[Here there be spoilers.]
Breaking Down is one of the hardest things I’ve ever written. It touches on a lot of shit that reads to me like open wounds, and throughout the process of writing, then redrafting, then revising it, I frequently felt like I was executing the writerly version of that old game Operation; the story was a wide open body, all exposed nerve endings, and if I hit any note wrong it would sound an alarm.
A friend of mine, who’s only ever read the descriptions for my books, thinks I gave Molly a bad ride. (And, indeed, if you only read the descriptions, I can see that narrative. Poor Moll, whose boyfriend has boyfriends, who’s raped, who ends up alone, then back with Will, but never exclusively. That it’s what Molly wants is a hard sell in a culture that prizes monogamy and exclusivity as the one true path.) “Why can’t Molly have boyfriends?” this friend asked after running her red pen over the description for The Boyfriends Tie the Knot.
I laughed out loud, thinking of Moll’s response to that. God. She’d hate having boyfriends. She loves Will, but she doesn’t want to be his one and only. Like at all. And she certainly doesn’t want more boyfriends.
But at the start of Breaking Down all we know is that some shit went down and Moll’s angry as hell that Will’s processing it is getting in the way of her getting laid.
I try not to reread this book. I can read from Truman picking up the narrative to the end (because I love me some irritated-as-fuck-with-Hugh Truman), but that’s it. The first 60% of this story sat on my hard drive in rough draft form for six months before I ever looked at it, and when I read it again I knew I had to finish it. I knew I owed Molly that much.
Fuck, though, man. So here’s a story about a sexually adventurous young woman who’s assaulted on some night out when she’s looking to fuck a stranger (so is she getting what she deserved/punished for what she wants?). She doesn’t tell her loving boyfriend right away and dives back into a kinky, emotionally intense interaction with him. When she does tell him, he’s righteously pissed; is Will allowed to feel betrayed? Is he allowed to feel angry and sad and all twisted up?
And even worse–she wants to process some of this shit through a BDSM scene when he can’t even look at her straight because he can’t get a handle on how out of control he feels. Is it wrong he wants to save her? Is it wrong she wants to throttle him for wanting to save her?
Processing sexual abuse through BDSM is a cliche. So, too, is the boyfriend who wants to fix a bad situation. And yet…they’re also very real themes in very real lives. How the hell do you write that without veering into sketchy territory?
The answer, of course, is you don’t. This book scared the hell out of me when I was writing it. It scares the hell out of me right now. The trick to good writing is writing the thing that scares you and going all the way down to the bone with it.
I still don’t know that I answered all my own questions. I don’t know if I asked any of the right ones. I do know that this book is fundamental to the series. You can read the rest and get the gist, but you’re missing something if you skip Breaking Down. It’s the first book in which Molly and Hugh talk like two people who have the necessary consent to process their shit through the medium of Will Derrie’s skin; it’s the first book in which Hugh falls down of the perfect dom pedestal Will has him on; it’s the first book in which Truman takes over completely.
Breaking Down is the adult child I have an estranged relationship with; both of us wish we were closer, but neither of us can forgive me for being so damn afraid. I love this book. But it still makes me very goddamn uncomfortable.
Featured image is Untitled by Patrick Merritt on Flickr, and if I’m not very much mistaken, that’s The Burren.