After all the playground-like rumors, this book is not what you think, and it’s not what I expected. I bumped this to the top of my reading list because I thought I was going to want to delete it from my Kindle for iPhone after I finished it.
I want to try and keep this review as spoiler free as possible but there’s things in here that might lead you to guess what happens in the book. The biggest spoiler I have shared is on a separate webpage that I’ve linked to in this review. It’s still not the full story. So if you currently fully intend to read this book, go read it (you can get it here) first or instead of this review. But promise me something. Finish it. If you start this book, you have to finish it or you will be left with the wrong idea. Anyone who 1-star reviewed this book and didn’t actually finish it doesn’t know what they’re talking about. If you don’t plan to read the book, or you’re unsure, read the rest of my review. Especially if you’re one of the people who heard all the rumors about what’s in this book.
There’s some things that color my review, and if you’re American (or not me) you might feel differently about those same details in the book. The legal age of consent in my country is 16. I left school at 16. At the time, that was pretty normal. I went back again later, but post-16 education was the exception rather than the rule. In working class Scotland, you’re basically an adult at 16. 16 for us is 18 for Americans. Linguistically, “woman” refers to anyone over 16 in Scotland. We drink at 18, not 21, btw. If you’re brainy and go to university straight from school, you usually start at 17 not 18 (although you *can* start at 18 with the English qualifications, which are different to Scottish ones, and then you often skip the first year of uni). Everything’s different here. So the main character being 17? Wasn’t weird. She was well over our age of consent and I didn’t have a problem with that. Hell, most of the women I knew from school were a long way into their second single-parent pregnancy by 17, and on the waiting list for a bigger council house. If this book had BDSM in it, I’d feel differently, because I draw the line (in the sand) at 18 for BDSM. There’s probably all sorts of arguments that can be had about that, but at the end of the day BDSM requires a higher level of emotional maturity than regular sex, and BDSM is something a lot of much older people can’t cope with.
The second thing that colored my judgement is I’m at heart, an anthropologist (I missed my true calling in life because I’m never going to train/work as an anthropologist), and when they’re presented properly, other lifeways fascinate me.
Third, I never met my father until I was 16, he died when I was 27, and my mother (died the same year) was generally out of her head for one reason or another. I have no concept of what it would be like to have a male parent who you live your whole life with, let alone what a father’s love looks like to a child, or how that transitions into how people relate to their adult children; I only know it by its absence and by what I used to wonder about what it would be like to have a dad.
Last, I withheld judgement until I’d read the entire book. And, if you choose to read this book, so should you. This book is not for the narrow-minded.
When I picked up this book I didn’t know what was in it. Normally, I won’t read the specific things it seemed to be heading towards. However, this wasn’t written like an erotic fiction, and I personally didn’t find the sex scenes sexy (it didn’t have any BDSM to speak of; there was 1 spanking scene and it wasn’t framed in BDSM. Vanilla sex doesn’t do it for me at all). I think I was more interested in the way this relationship developed. This book strongly reminded me of Berkoff’s Kafka plays, Sophocles’ Elektra/Oedipus, and other dramatic works that only the graphic novels by Alan Moore and Warren Ellis have ever rivalled for me. Unvarnished reality of human nature, catharsis, that sort of thing. Not something I regularly find in romantic fiction and not something I necessarily often want to read but I occasionally like being stretched. I hate quoting from my own books but I think this quote from His Little Earthling kinda sums up how I feel about books like The Wild:
“…reading the book was like being hit in the face with a door[…]for some reason, she’d really enjoyed reading his story anyway.”
See, on one hand, it seems like you’re reading a story about a man who is willing to risk everything for love (like, even more everything than everything) and outside the cultural norms of our society that’s kinda sweet. And on the other hand you’ve got the internal destruction of a man who knows that what he’s doing is wrong.
Or does he?
And at the same time you’ve got this willing Lolita character who drives forward the story and single-mindedly goes after what she wants, consequences be damned. And she definitely fully believes that this isn’t right. My brain constantly shut down during the sex scenes and I sorta skimmed over them. I couldn’t quite reconcile the discord between what was happening on the page and my own feelings about people doing that.
There’s a type of BDSM scene that I tend not to partake in because it’s so hard to get it right. It’s called a “mind fuck” and usually it means that the dominant does something to make the submissive think/feel differently towards something than they would if they were in possession of all the facts. That’s what this book does. Very well. The last time I read a book which used information and character truths like this was Jodi Picoult’s Her Sister’s Keeper. See also: That’s not an erotic romance. But it left me with the same feeling at the big moment.
I also liked the author’s use of tension. This book had me turning the pages from page 1 and I stayed up late last night to finish reading it. I am going to have to go over specific scenes and pay more attention to how the tension was done because it wasn’t too tight (I hate when things are too tense with no payoff) but it was tight enough to keep the story moving. I wanted to know what would happen next, even when I didn’t want to look to find out what would happen next.
The other thing about this book is that it really sticks two fingers up at the pseudo-incest genre of erotica/erotic romance and draws attention to its hypocrisy. I don’t want to kink-shame, but I don’t find incest or pseudo-incest remotely sexy. I’ve never been a fan of all that, “No, wait, it’s okay, she’s my stepdaughter” stuff. Call an apple an apple. I’ve always been very uncomfortable with stories like that. I don’t like the way they try so hard to pretend it’s normal, and they never actually stand up and address the fact that they’re depicting a relationship between relations that, okay, aren’t blood relations, but are still relations. They justify it with meaningless titles that don’t actually settle it. I mean, for me personally, it’s too weird to imagine having sex with someone who fucked my mother. From the other side, I couldn’t imagine being in a three way with a mother and a daughter, either. It’s just goes beyond my limits. I think that’s what gets me more than anything about pseudo-incest or incest. I’m happy with the caregiver/little dynamic between consenting unrelated adults, but not double dipping. Why is that seen as okay culturally but some meaningless DNA thing suddenly makes that SAME situation unacceptable? I don’t think it’s okay to dress incest up and deny it and pretend that it’s not what it is, and there’s a whole subgenre of erotic fiction that does exactly that, and those pseudo-incest ones are really trying very hard to sexualise that relationship. And let’s be fair, “she’s 18” is often secret erotica code for, “she’s not 18” in many of those same stories.
Like, culturally, it’s okay to have sex with some guy who sexed your mom and who you lived your whole life with, because he’s your stepfather, but it’s not okay if their sperm made you. It’s a huge double standard. And The Wild seriously does tell this whole double standard to go fuck itself in the most beautiful way. These are things I’d never really thought about particularly deeply until I read this book, and I feel like I’ve gained an understanding of one of humanity’s nuances from reading it.
This book went the complete opposite way to those pseudo-incest books. It never even tried to pretend this was okay or normal, and I liked that it grabbed the main issue by the balls and squeezed. I think it’s an absolute joke that Amazon and Smashwords banned this book, especially when (spoiler that will ruin this whole book if you ever planned to read it).
See? This book is less risque and less taboo than A Song Of Ice and Fire (or Gor, there’s sex with a 14 year old in at least one of those books) but because it’s an erotic romance and because there’s no disclaimer at the beginning of The Wild explaining something that would spoil the whole book (and let’s be fair, the author is probably quietly reveling in the notoriety that this book had to go underground and free speech ‘n’ stuff), it got banned.
I don’t feel like this is so much of a free speech issue because what she wrote wasn’t actually as bad as it could have been, especially if you see the spoiler above. I mean, it’s sorta a free speech issue because the book was silenced before anyone could know the full story. More than that, it’s an issue to do with how books are marketed and how ebook authors are unfairly held to a higher standard than print authors. And that’s what I take issue with. Incest and underage sex SHOULDN’T be on Amazon according to their own rules. But they are on Amazon. They’re everywhere. Paedophilia? George R.R. Martin. Incest? George R.R. Martin. Rape? George R.R. Martin. The Wild is pretty tame by comparison. But that’s okay because GRRM’s a “real” author and we’re not. Westeros is a fantasy world and the middle of nowhere in Alaska, a place most people haven’t been, is somehow more real. Careful, people might start re-enacting this shit. That’s what Amazon seems to be saying by its actions.
By continually policing an arbitrary line between traditionally published and indie authors, they are reinforcing the idea that ebooks are not real books and that romance authors (mostly women) aren’t real authors and that we have to follow a tighter set of rules because we’re somehow less responsible than men. But, y’know, being mostly women, we’re all pretty used to double standards in what we can do versus what non-women can do, right?
Another wider issue that The Wild throws up is the fundamental meaninglessness of some trigger warnings. I have PTSD, so I know what it’s like to be triggered, to not be able to get something out of your head for days on end and to feel like you’ll never get far enough away from the thing you’re running from. Because it’s everywhere. I don’t think overly-specific trigger warnings are actually useful. They can end up being a ridiculous spoiler-laden laundry list that ruins the book for other people. I like trigger warnings to be vague, something that says, “If you only like soft fluffy stuff this is not for you,” or, “If you like it hard and scary, this is for you.” But The Wild sorta stuck its finger up at that and used the trigger warning as more of a challenge. The starting assumption was that you wouldn’t want to read this book because of all the stuff. I think it mostly delivered on that, but it didn’t necessarily go as far as I thought it would. I didn’t expect to finish this book but I did.
So overall, I did like this book, it was well-written and thought-provoking in a number of ways, and I liked the fact that it called out the entire pseudo-incest subgenre very eloquently. But I didn’t find it sexy, and the fact it got banned by Amazon AND Smashwords is kinda confusing and nothing short of hypocritical compared to some books. I’m glad this book exists.
Tl;dr: If you start The Wild you have to finish it. Don’t believe ANY reviews that didn’t read the entire book. They are not in possession of all the facts.