I was glancing through Carrie’s Story by Molly Weatherfield for a quote the other week, and realizing all over again just how well it’s written. Carrie’s voice and personality are so strong: rapt and ironic, young and cynical. She’s totally turned on by what she’s doing, but examines every angle with the insight and curiosity of an academic studying the perversely erotic arts for a dissertation.
Carrie and Jonathan have a deal. She comes to his house on a regular schedule, does whatever he says, goes by his rules, and takes whatever he inflicts on her. And she hones in on the essence of their relationship. “No matter what happened between us it was all consequence and actualization of his utter monopoly of power. …now I knew, consciously knew, that there was no second-guessing him. It was a relief in some ways, a letting go. I simply relaxed into it, as though I were beginning to dream in a foreign language – a language of beatings and humiliations, of rare, extravagant pleasure, of rituals and formalities. It was a complicated and mysteriously involving language, but for all that it was based on only one deep syntactical structure, one rule once again, the rule of his saying, ‘I want.’
“And – I’ll confess it to you here – I loved to hear him say “I want.” …Once, during my last weeks of school, I had to go to the women’s room of the library to jerk off, just from thinking about how exquisitely, consistently unfair it all was. “
Carrie is also a person entranced with narrative. She’s both an observer and an actor in the story, (though more often acted-upon). “I want to see what happens next. I want that more than anything.”
I think one of the many reasons I like the book so much is because it matches so many of my own fantasies. The negotiation happens without details. He stays ahead of her; she doesn’t know what’s coming. The only safeword is that Carrie can choose not to show up. She trusts Jonathan to keep her safe; he’s a very rule-driven individual. And he has Carrie’s number right from the start.
“’…I do know what you want,’ he continued, ‘in essence if not yet in all its particulars. I can recognize it in your eyes and in your open mouth. You do like to be looked at: admired or belittled, adored or punished. You want to be done to, by a desire that’s more selfish and more specific than your own. You want that blank, floating moment of release, of submission, of knowing that it’s useless to resist. Free-fall, happening faster than even a motormouth like you can describe it.’”
Oddly, I picked this book out of a catalogue, years ago, because it had some ponygirl content, something I get off on. What a piece of luck, to find something of such quality! And it hit a number of my other kinks as well: animal-role type humiliation, objectification, consensual non-consent. Oddly, Carrie’s viewpoint is sometimes so disengaged that these items are mentioned in passing, with the emotional content at one remove: the chamber pot Jonathan makes her use, the dish on the floor she eats out of, the many people he allows to use her, all mentioned at an ironic distance. She talks about her humiliation, but in the narrative, rarely inhabits it.
When I started writing, Carrie’s Story and its sequel Safe Word were the books I circled around, looking for clues on how to do it right. Humour, first of all – Carrie taught me not to take myself so seriously. Full, rounded characters who also don’t take themselves all that seriously, with lots of ideas, viewpoints, pasts, non-kink preoccupations. People, in other words. Layers of meaning for readers to explore, perhaps finding more than was intended, because not everything is on the surface or explicit. In other words, a real novel, not just a vehicle for kinky porn.
I also had to look for what was different. Weatherfield’s field is literature; that’s clear. She captures the psychology of the relationships in wonderful language that can’t be equalled. My own knowledge of psychology was going to have to be brought to bear in some other way. Like her, I was interested in the power relationship; for me, that had the most meaning. The psychology of consent, of submission and dominance. I knew I'd focus a lot more about the feelings in the moment. I wanted to know about them, from both sides. Safe Word has more about Jonathan’s point of view, but I don’t much like Jonathan. He’s rich, entitled, full of himself, all of which makes me discount him and his viewpoint.
I tried hard to capture the dom’s point of view in As She’s Told, from the perspective of a man whose power comes from neither wealth nor entitlement:
“Anders stroked her head and smiled; she was whimpering again. Another plea from the null side of the power differential. How he loved that sound! Wordless, needy; the language of abjection. In that one little plaint, the distilled quintessence of helplessness. He could close his eyes and bask in that music, were it not for the straining erection it gave him.”
I don’t know if I ever could have written my two books without having read Weatherfield’s work. Or if I had, they would have been very different. I wish Weatherfield had continued to write bdsm erotica, but she switched to her (presumably) own name of Pam Rosenthal and began writing romance. There are some references to romantic fiction in Carrie’s Story; perhaps it was inevitable. And she's done well, and won prizes. But for bdsm literature, the loss of that ironic, insightful voice is sad indeed.