Pleasure

By Eric Jerome Dickey

Dutton. 449 pp. $24.95


Reviewed by

Karen Quiñones Miller


Warning:

Pleasure

, the newest book by New York Times best-selling author Eric Jerome Dickey, is not for the prudish.

Or the conservative. Or anyone under the age of 18.

In other words, if books were given the same ratings as movies, this one would be XXX.

Pleasure

tells the story of ghostwriter Nia Simone Bijou, a Los Angeles transplant living in Atlanta after moving there from Memphis to get away from her picture-perfect boyfriend. He's madly in love with her, but can't satisfy her sexually and - even worse - uses bad grammar.

Bijou is also obsessed with the late writer Anaïs Nin, who was celebrated for her erotic writing and her sexually uninhibited lifestyle. Though married, Nin (who died in 1977) openly had affairs with the likes of Henry Miller, Gore Vidal and James Agee.

Like her idol, the stunningly beautiful Bijou embraces her sexuality. As the novel opens, she's relegated to pleasuring herself with a variety of sexual toys because she hasn't found a suitable man in Atlanta, one who will satisfy her in bed but won't expect an emotional commitment.

But when she goes for her usual four-mile jog through a park she finds the perfect specimens: identical twins Mark and Karl. And through them – and the people she meets through them – she's able to fulfill all of her sexual fantasies, from ménage à trois to bisexuality.

But Bijou breaks her own principles when she finds herself falling for one of the twins, perhaps both of them.

Pleasure

is written in first person, and while Dickey has often been complimented on his expert use of a woman's voice, he seems to struggle with it at times in this novel, especially in the passages dealing with sex – which is almost every passage in the book. He's graphic in his detail of the act, but never quite able to describe the experience itself.

For example, he can say, "He touched my hand, and it felt wonderful," but he can't describe exactly how the touch felt. And of course, one of the benefits of reading a book written in first person is the ability it gives the reader to live the narrator's experience along with her. In this sense,

Pleasure

falls flat.

Dickey, who is a master of the fast-moving drama-filled plot, slows the pace considerably in

Pleasure

. He takes his time with this book – his main character is fully developed, her motivations completely understandable, her sexual odyssey superbly explored – and he shows the touch of a masterful literary writer. He's also given us wonderful insight into the complex relationship between the twins – the simultaneous love and jealousy they have for each other.

But some of Dickey's secondary characters are so thinly developed there seems to be almost no point in having written them at all. We learn that Bijou's Hollywood producer mom is a major influence in her daughter's life, but we wouldn't know that if Bijou didn't tell us so.

We also don't get to know Logan, Bijou's former boyfriend. Because of her description of him as clinging, controlling and bad in bed, I guess that I was supposed to dislike him. But I also wound up not liking Bijou. It was evident that however bad he was, she led him on, at least to some extent, and it seemed cruel to drop him suddenly and not care that he was brokenhearted

In fact, one of the biggest problems I had with

Pleasure

was that the main character seemed heartless, cold, and totally self-absorbed - so much so that when she's confronted by the betrayed wife of one of the twins, she expresses no guilt, but instead is indignant that the woman lashes out at her.

Another big problem I had was with all that sex, and not a condom in sight.

But even with all of that, like most of Dickey's books, this is a novel that's hard to put down. I wasn't reading for drama and plot twists, but because I was curious about where Bijou's journey would lead her. I wanted to see if the strange sexual odyssey she was on was going to end in self-fulfillment, or in some way make her a better person.

Fans of erotica will enjoy this book, as will all die-hard Eric Jerome Dickey fans – though some will be shocked by the amount of graphic sex. It's a novel worth reading, if only to ponder the words of Anais Nin, ". . . for no one has ever loved an adventurous woman as they have loved adventurous men."

Bijou is nothing if not adventurous.

Karen Quiñones Miller's most recent novel is "Passin,' " published by Grand Central Publishing in February.