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Playing: A Novel Paperback – Apr 11 2008

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press, Black Cat (April 11 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802170471
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802170477
  • Product Dimensions: 14.1 x 2 x 21.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 340 g
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,678,331 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Abrams's debut novel is a revealing look inside the mind of a woman who enjoys being beaten, shamed and dominated by her lover. While pursuing her studies, 27-year-old anthropology graduate student Josie works as a nanny for a single mother with a special-needs son and a baby girl. While Josie may at first seem like a wholesome young woman, it isn't long before she's sneaking out in the middle of the night to rendezvous with her older Indian doctor lover, Devesh, who recognizes her sadomasochistic desires. With great excitement, she allows herself to be bound and whipped, fulfilling her desire to play. As Josie falls in love with Devesh, their bedroom escapades become increasingly brutal, and she struggles to make sense of her need for sexual violence as she explores her relationship with her mother and confronts her guilt about the death of her infant brother, who died under murky circumstances when she was a little girl. The narrative moves fast, and the stark swirl of sex, violence and near-madness will please readers with a dark bent. (Apr.)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4.0 out of 5 stars 9 reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful, Dark, and...Hopeful April 5 2010
By katya436 - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Previous reviewers have covered a lot of ground, so I won't restate. But Playing is an excellent novel. Don't be misled by the premise, or even the cover. Josie's sexual leanings are central to the plot but the scenes are far and few between and tastefully done. There is so much more going on in this story about pain and grief that I think most anyone can relate to it, even if you don't feel the need to be..."punished." The writing is elegant, the protagonist's journey is truly affecting. I loved most that the story is rooted in real places--Santa Barbara and North Carolina--and the characters are very real. So many authors try to create "larger than life" characters that are wonderful, but don't always read like real people. The characters in this novel are painfully true to life.

My only issues were the slight lag in pace about 2/3 of the way through. Abrams devoted quite a few pages to an event that was definitely a turning point in the story, but I found myself wanting to get past it. Which I did and the novel finished as strong as it started. And Josie, the main character. I'm afraid I had a very difficult time liking her. And I love, no, really, I LOVE flawed, borderline dis-likable characters. But I found myself wondering, "Why does Devesh love her? Why does Philip love her?" and coming up empty. While I felt Josie's pain along with her, she didn't seem like that kind of person I'd want to keep around.

However, I passionately loved and enjoyed this book. I want to share it with the other readers in my life but I'm a little bashful about the premise. Ha! "Read this book about S/M, it's amazing." How do you recommend a book like this?? :) Open to suggestions...
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Taps into the violence within all of us May 11 2008
By Earth Momma - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A friend of mine saw this book and was intrigued by the cover and description, so I thought I'd pick up a copy too. The main character Josie is well-drawn: like many of us she is seeking to reconcile the demons of her past. The plot unfolds organically, and the prose is nimble and light on its feet. I plowed through this book in a day because I really wanted to know how things turned out for Josie. The story made me question the capacity for violence inside myself, inside of all of us. A good read. I look forward to the next book from this author.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Exploring Pain May 30 2008
By Kelly (Fantasy Literature) - Published on
Format: Paperback
I'll admit, it was the cover that drew me in first. So of course I had to take a closer look!

The story is about a grad student, Josie, who gets involved with an older man, Devesh, who introduces her to BDSM. Josie gets thoroughly into it, but at the same time, finds that it brings some old issues from her childhood to the surface.

Josie is also working as a nanny, and her relationships with the child and his mother are filled with tension, and that, too, ties into her childhood baggage.

See, Josie has a trauma in her past, one that she's made herself not think about for years but that starts to rise to the surface when she has a child to care for, and when she begins to play with "punishment." I won't spoil what the trauma is, but I will say that it's haunting and that it's not what you might expect.

Josie is a complicated character and I didn't always like her, but I always did want to see what would come next. Devesh is wicked hot, and I love the fact that the author has two different perspectives on kink represented in the book--Josie is using it to work through some emotional issues, and Devesh just loves it because it's fun. After reading the book, I saw an interview with the author where she mentions that she wrote Devesh that way on purpose. I think it's realistic to have both, because I know people who work through emotional issues with their play and others who play for fun's sake alone, and some people who do both depending on their mood at the time.

The "play" scenes in the book are well-written and hot, if you like that sort of thing, but there's a whole lot of other stuff going on too. It's nice to see a story where people have naughty sex lives but also all sorts of real-world problems and full lives. I recommend it, with the caveat that it goes into some pretty upsetting emotional territory, especially where issues of childhood and violence are concerned.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Promising premise fails when the plot's conflict reaches a too-abrupt end. Not recommended May 27 2008
By Juushika - Published on
Format: Paperback
Josie works happily as a nanny--not because she needs the money, but because her employer, who reminds her of her mother, has adopted her as part of the family--until she meets a seductive, dominant man named Devesh. Josie has always had fantasies about submission, and is swiftly pulled away from her adopted family and into a BDSM relationship with Devesh. But Josie's desire for punishment runs deep, and she begins to suspect that it may be unhealthy--and may stem from events in her past. Abrams attempts to write a novel about the psychology behind one woman's would-be-exaggerated masochist tendencies--but Josie's desires are not particularly extreme, and the psychological aspects are underdeveloped and brought to an unnaturally abrupt end. The book has a beautiful cover--and more importantly a promising concept that gives rise to some to a handful of interesting and erotic scenes. But on the whole, Playing is a failed attempt which lacks true conflict or psychological analysis. Not recommended.

Playing is intended to be a novel in the line of the Marquise de Sade or The Story of O: a novel of sex and psychology which exaggerates the sexual desires of submission and dominances, sadism and masochism, in order to explore what they reveal about human psychology. As such, Abrams begins with a protagonist who has, for as long as she can remember, desired to be punished, bound, and abused, fantasizing about it during "normal" sex acts but also on her own, both aroused and comforted by the thought. When she begins a relationship with Devesh, an eager dominant, Josie is for the first time able to put her fantasies into practice--which raises questions of why she has such desires and how far they extend. Josie believes that her desires are abnormal, and in some ways they are a literal fetish: she must evoke her violent fantasies in order to achieve orgasm. Josie then traces this apparently innate, extreme desire back to childhood trauma.

Some of these concerns--such as the root of submissive or masochistic desires--are quite normal, but reading about them sounds a bit routine, as if Josie's arguments with Devesh are a set of pros and cons picked up off the internet. The rest of Josie's concerns--that her desires are abnormally extreme or unhealthy, that they result from past trauma--amount to very little, despite Abram's attempts to make them major conflicts. The violence which Josie submits to is more than a spanking, but well within the realm of a real-world BDSM relationship. Her fantasies are somewhat more extreme, but hardly unreasonable. All of this could still be a valid problem if her desires had an unhealthy origin, and the book slowly builds up to a repressed and certain traumatic childhood memory. However, immediately after Josie confronts this memory, she comes to terms with her it and all of her problems, with herself and with her sexual desires, disappear. The ending is so short and so simple that Josie's problems, the central conflict of the book, seem like absolutely nothing. If they were as big as Josie believed and they appear to the reader, they could never be dismissed so easily. Abrams's fails in her attempt to analyze psychology within sexuality because she does not explore the long-lasting impact caused by real psychological fetishes.

The rest of the book's strengths and weaknesses are secondary in the face of this fatal flaw. Abram's writing is a bit strange, but still readable--she prefers unusual metaphors (guilt settling like the weight of a cat on her chest, and similar) and dream sequences, and when Josie finally recalls her suppressed memory the narration switches from past to present tense. The oddities quickly go from unique to simply strange, but the text remains readable with a soft, almost lyrical narrative voice. Characterization is simplistic, but the cast of characters fulfill their roles in the plot--Devesh brings Josie's issues of sex and submission to the forefront, and her employer and charges mirror Josie's estranged mother and her (childhood) self. The erotic elements benefit from Abrams's lyrical, almost distracted writing style--they are idealized and yet given an abrupt, harsh edge which makes them both arousing and appropriately violent. The plot has a pensive, slow build towards Josie's revelation, but the end is almost comically brief. In sum, the book is defined by the fact that the conflict falters and dies: the problems are not as severe as they need to be and their resolution is far too swift, and so Josie's concerns appear foolish and small. Abrams tries to write about psychology and sex, about what drives one woman to punish herself, what makes her find such punishment both comforting and arousing. The text, however, is a mere shadow of its intentions: a minor psychological issue, an easily forgotten childhood trauma, a simple and swift resolution all of which make the book disappointing and forgettable. Interested readers would be better to borrow than buy this book, since it holds little reread potential. Personally, I do not recommend it. In its place, I do recommend The Story of O--another book about the psychology of submission that is in much the same vein but manages to be both intensely erotic and intelligently psychological--and similar texts.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, daring debut novel April 13 2008
By Jennie - Published on
Format: Paperback
Melanie Abrams' courageous, fast-paced novel offers an unflinching look at a woman coming to terms with her sexual desires and personal instincts. This book's readership extends far beyond those with a "dark bent." Anyone willing to reexamine the way our family legacies shape us will walk away from this novel with an expanded perspective on the forces behind our human instincts, and the many paths we take to mend our broken selves.

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