A beautifully executed story that challenges the boundaries of the romance genre. This is what erotic romance should be—edgy, deliberate and deeply emotional.
Megan Hart is an author whose work I’ve always been curious about but was afraid to try. Yes, afraid. Hart has a reputation for blurring the lines between erotic fiction and romance, and I generally don’t consider myself a romance genre boundary bender.
When I was asked to curate Raunchy Romance Storytime at Customs House Library last month, I had a feeling I would eventually have to read Hart’s work. After reading Jessica’s list of her top 9 romantic love scenes in romance—and being assured that the book is indeed a romance—I bought a copy of Broken.
Okay, yes. First I read all the smutty bits. Doesn’t everyone?
But then I read Broken the way it’s supposed to be read, and I was absolutely seduced. Not by the sex, mind. Hart uses erotica to invite the reader into Sadie’s story, but by the time you’re in the actual story, you find yourself wishing there were less erotic fantasy and more of the characters’ everyday lives.
The story opens with a story. For over a year, Sadie and Joe have been meeting on the first Friday of the month and he recounts to her one of his sexual encounters. Their meets are platonic—they barely even touch—but as Sadie’s circumstances are revealed it’s clear that these encounters are more complicated than first appears.
Sadie is married to Adam, who became quadriplegic after a skiing accident, and no, this is not your traditional romance. She’s more caregiver than lover now, though not for lack of trying. Over the last four years, they’ve established a routine at home—a rhythm, if you will—though not an entirely comfortable one. It becomes clear that they haven’t yet come to terms with Adam’s disability and the life in which they now find themselves.
With her sexuality repressed, Sadie lives vicariously through Joe’s stories. For Sadie, the monthly lunch conversations with Joe fill a gap in her marriage that Adam can’t—or won’t—fulfill: ‘I’d never know the woman I’d have been if I hadn’t met Adam. Until I met Joe, I hadn’t wondered.’ Adam isn’t oblivious, and his awareness of what may or may not be happening in a world in which he refuses to participate makes for some very powerful confrontations with Sadie.
Broken is narrated in first person, from Sadie’s perspective, and Hart cleverly has Sadie narrating Joe’s stories as though she were the subject of each of them. After each story, we see a little more of Sadie’s life—her marriage, her relationship with her family, her career, and her sadness and grief over what fate has made of her life.
Hart’s lyricism is deceptively gentle even when it’s devastating. Broken is filled with heartbreaks and triumphs that increase in intensity until they crescendo into a not entirely unexpected resolution to Sadie’s broken relationships. Hart’s finely calibrated storytelling bleeds you with emotion. There’s a depth to the story that I crave yet rarely find in erotic romance.
But it’s clear that Hart understands the genre—at least as far as this book is concerned—and she makes every effort to provide romance readers a chance to embrace the story. Not everyone will, because clearly Sadie is being emotionally unfaithful to her husband and Joe clearly sleeps with other women, but Hart provides the emotional framework for this romance to develop, however uncomfortable or tenuous it might seem at times. Whether or not Broken fits into the romance genre will, I think, depend on your own boundaries as a reader.
The weakest parts of the book for me are Joe’s stories. Many of them, though well written, feel like generic romance-style erotica in premise except—thank god—there’s no buttsecks. Well, not that I noticed, but I admit to skimming some of it. Does that make me a bad erotic fiction reader?
Since the entire book is written in Sadie’s perspective, Joe’s stories are the only place the reader can potentially get into his mind; unfortunately, aside from the fact that he doesn’t kiss his lovers and that he doesn’t make himself emotionally available to them, most of what the reader feels about Joe is guided by Sadie and must be inferred from their conversations. It’s not always enough, and unless you buy into the erotic and romantic fantasy that Hart offers, it’s difficult to understand why they feel so strongly about each other.
Yay or nay?
The strength of this book is the way it speaks to me as a woman. It’s a story in a familiar voice. Hart so exquisitely captures the little insecurities and heartbreaks we experience as lover, wife, sister and daughter, and every emotion is amplified by choosing to tell Sadie’s story in the first person. I cried more than once while reading this book, but I couldn’t put it down. Broken is a beautifully executed story that challenges the boundaries of the romance genre. This is what erotic romance should be—edgy, deliberate and deeply emotional.
Who might enjoy it: Erotic romance readers who want more than just sex
Who might not enjoy it: Readers who cannot abide emotional infidelity in their romance