Pretty When She Cries by Sarah Kate

Major Warning: Review contains Adult themes and spoilers. Strictly 18+. 

I will read anything if it seems interesting. So when I caught sight of this, how could I resist? I’ll warn you again before I continue, this is not a review for anybody under 18 years of age or with a vanilla view on coitus. 

Sex is primordial and uncultivated. It can allow you to explore your deepest wishes from the arms of someone you trust, and who will keep you safe even as you stumble over the edge of sanity and enjoy the most debased of behaviours. That said, always do you have a strong sense of self, and always can you separate reality from fantasy to recognise what is right and what is wrong. Some people will not be able to accept the more forbidden parts of human nature, or understand it, and nobody is asking them to. 

I say all this because if you don’t have an open mind about the sexual preferences of others, and a secure understanding of your own sexuality you will feel the need to condemn this book in reaction to any emotion it evokes in you. 

In a nutshell this story needed emotional depth and should not be categorized as erotica. 

Pretty When She Cries is 40,000 words of rape and violence. I can see why Amazon banned it, though in reality the content is no more disturbing than watching a rape or torture scene in a film. Films which are most graphic are not necessarily those which are the most disturbing. Such is the case with this book. Its bark is worse than its bite. The issue is that all the elements combined do not add up to something anybody should be comfortable being titillated by. I am not sure if this was done intentionally by the author, or by accident. 

I can see a large number of women (and men) seeing the rape and brutality featured in PWSC as sick. The themes are not supported by any substantial emotional splintering from the main character Nicole (victim). She is a two dimensional waif, and I honestly have to keep re-reading the blurb to remember her name. For me, Nicole’s emotions were kept far too in check, and were not explored in enough detail. 

The book is free from errors if that is a key priority of yours, and the subject matter taboo enough to make you feel urbane for trying it. This book should have taken me to a dark place that is harsh and barren. Other than a vague absorption in what the book promised to be, there was nothing that shocked or moved me in any way. I should have felt a myriad of emotion. I should have felt the need to cry or seek solace in a story with a happy ever after. I was left frustrated. 

I suffered a detachment from the story because of the narrative voice. This lack of involvement is the books main downfall. It’s almost like the author was too afraid to write the word “I”. We do not go through this horrible experience with Nicole, we watch it happen to her. Ask yourself, would you stand by and watch rape happen? 

I’m not a psychiatrist, but I would think rape would be fuelled by a need to debase and dominate. Abusers who feel a need to retain absolute control in a sexual situation and humiliate the unwilling victim who is made helpless directly by their actions. To achieve this state, you would not repeatedly tell a victim you are about to rape them. That in itself prepares them. They could mentally fortify themselves and come to an acceptance of what was about to happen to them to survive it. This would diminish the humiliation and domination, if not remove it entirely from the hands of the rapist. Putting myself in the shoes of this victim (god forbid this would ever happen to me or any other human being on this planet), if my abuser told me what he was to do, and I was powerless and unable to fight back, I would take control from him (or her) in any way I could. Humans fight. To the last breathe. Always. We don’t give up, it’s our nature, even in the face of great pain. So fighting back, merely taking the power from the hands of the rapist removes a key driver behind it – control of the unwilling. James tells Nicole he is going to rape her. Immediately a main driver for the rapist in this book has been lost, and nothing has been given to me from the author in its place to help me to understand why he continues to abuse her. Her, specifically. Control and dominance suggests a character who is self indulged and arrogant. Not the traits of a person who would see to a woman’s pleasure during the act of sex and need constant reassurance of it, especially if it is non-consensual, like James does. Basically, his reactions do not make sense, even taking into consideration the ill treatment he'd suffered in his life. 

A further problem (due to the fact it was written as erotica) is the language the author used. It is amorous. What happens between two consenting adults is between them, and had this story actually been erotica with "rape" as role play it may be distasteful to some, but appeal to others who like that kind of extreme kink (in truth, that is still technically not rape, as there is consent from the victim prior to the act). But this story is about non-consensual sex, something else entirely. Pretend is still pretend, no matter how convincing the actors want to make it. The rape in this story was not supposed to be role play, and yet, the descriptors used during are staggeringly similar to those used in current romance novels (because she has written it as erotica). 

The full reality is that rape is not arousing, or attractive in any shape or form, but some of the themes (used by consenting adults) behind it are. Namely, total submission from your partner, dominance, physical helplessness ... a consensual power exchange, and that is what readers to PWSC will react to, not the rape itself, and as that is the main element in this book, this is why I do not think it should be classed as erotica. Think of it this way, you get romance novels where men “seduce” and “break” the strong willed women (marauding Viking romance anyone?). In those books it’s the same themes as explored here but in a low-key “safe” way. The levels to which any consenting individual takes these themes is down to them, this is simply the high end of that tolerance scale – gone wrong. 

Non-consensual sex is not something that should arouse. Dominance, control, pain, etc, fine, do whatever floats your boat, but not the removal of free will. Never that. This needed to be an erotica which featured extreme S&M and D&S as role play, or this needed to be work of fiction which seeks to explore the mind of the abuser or the victim. The two are mixed here and that creates a problem for me as a reader and as a woman. 

As for the violence ... hmm. There is pain (S&M) and then there is PAIN (torture). S&M is erotic. Torture is evil. This books flaunts violence and abuse but there is no true malevolence behind it from the abuser, and the infliction of it becomes monotonous. To hit somebody with force, to hurt them, takes an extreme amount of energy and emotion. So there needs to be a good reason for it to happen so frequently. Beatings are thrown in left right and centre in PWSC, and only a few times do you actually get a sense of James' (abusers) true mindset. 

The thing is, the author probably went light on emotion and back-story because she was writing it as an erotica rather than an inability to portray them effectively. 

Don’t get me wrong, because of the way language is used the book will cause a response, but not the right response, and not one you will allow yourself to feel. I can understand why this book will not be received well, not everybody wants to explore that kind of sexuality. What exactly was this book highlighting? That madmen get off on raping women? Yes, we know this, but what was the point in writing a 40,000 word novel on it if you’re not going to expose me to the victim’s or abuser’s mindset? Rape is an monstrous thing I do not think anybody can truly understand unless it happens to them, so it’s not something to write about without having a clear message in mind. The act itself should not be used to arouse. 

The detachment between the reader and Nicole (victim) or the reader and James (rapist) is too great. Had there been more of a connection this easily could have been one of the rawest books I've read. Instead of taking the subject matter to a gritty and primal place forcing us to consider the darker depths of our sexuality, it panders to unsophisticated and evil sexual deviancy. The book falls short and languishes at crude and forgettable. It’s annoying, because it could have been great. 

Should this author try again with another story I would read it to see if the next attempt would reach the expectation I had set. 

Am I reading too much into it all? Maybe. But a book which explores subject matter like this needs a message, otherwise, what is the point? But that is simply my opinion. 

No skull rating, as I don’t think it’s appropriate in this case instance.

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