Friday, January 14, 2005

All the Wrong Places

Karin Kallmaker
Bella Books
1931513767, $12.95

At 26, Brandy Monsoon is about to "grow up." In one week she will: face the ghost of her father and the pain of her childhood; realize that while she might not "know" that she can have "forever after" with one woman, she wants to try; and discover that a family of choice and community are options even for a dyke on an isolated resort island in the Southland.

Employed as a fitness instructor and staff member for Club Sandzibel, Brandy finds a ready supply of casual lovers among the resort's female guests but none of them are interested in more than their holiday fling. Meanwhile, her best friend Tess, though willing to share a more-han-friendly-night occasionally, is supposed to be straight ... a point that confuses both women.

Brandy is the wholesome, girl-next-door, phys-ed major. She clearly enjoys working at the resort, including her shifts teaching children tumbling and various team sports. In a charming scene from the end-of-the-week, Brandy observes, "I was set upon by the toddlers again, and this time I gave chase. We'd had a running battle all week and it was time to show these desperadoes who was the law. That would be me, Sheriff Monsoon.

I hadn't quite proven my superiority when their parents came to claim them for a last good-bye. One protested it wasn't Saturday yet, while the other said I was the best playmate ever. ... I have to say that part of the job is pretty cool. Kids give great hugs." (33-34)

When an all-lesbian tour group arrives for the week, Brandy finds the acceptance and validation that she has rarely enjoyed. Furthermore, the famous lesbian entertainer, Celine Griffin shows clear interest in some after-dinner Brandy. Meanwhile Tess' behavior is becoming less and less straight.

All the Wrong Places is the first erotic novel-length title released by the "Bella After Dark" imprint and there is truth in advertising here. Brandy's sexual encounters are explicit. Kallmaker does not shy away from earthy language during sweaty encounters and she opens the "toy chest" and lets her characters explore "accessories." There is a forthright and evocative negotiation of adult consent as well as a subtle but highly charged power exchange between Brandy and Celine.

Some Kallmaker fans may find themselves challenged by this bolder approach. Hopefully they will also find the story to be arousing entertainment. They can be reassured that All the Wrong Places is also one of the sweetest little romances that Kallmaker has written. For example: "Our bodies were suffused with the golden light that seemed to radiate from her eyes and smile. We were falling together, mouths feathering kisses on any skin we could reach. Touching her anywhere felt like touching sunshine. Her shoulders were as warm as her mouth and we were in danger of losing our edges, our form, as we melted together." p 139

Given the length and focus of the story, Kallmaker's characters show depth, humor, and heart with a willingness to grow. Thus All the Wrong Places has a number of elements readers have come to expect from Kallmaker; in addition to hot sex and sweet romance, there are touching side stories and delightful wit. Indeed the humor is bubbles throughout the story. And in a laugh-out-loud moment for this reviewer, Kallmaker tosses in what has to be the funniest variation on the classic "U-Haul joke" in years.

Brandy is the youngest lead character that Kallmaker has explored in her novels since Reese in
Watermark. Hopefully a new generation of readers will find Brandy's voice familiar to their own experience and will consider Kallmaker's other novels as a result. Long time fans can enjoy All the Wrong Places as another example of Kallmaker's willingness to explore new elements in her classic story telling style. All readers can enjoy the affection, validation and respect that she gives her characters and by extension her readers. This erotic romance is a like a lovely slice of the chocolate bread that appears on the resort dessert menu; and like that confection, you'll want to savor it slowly and very likely go back for more.
-MJ Lowe