“Except the person in the mirror didn’t feel like him anymore. It wasn’t him. It couldn’t be.”
In a word: Read the thing. Definitely read the thing. If you enjoy hurt/comfort stories (like I do) this is something you might enjoy. Of course, this is a book that deals with rape, so some of it is pretty dark. It’s got engaging characters, a nice pace, angst, some humour, and has a fairly realistic depiction (or so I’ve been told) of a rape and what comes after. All in all, it’s a very emotional read. Also there’s dogs.
THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS
The Trigger Warning: This book contains rape, assault, emotional abuse, victim blaming, internalized homophobia, and PTSD (including panic attacks).
The Couple: Derek Sawyer and Russ Thomas are our two romantic leads here. They’re both in their 30s and both are dog lovers. Derek works in IT (from what I understand) and is engaged to be married to his boyfriend of five years. He’s a nice guy, but he doesn’t have many friends. He’s content living the life he leads, but he lives mostly in denial. Russ, a police officer, meets Derek and Tim when they buy the cabin on the lake next door to him. Both men are attracted to each other right away, but neither of them are the cheating type and so they don’t act on that attraction. Russ is perpetually unlucky in love and is just looking for the right guy to settle down with. He’s a sweetheart with a bit of a temper, and very protective of the people he loves.
The Two Plots: So really, I find that there are actually two stories going on here. It’s all written in third person limited, and the point of view switches from Derek to Russ throughout the book, sometimes even a few times a chapter, so we have two distinct stories happening at first. One story is about Derek and how his life falls apart when the people closest to him betray him in the worst ways and how he has to put himself back together. The other story is about Russ and his quest for love. The stories are fairly separate at first, the two men are only occasional neighbours and don’t interact all that much. The stories only converge after Derek is raped (which Russ doesn’t find out about for a while) and starts spending more time at his cabin and, by extension, Russ. At first these two men stories’ run parallel to each other, occasionally intersecting, and then they both come together as Derek has Russ’ help in coming to terms with what happened to him and learning to move on, and Russ finally finds real love with Derek.
The Fiancé: This would be Tim, the second most infuriating character in the book (no prizes for guessing who the first one is). Tim and Derek have been together for five years, and living together for three of those years. They’re engaged to be married and I have no idea why because Tim is such a whining, emotionally abusive, and manipulative little prick. How he completely escaped this story without at least one character punching him in the face is beyond me. He’s awful. He has a horrible personality, and on top of that he’s constantly up Derek’s ass about every interaction Derek ever has with anyone ever. Though Derek doesn’t actually interact with that many people since it turns out that Tim has done a fairly good job of isolating Derek from having any other friends aside from Tim himself (and Victor, but he’s actually also Derek’s boss, so, not much Tim can do about that). Most of Derek’s parts that include Tim always talk about how jealous Tim is and how he gets angry and pissy at Derek over every perceived slight. Basically, Derek can’t do anything right in Tim’s eyes. It’s obvious, and even Derek is aware, that he can’t really rely on Tim for emotional support and he’s even aware that he constantly has to censor himself around Tim and hide things even when he isn’t doing anything wrong because Tim flies off the handle at everything Derek does that could even hint at possible cheating. Possibly cheating seems to be Tim’s biggest issue and Tim must be insanely insecure because there is no evidence anywhere in the text that even implies that Derek even considers himself capable of cheating, or that he even does anything suspicious. I don’t even know how they even lasted this long, Derek mentions that things have been bad between them for a while, and I think that Derek only clung to Tim because he had no one else to turn to (and Tim knows it).
The Dogs: Two dogs are heavily featured throughout the book. There’s Max, Russ’ German Shepard; and Gracie, Derek’s old dog of no mentioned breed (though I kept picturing a Bassett Hound for whatever reason). They are sorta the catalyst for Derek and Russ initially meeting and they’re also a topic the two men can bond over. Russ and Derek love their dogs. The dogs are adorable and they add some levity to a fairly dark story. They’re also both just normal dogs, and they act like normal dogs. Their purpose is to be cute and provide companionship to their owners.
The Rape: This is a thing that happens, and it happens early on in the story. The act itself lasts about a page or so, and is not at all written in a sexy way. It’s very obvious that what is happening is not sex and not consensual and a very horrifying thing for Derek to experience. It uses violent language and is, overall, a brutal read. This is not a description of two men having a consensual, romantic affair. This is one man attacking another using sex.
The Rapist: So, Victor. Victor is Derek’s boss, gym partner, and friend for the past 20 years. He’s a macho man, rude, crude, and probably thinks that he’s god’s gift to women. He’s a complete prick, I have no idea why Derek is even friends with him. Or, was friends with him. Victor and Derek get drunk on a business trip to Tampa and then Derek wakes up in their shared hotel room to find Victor climbing on top of him. Things only go downhill from there. I really don’t get Victor, like, at all. He’s clearly a sociopath, or something, because this is his (possible) best long time friend and then he betrays him in the worst way. And then after the fact he doesn’t seem to think that he did anything wrong. Which is probably a front because there are some clues that make it seem like he knows he fucked up, and bad. But, just, this guy. I hate this character and he has no redeeming qualities. I have a pet theory that he is maybe very deep in the closet, and that’s why he did it in the first place (context clues), but that doesn’t excuse anything. Victor attacks Derek a few times (only once was a rape, the rest were physical attacks) and this man really has no shame. He clearly thinks that he can get away with anything, and why shouldn’t he think that? He got away with raping Derek, and he even managed to get Derek in trouble over it. That’s the kind of guy he is. Makes me wonder if this was his first sexual offence (methinks no).
The Aftermath: I think one of the unwritten rules about writing a story about rape is that you can’t just focus solely on the rape or make it sexy (the rape, I mean, not the story). If you do that it becomes a rape story and not a story about rape. This is very much a story about rape. The rape happens, it is not at all sexy, and it is not the total focus of Derek’s story. What happens after the rape is what really sets the tone of a story. The aftermath of Derek’s rape is written really well here. Derek is very deeply affected by what happened, he spirals down, but the writing doesn’t go overboard with it. He develops PTSD (or PTSD-like symptoms), he distances himself from Tim, and he falls into a pit of self-loathing and victim blaming. Making things worse is that Victor is his boss, so he goes to work in a state of constant vigilance because he’s now terrified of Victor and there’s always a chance that he’ll run into him again at work. Being a gay male rape victim adds yet another layer of issues on the whole thing because of the way society views rape as being mostly something that happens to women. There is victim blaming here, done both by Derek and others, and it’s devastating. Derek’s image of himself as a confident man who can take care of himself is shattered, and it just gets worse as the hits keep on coming. He gets fired from work and then Tim (awful, manipulative little prick) leaves him and Derek finds himself truly alone. This is where Russ comes in. Russ is certainly not the one thing that ‘saves’ Derek, but he is a big help in Derek’s moving forward and getting on with his life. Also worth noting is that Derek doesn’t automatically become ‘better’ and get over everything quickly. He struggles and he has to work hard to get himself to a better place. Russ doesn’t come in and fix everything with his magical cock, he becomes Derek’s friend and a safe person for Derek to rely on.
The Sex: This book does have a romantic subplot, so there are some sex scenes. There’s one fairly blah one between Derek and Tim in the beginning. Russ has a few between his escapades with cop-lover Ian and the weekend at the gay B&B. These scenes are well-written and there are differences between them depending on the couples. Derek and Tim’s serves mostly as a commentary on their relationship and Derek’s complicated relationship with anal sex in general. Russ and Ian’s scenes are just smut and there to highlight Russ’ loneliness. And the gay B&B scenes are there for fun. It’s all good stuff. The main romantic relationship in the book is between Russ and Derek, and they only have one sex scene together and it’s in the epilogue.
The Epilogue: Here is Derek and Russ’ HEA, though not a standard one it fits perfectly with the tone of the rest of the book. It takes place two years after the main story ends and is a time-stamp of sorts of Derek’s road to healing. Victor is in jail (HA!) and Derek and Russ are now settled better into their relationship and even considering marriage. It’s not a typical HEA where everything is happy-happy and right and good. It makes it a point to say that Derek will never fully get over what happened to him, he will never be the same person he was before, but neither is he a completely broken man. He will be dealing with this for the rest of his life, but he will still be happy. The epilogue contains the only sex scene between Derek and Russ. In the main story, Derek and Russ didn’t get together until a while after Derek was raped and Tim leaves him over it, and by then Derek was still afraid of men and physical touch. So there’s no sexual contact between them until the epilogue. The scene in the epilogue is not the first time they’ve been sexual in the two years since the main story ended, but it is the first time they have anal sex. Them having sex feels like a victory for Derek, he’s a sexual person who wants to show his love to Russ in a physical way, and now he is able to do that. It’s not the end of Derek’s healing journey, this isn’t an ending where everything is tied up in a neat bow, but it’s still a happy ending all the same.
The Writing: The writing here is solid. It conveys a spectrum of emotion depending on the scene; you will feel things when you read this. Another thing to point out is the POV switch. The story is told alternately from Russ and Derek’s points of view, switching between them sometimes several times during one chapter. These switches are never confusing, it’s always obvious right away whose point of view you’re reading. There’s also the fact that there manages to be two easy to follow storylines to read here, and they merge seamlessly and continue on together ‘til the end.
[Violated was published August 7, 2015 by Dreamspinner Press, available both in print and as an ebook]