So Many Reasons Why, by Missy Johnson
[Note: This book was provided for free by Author Blog Tours in exchange for an honest review. Warning: This book is written and intended for an adult audience.]
The most painfully and personally appropriate quote of this often inappropriate book comes on page 57, and it gives the reason why I read this book myself despite my serious disapproval of its contents:
“Even today, it was hard not to see sex as a scary obstacle that would eventually be placed in the way of moving forward in any relationship.
Who thinks like that?
A victim of sexual assault. That’s who.”
So Many Reasons Why is a novel written about a 20-year old young woman who has been cooped up in her house for years with agoraphobia after being raped as a child. It uses a lot of inappropriate language and talks about a lot of inappropriate matters, including promiscuity and drug and alcohol use. At the core of the story is an awkward relationship between a separated professor who also happens to be an assistant DA as well as the father of a four-year old girl and the protagonist. This particular element of the story made me uncomfortable for a variety of reasons, many of them related to my own conduct. I could relate in some ways to the young lady, given my own paralyzing fears of intimacy as a result of my own personal history. I could also relate in some ways to the professor for reasons that do not need to be explained. My understanding with both main characters is not merely a matter of intellectual understanding, but a much more uncomfortable understanding that springs from personal experience. Some people will be able to relate to this book very well–even too well, as is the case with me. Others will not. Those who dislike talk of promiscuous elderly people and talks about bent penises will probably be advised to stay away from this novel. It is frank and quite frankly disturbing at times, with the redeeming quality that it is bluntly honest and makes no attempts at pretense otherwise.
I had to skim through large sections of this book because it read like erotica rather than the sort of literature I prefer to read (namely literature which encourages and presents moral conduct). A description of a sex scene between Em and the Professor would be followed by discussion of the protagonists behavior occuring near the professor’s young daughter, who often happened to be around the two of them, discussion which was rather jarring and uncomfortable, bordering on child abuse. The book closes with some twists that I will not mention here, except to say that after spending a lengthy amount of time setting up incidents, the ending seems somewhat forced, and a bit too convenient in tying up several threads together. If one looked up deus et machina in the dictionary of novels, the curly-haired brunette on the cover of the novel would be next to the dictionary entry. The last third of the novel packs just a few too many shocking revelations and a few too many tying up of loose ends to be entirely plausible, especially since many of them occur so quickly after another that there is no ability to grasp all of them before the novel is over abruptly in just over 150 pages of writing. If the author had spent at least somewhere close to as much time setting up the ending as she did writing about the detailed sexual behavior of her lead characters, the novel would have seemed less abrupt.
Among the most pivotal problems in the novel is the thorny problem of motivation. The lead male character of the novel, an assistant DA and professor named Simon, is portrayed as being separated from a wonderful wife and having a custodial agreement with a beautiful daughter. His motivation for first having divorced from his wife over simply having “grown apart” and for engaging in flirtation with the clearly beautiful but deeply troubled Emily (called Em) is simply not dealt with in any detail. It would appear as if Emily’s shyness and frozen innocence and isolation thanks to her condition accounts for a sense of mystery that attracts the much older and much more experienced hero, but the novel spends so much time showing Emily become a lovesick nymphomaniac temptress in grim detail that it does not spend adequate time dealing with appreciating the awkwardly sweet nature of the frozen innocence that some survivors of sexual abuse have. Nor does the novel really give the male protagonist a plausible reason to behave in such a shockingly dangerous and dishonorable fashion.
This amounts to a major missed opportunity in a novel that appears much more concerned in trying to convince readers with a dark past of abuse that they too can enjoy an active sex life and overcome their shyness and awkwardness about intimacy so long as they can find a suitably inappropriate partner than it does in appreciating the pleasure and joy of overcoming that awkardness gradually and gently. This novel is in a hurry to tackle as many uncomfortable and awkward subjects as possible in the most breathless and inappropriate way possible. At least it has an appealing heroine in the reflective wounded soul Emily, but I cannot recommend this novel for anyone whom I would know to be a decent and upstanding person interested in virtuous literature. About the only virtuous thing that can be said about this novel is its aborrence for rapists and its disapproval of abortion. In the end, there are so many reasons why this novel cannot be commended, but just like the two lovers at the heart of this story, we are not very wise in love. Having known this lesson very well from my own personal experience, I did not need to learn it from literature. One wonders exactly what point the author was trying to make with this novel, for it reads like one of my previous therapists who recommended promiscuity as a solution to my own shyness about intimacy, advice I was (thankfully) too horrified and offended to take. It would have been far better for the author to have written eloquently about a tender and sweet and awkward and gradual process of romance than the rushed and forced intimacy that was presented here.