By day, I'm a domestic violence prosecutor. By night, I read romance to restore my faith in love, relationships, and humanity in general.
A friend listened to me squeeing about Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project and predicted that I'd like Delphine Dryden's Science of Temptation series. The recommendation was not off the mark: The Theory of Attraction is like The Rosie Project's smutty, American cousin. Both books feature science-geek heroes with severely impaired social skills (probably Asperger's Syndrome in both cases, but that's only made explicit in TRP), who fall for women who help them decipher social cues in company and are unbelievably forgiving of their intrapersonal ineptitude in private. But while TRP's hero, Don, is a 40-year-old virgin, ToA's Ivan discovered the BDSM scene in college and is an accomplished Dom.
The appeal of BDSM makes perfect sense: Ivan is completely literal--he doesn't understand sarcasm, metaphor, and nuance--and so he finds comfort and safety in sexual scenarios where rules and consent are all explicitly spelled out in advance. In fact, I found it much easier to believe in Ivan's experience than in his partner, Camille's, total naiveté. What 28-year-old woman has never heard of the concept of safewords?!
Ivan and Camille are neighbors and friends (in as much as someone as socially inept as Ivan can have "friends"), when Ivan asks Camille to help prepare him for a fundraiser where he will have to schmooz with donors and alumni to gain funding for his academic research. His job with the university may be on the line. Camille agrees, because in the course of observing his clockwork-like jogging and lawnwork routine, she's developed a serious case of hornypants for him, and their "lessons" are a good excuse to spend time with him.
For the first couple of lessons, Camille puts out hornypants signals, but Ivan doesn't seem to be picking up... but not because he's clueless. It soon transpires that he notices, but he's actively resisting, because he knows Camille doesn't share his kink and he doesn't do vanilla sex because he doesn't know how to play without rules. When Cami finds out, she's all-too-willing to learn how to play by his rules, and so the dynamic of their lessons changes: she teaches him social conventions (don't interrupt people; apply a filter before speaking: is it true? is it kind? is it necessary?) and he teaches her kink (safewords; how to kneel up, kneel down, and present).
I liked Theory of Attraction: Delphine Dryden is smart and funny, and though this is the first book of hers I've read (N is for New-to-You author in Sock Poppet's A to Z 2014 Reading challenge), I've enjoyed her blog posts on wonkomance.com. I didn't love it the way I loved The Rosie Project, though: Don was just such an endearingly clueless narrator, and Camille, not Ivan, narrates Theory of Attraction. Also, it's the sexually-explicit element of ToA that sets this book apart from TRP, and the sex didn't totally work for me. BDSM is so ubiquitous these days, and this was well done (in that it was safe, sane, consensual, and well-written -- prose not purple, yet not too clinical, no terrible euphemisms, reasonably exciting), and yet it didn't stand out from the crowded field of BDSM erotica. Also (and this is my squick, but perhaps I'm not alone), there were a couple of scenes where Ivan called Cami "my little slut" (or similar), and while intellectually I know that some people get off on humiliation, it's a total turn off for me and always pulls me right out of the fantasy and sets my feminist-rage sensors buzzing. So, I docked at least a half-star from my rating for that.