by Bonnie Dee, contemporary (2006)
Liquid Silver Books, $5.75, ISBN 1-59578-164-1
Maybe it's the late hour of the night but it takes only one look at the cover of Bonnie Dee's Home Bound for me to go, "Oh dear, is that Jennifer Garner trying to score dope from a creepy-looking weirdo on the streets?" This book seems like something I could enjoy: it's about an older woman hiring a younger male escort to go all hoochie-hoochie on her in a reenactment of her favorite Robin Schone scenario. The thing is, the romance in Home Bound ends up sharing the same problem as Laura Leone's "Rent A Boyfriend" story Fallen From Grace: the author overcompensates for the hero's occupation to the point that the hero comes off like a candidate for sainthood - flat and boring.
I mean, it should be a basic fundamental fact of life that we all need to eat. Therefore, to me, it is understandable why Ryan Hayes is a male escort. He needs to eat, like we all do, and I'm not the person to begrudge a good-looking young man who decides that he'd rather hustle and make more money that he would have otherwise working at Burger King. But I suppose some readers will make moral objections to Ryan's choice of career, hence Ms Dee's efforts to overcompensate for Ryan's choice of occupation, although I wonder why these readers who find a hero selling himself objectionable will read a story with such a hero in the first place.
As a result of this overcompensation, Ryan needs money to pay for his grandmother's nursing home and medical bills and if that's not noble enough, this grandmother is stricken with Alzheimer's disease! Ryan is at first a telephone sex operator but then Granny gets stricken with pneumonia and he needs to get his jeep repaired (don't fret, people, the jeep is bound to save some children from a burning bus one of these days so repairing it is still a noble cause) so he begins selling himself out. Also, his apartment is infested with cockroaches. If you ask me though, if he still can't make ends meet in the sex industry, perhaps it's time to be less fussy about where the money is coming from and start entertaining closeted Republican senators who will really pay big bucks for their secret sexual escapades.
Naturally, his first customer is our heroine. This is just like those heroines forced to sell themselves only to get our hero as their first customer, isn't it? It's a shame that Granny doesn't develop a brain tumor or two because then Ryan will be forced to swallow his "I don't do that kind of thing" attitude and start acting in gay adult films, heh. If Ryan hasn't received Mother Theresa's blessings yet, he is also the most sensible person ever despite him being only twenty-two on top of being a sex guru as well. He's like an accountant and a vibrator all in one.
Our heroine Monica Brennerman is twenty-seven, so the age difference between her and Ryan is pretty much nothing, really. She lives alone with her cat. I know, I know, that's pretty sad as well so predictable at the same time. She suffers from agoraphobia. By the way, Bonnie Dee gets it right as she depicts agoraphobia in this story as a psychological disorder involving anxiety attacks over situations that the person has no control over rather than a fear of open spaces like many authors tend to do. Monica keeps to herself in her home, writing for various publications as a way to make a living, until she gets lonely enough to go online and end up hiring Ryan for some company.
Because Ryan comes off as a one-dimensional "Don't hate me please, I'm a victim of circumstances" poster boy, I find it hard to care for his romance with Monica. The sex scenes are pretty hot, involving the usual nine yards of the romantic erotica formula (conventional sex, anal sex, mild D/s elements), especially when I consider that one of the participants is a cardboard character. There are some scenes involving threesomes and casual drug use as well, which are fine with me but probably not so fine with some readers out there.
I like Monica's story more. As odd as it seems, her major storyline has little to do with Ryan in the sense that she is trying slowly to overcome her agoraphobia and her relationship with Ryan is a separate matter from this. With or without Ryan, she is trying to find a way to break the barriers in her mind that prevent her from leading a normal life. Her mother and sister are well-written characters that help act as catalysts for Monica's efforts. This aspect of the story is far more interesting to me than the sex games she and Ryan are playing or Ryan's "Can I be loved?" blues. In fact, I am disappointed that Ms Dee doesn't flesh out this subplot more. I'd like to read more of Monica's visits to the shrink, perhaps, or her relationships with her family members who try to be understanding but not always succeeding in the process. Bonnie Dee can deal with matters like agoraphobia without resorting to cheap sentimental gags like Catherine Anderson. I really like that and I wish this story has a stronger focus on Monica's attempts to deal with her agoraphobia.
Home Bound therefore is a bit of a confusing anomaly. Half of it is a gripping tale of a heroine's psychological battle with herself. The other half is a story of her having all kinds of sex games with a hero who is a flat and one-dimensional "Please don't hate me, love me instead! See this? Granny with Alzheimer!" figure to the point that that he may as well be a blow-up doll that comes with a cross and a recommendation by experts telling women that using that blow-up doll regularly will change their lives for the better.
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