Monday, February 18, 2013

Dirty Laundry by Heidi Cullinan

Why I read it:  I picked up a copy from NetGalley.

What it's about:  (from Goodreads)  The course of true love doesn’t always run clean. But sometimes getting dirty is half the fun.

Entomology grad student Adam Ellery meets Denver Rogers, a muscle-bound hunk of sexy, when Denver effortlessly dispatches the drunken frat boys harassing Adam at the Tucker Springs laundromat. Thanking him turns into flirting, and then, much to Adam’s delight, hot sex over the laundry table.

Though Denver’s job as a bouncer at a gay bar means he gets his pick of geek-sexy college twinks, he can’t get Adam out of his head. Adam seems to need the same rough play Denver does, and it’s damn hard to say no to such a perfect fit.

Trouble is, Adam isn’t just shy: he has obsessive compulsive disorder and clinical anxiety, conditions which have ruined past relationships. And while Denver might be able to bench-press a pile of grad students, he comes from a history of abuse and is terrified of getting his GED. Neither Denver nor Adam want to face their dirty laundry, but to stay together, they’re going to have to come clean.

What worked for me (and what didn't): Ever have the experience of slowing down and re-reading paragraphs as you come to the end of a book just so you can make it last longer?  That's what I did with Dirty Laundry.  It was sooooo good.  I did not want it to end.

I read and loved the free short offered online as part of Coffee and Porn in the Morning's birthday bash celebration last year.  Because I enjoyed the short so much I was super interested in what Ms. Cullinan would do with the story expanded and (sort of) reinvented.  Bear in mind however, that the full length novel is a different story, so you can't really regard the short as "chapter 1".  (In the short, Adam doesn't explicitly have OCD or the tic regarding people's spaces for example  - something which is a huge barrier for Adam and Denver's relationship but which they handle with creativity and fun while not being dismissive of the issue either.)

I have to give kudos to Heidi Cullinan for being so brave with, particularly, Adam's character. Adam could have been whiny and unsympathetic.  He could have seemed too messed up to bother with.  Similarly, Denver could have been no more than a muscle bound man with a chip on his shoulder. And Louisa could have been a representative transgender character there to be inclusive but not much else.  But they weren't.  

Adam was largely matter of fact about his mental illness - accepting and working hard to live a successful life in spite of his challenges. (That's not to say he went around advertising it to everyone or that he didn't agonise over telling Denver, but rather, he wasn't all "woe is me" all the time)  He didn't spend much time feeling sorry for himself and the clever way that the anxiety and the OCD were portrayed as almost separate characters helped to see Adam as a person distinct from his disorder, valuable and courageous.  

Denver, while certainly being muscle bound, had an instinctive ability to give Adam what he needed, but it wasn't the "I'm a Dom and I just know what you, the sub, needs" thing (which is annoying and inaccurate surely) - rather he had the patience and manner of someone good with skittish creatures, as well as the wit to pick up on subtle cues from Adam about what was working and what wasn't.  He paid attention.  Denver may not have been book smart, but he was no dummy.  I did like very much that the problems weren't all Adam's and I loved that Denver never felt superior to him.  Denver's thoughtful but ultimately easy acceptance of Adam and all his quirks was just so beautiful and the way Adam positively bloomed under the care and acceptance of someone who wasn't afraid to look and see the real him was too.  Denver didn't "heal" Adam with the mighty wang of lovin'.  Adam wasn't blind to the potential pitfalls for him in purusing a BDSM relationship, given his mental illness.  Adam was sensible, seeking treatment (and changing his provider when kink became something he needed to talk about to be healthy).  Unlike in Addition (a completely different book but which also features an OCD main character), Adam didn't despise drugs or therapy and made no attempt to go it alone.  He very much wanted to be in charge of his own life, even if he occasionally wanted to hand temporary control to Denver and I loved how the book showed (not told, thank you!) that he wanted and actually did that.  And I loved how Denver supported him in that and didn't baby him or try and make him sick just so he'd be reliant on him (Denver) unlike Brad (boo hiss).

Louisa was more than just a sympathetic friend to both men.  She didn't have a lot of page time and there wasn't very much about her own challenges and issues, but she wasn't just a placeholder.  Her challenges made her sympathetic and understanding of Adam.  Her experiences and abilities made her a good friend to both men.  And Adam (in particular) gave back to her too - it wasn't merely a one sided relationship for story exposition. I haven't read a lot of transgender characters - they're certainly not common in mainstream fiction.  I like very much how Louisa just was.  She was there, she was transgender, she was real and sympathetic - not a placeholder or an activist statement.  I liked her very much and would be only too happy to read more about her. 

I loved how protective of each other Denver and Adam were, how they adapted for each other, how they accepted one another.  And I adore a hero riding to the rescue so this book just ticked all my checkboxes.

I did enjoy the steamy sex too.  I suppose Adam *should* have been more careful and not relied so much on Denver being a man of his word; being a good Dom. Adam himself acknowledges this, but I liked how Denver was careful and thoughtful and in control even when he was so turned on he couldn't speak.  In a lot of romance fiction, heroes are portrayed as getting so aroused they lose control - sometimes this can be sexy but, increasingly, I see it as a bad thing.  And it made Denver no less hot, not less turned on, by being in charge of himself as well as Adam.

There were a couple of threads I wanted more information about.  What happened with Brad in the end?  Was Adam able to finally get him to shut up and leave him alone?  How did Denver's study go - what method worked for him best?  But they were little things in a big book of goodness and happy sighs. 

What else? Could Louisa get a HEA too please?  Also any sequels involving Adam and Denver grateful received.

Grade:  A-


Merrian said...

I enjoyed this story very much, especially Brad's villainy. I thought it highlighted how disability and how we cope and live with it is a thing constructed out of the people and the world around us responses as much as the fixed reality of the illness.

I also think there was a whole lot going on in all of this about boundaries how they work, what happens when they are transgressed (e.g. Brad & phone) and what happens to our personal power when we choose to open them or are they are forced.

Kaetrin said...

@Merrian Yes, I was outraged when Brad got into Adam's phone. It was such a violation. All of Brad's "well meaning interference" was completely designed to make/keep Adam dependent upon him. Even though Brad would then bag Adam mercilessly for being so depending, it was Brad's emotional abuse which made it happen - because if Adam could stand on his own, he wouldn't need Brad.

I loved how Denver was juxtaposed with Brad - it wasn't obvious or anything, but Denver, even being overtly dominant always always took Adam's desires and feelings into account and acted based on them. But I also liked that Adam had been strong enough to (try to) get away from Brad before meeting Denver and even though he struggled, realised Brad was bad for him.

azteclady said...

Sold, absolutely.

Thank you!

Kaetrin said...

@azteclady let me know what you think :)