s host to get the Shepards’ phone number, at which point the host takes it upon himself to warn Ryan that the Shepards are swingers. And Ryan makes the call anyway…

In the hands of a typical writer, swinging would likely be demonized and used as a source of conflict to drive the plot, and so it was refreshing though not surprising that the author (a swinger himself) took a compassionate, insider’s approach instead. This book looks realistically at the sorts of challenges that people may face when finding their way in the lifestyle – mostly revolving around issues of insecurity and jealousy. Such a non-hand-wringing approach to this variety of ethical non-monogamy is welcome and valuable.

That said, it wasn’t as effective as it could have been. It has a very high level of verisimilitude, which (like HDTV) can be both a blessing and a curse. Although the book is billed and presented as fiction, the copyright page contains a statement that the events and stories are true, and I felt a slight tension throughout due to the fusion of novel and autobiography.

The book doesn’t quite stand up to the label of “novel” — the author has to an extent let the truth get in the way of a good story. At times I found the actions of the characters obviously unwise and I shook my head when they subsequently ran headlong into utterly predictable problems. For instance, the Lamberts have arranged to attend a sex party but even before they arrive, it’s apparent that Ryan is not feeling entirely at ease. It comes as no surprise when his mood sours during the evening, and the addition of alcohol to the mix sends things to a cringe-inducing conclusion.

The autobiographer is confined to telling the truth as it happened from his own perspective, while the novelist is tasked with constructing believable characters and crafting a satisfying storyline. In the translation from personal history to novel, the plot didn’t get the makeover it needed.

The issue facing the Lamberts is that their sex lives are boring and so (even though this book is neither romance nor erotica) a focus on bedroom issues is necessary, but it felt slightly disproportionate and at times even unsettling. Did the characters really have no other interests in life? I got the sense that the Lamberts’ lackluster sex was likely a symptom of ennui because their lives were generally uninteresting. But that larger issue was, unsatisfyingly, never addressed. Swinging came into their lives serendipitously and they jumped in the deep end following minimal reflection. While it could be a fun adventure, it’s not a magic bullet.

I’m confronted by the observation that these were the thoughts and decisions and actions of real people, which I have no right or intention to criticize. But the novel comprises a collection of the novelist’s decisions about how to write an engaging story, and for me it missed the mark a bit. All that being said, aside from a few relatively minor editing issues, the quality of the writing is generally rather good. But you might be happier if you think of it as an autobiography rather than a novel.

Before reading A Life Less Monogamous, I was concerned that it would be a book-length sales pitch for swinging. Its honesty made it less of a sales pitch and more of a gently cautionary tale with a peek behind closed doors.

Note: I was given a free copy of the e-book in exchange for an honest review.


EDIT (29 Jun): This review alerted the author to an error. It turns out that the copyright page statement mentioned above belongs to his memoir and its inclusion in the novel was unintentional. The statement should read: “This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, parties, orgies, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination, or are used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.”

My belief that the book was essentially a novelized account of actual events significantly affected my experience of it. Now, knowing that it is entirely fictional, I find the hyperfocus on sex and the characters’ lack of insight to be more problematic.

e[lust] #83

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Welcome to Elust #83

The only place where the smartest and hottest sex bloggers are featured under one roof every month. Whether you’re looking for sex journalism, erotic writing, relationship advice or kinky discussions it’ll be here at Elust. Want to be included in Elust #84? Start with the rules, come back July 1st to submit something and subscribe to the RSS feed for updates!

 

~ This Month’s Top Three Posts ~

London Crows and London Kisses

I am Her. She is Me.

You Say You Want to Cook for Me

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Unusual Liaison

Community. Respect. Friendship. Fucking.

~Readers Choice from Sexbytes ~

Dirty Little Secrets

Poetry

You Know
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Thoughts & Advice on Sex & Relationships

My Bed
Secular Submission
My therapy
from “hard limit” to “want”
We Measure the Nostalgia
The Cure and The Cause

Events

Smut in the 6ix – Porn Conference & Gala

Erotic Fiction

Typing Errors
La Belle Dame
Sex and chocolate
The Imprisoned of HIM-HER-THEM
The Gift
audience
Becca’s Story
Rope and Fixtures
As salty as his cum…
Dominating the Doctor

Erotic Non-Fiction

Teen Sex in Woolly Tights with 60s Beat Music
Dear Sadist: Your Cruelty Is Your Love
A male dom, the straight girl and the bi girl
Owned, Leashed, & Beaten
Jan 2015 Owned & Collared by Mistress Claire
Rinse The Days Filth Away
Power On
Keeping tally

Sex News, Opinion, Interviews, Politics & Humor

Formative Kink Epic Fail: “Buck Rogers”

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If it was easy anyone could do it
What’s a service submissive?
Prescient Words

Writing About Writing

What if aspirational meant something else?

 

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a tale of three photographers

I was supposed to do a nude photo shoot last week.

There was more to it than just wanting someone to take photos of me. Some months ago I was approached by a different photographer about doing a nude shoot. I liked the idea a lot (and still do), but worried about whether I’d be up to it. That photographer lives overseas, and while I have tentative plans to be in his neck of the woods later this year, it would be impossible to meet more than a day or two in advance to decide whether I felt I could do this project with him. With the distances involved, I feared that I would pressure myself into going through with it even if I wasn’t entirely at ease, and I didn’t want to put either of us in that position.

And why should I be nervous about a nude shoot when I have a bunch of nude photos on the internet already?

Once upon a time, I connected with yet another photographer, who was trying to build up a portfolio and was offering glamour and nude shoots. I inquired about glamour but was too slow off the mark, though he was still looking for people for nudes…

I don’t know why I pushed on with it. I was torn: I was vaguely interested but very uncomfortable. I would hint daintily at nudity but not commit to it (a shadow on a piece of fabric, a jacket worn without a shirt or bra under it). I felt awkward and almost defensive the whole time and then I hated all the images that came back. And from that I learned caution.

If I agree to do a shoot with Overseas Photographer, I expect some nerves but I don’t want to be haunted by a feeling of wrongness the whole time. How could I get some assurance that it wouldn’t suddenly seem like a bad idea as soon as I got to his studio?

Prior to this discussion with OP, I’d been approached on FetLife by someone who was also a photographer. He was local-ish, and had liked my profile image. That conversation didn’t really go anywhere, in part because I was just feeling my way around the site and trying to dissuade the people drawn out of the woodwork by the smell of fresh meat. Later I started thinking that I could try working with FetLife Photographer as a trial run before OP. FP seemed OK so I got in touch again and initiated a discussion.

We don’t live in the  same city, but FP sometimes comes to my city to shoot and didn’t mind making a trip. I mentioned wanting to meet in advance, which he thought would be unlikely to happen due to the distance and travel times involved. Logistics are definitely an issue, but considering I still wasn’t sure whether I’d be able to follow through — and a major purpose of this project was to help me assess that — I considered an advance meeting to be essential and gently pushed the point. We had been back and forth daily, so when I didn’t hear from him for two weeks (after noting that he had been on the site many times since our last exchange), I took it as a tacit dismissal of my concerns and a conclusion that this was an incompatibility.

But then a couple of days after I’d given up on him, FP turned up again and apologized, explaining that he’d somehow missed responding. We agreed that if either of us was in the other’s city, we’d try to make plans to meet. And not too long after, an opportunity arose.

We met at a coffee shop, and Wolf came along for the first short while, mostly so Wolf could meet him and form his own opinions. (I’d already sent Gawan the link to FP’s FetLife page for an opinion based on his profile info and portfolio.) Wolf left after about 10 minutes, leaving the two of us to chat.

So there I was, in a coffee shop showing a virtual stranger nude photos of myself, and I found that my biggest concern was ensuring the images weren’t in the sight lines of the other customers. I felt strangely comfortable. Strangely? I was surprised, but maybe the comfort was a certainty after all the nude photos I’ve posted online.

Soon after, FP let me know that he had a few days that could work for a shoot (the first being a mere three days hence) but understood if it was too rushed. I picked the last day of the three he offered, and we started making our plans.

The one thing we hadn’t managed to agree on was the release form. We had discussed his approach to nude photography (what gets posted where, whether the model’s face is shown, etc.) when we met and — after I reviewed the release form — also in the lead up to the appointed day. His verbal explanation sounded good, but lots of details that I thought were important were omitted from the form. The evening before the shoot, I sent him my specific thoughts on revising the form. He didn’t get my notes until the morning and wasn’t prepared to discuss it at that point. He called off the shoot. I haven’t heard from him since.

Will the shoot with FP go ahead? It’s not impossible, but we’ll need to negotiate and agree to a release form before scheduling anything. My impression, however, is that he’s not interested in working with me any more.

It’s not a total loss. I now know to discuss and negotiate the release form in advance. I’ve learned that I don’t necessarily need the anonymity and distance of the internet to be able to feel at ease sharing images of my nude body. I was disappointed by the cancellation rather than relieved. I now feel more comfortable with the idea of doing a shoot with OP, and establishing my comfort level was the point of this exercise.

Now I just need to get on a plane, I suppose. But I have a bigger trip in the meantime: I’m going to visit Gawan in about a month and a half.