Breathing Between Bars and Bedrooms
2021 (Black Rose Writing)
Spanning six months during 2004-05, the erotic romance novel Up For Air opens during a funeral. Our heroine Ari is joining her husband Greg at the service for his grandfather, who lived a rich, dynamic, full life. So full, in fact, that she begins comparing his 92 year life-span with her 29, creating a kind of inverse comparison--where, of course, Ari feels like her life to date is coming up short. Having been with Greg since they were in high school, and still being called "Two Shoes" after a song by Adam Ant, Ari is feeling trapped and suffocated by the blandness of her so-called good life. She quickly composes a kind of bucket-list of ways to break out and cut loose, to add more risk to her routines. She wants to get drunk. She wants to sing karaoke. She wants to kiss a girl, try anal sex, sleep with other men. After discussing her feelings and thoughts in a mostly coherent manner with her husband, Greg and Ari decide to experiment with polyamory in the Texan capital.
So begins Christina Berry´s first entry in her four-part "Lost in Austin" series (the second is available now, with books 3 and 4 scheduled for later this year). An erotic romance, readers spend significant time in the company of Ari, both inside her head and heart, as well as riding shotgun as she explores--and is challenged to explain--the shift of her marriage into non-monogamy. There´s her childhood friend Jake, a Native American member of what sounds like an awesome heavy metal band; there´s Sheryl, a friend who quickly becomes a BFF after meeting randomly at a bar; and Alex, a mysterious construction worker who quickly moves from infatuation to "sort-of boyfriend" to something much more, demanding Ari confront some serious choices in her life.
But don´t think that Berry is holding back on the sex. Up For Air contains a range of episodes ranging from the sexy to the sensual, as well as good dose of kink. Given her enthusiastic "polyamorous tourism", Ari engages in a number of one-night affairs for the first half of the book--mostly with single men, but also part of one particularly memorable threesome. She joins best friends Kelly and Gabe, before one goes overseas to serve in Afghanistan, a scene which unfolds with nuance, complexity, and unusual tenderness. What is the bond between these two men, and what is Ari´s role within this trio? Also, Up For Air contains an ugly and unnerving scene between her and a local creep named Chris, a man who threatens Ari when he refuses her requirement that he wear a condom during sex. The episode is scary, believable, and completely common; yet also rarely, if ever, appears in erotic fiction.
As a character, Ari is almost frustrating in her believability: she is not sure what she is doing in her new status of her being "married yet dating." She wants to go out and explore sex with different people, while at the same time longs to spend more time with her husband, who is developing a new relationship of his own (which becomes emotionally deeper than either spouse expected). These contradictions, these uncertainties, this inability for Ari to articulate into words what exactly she is looking for is at the heart of Berry´s novel. Our heroine is bouncing between bars and bedrooms, looking for that person or that state which will help her breathe. And breathe deep.
While I have never been to Austin, Berry eloquently brings this "infuriatingly small town" to life. Each member of the narrative´s supporting cast is drawn with vivid detail, from snarky bartenders to chirpy bachelorettes, and there are some beautiful scenes which take place outside the darkened bars of the "Dirty Sixth", such as Mount Bonnell and Barton Springs. Berry´s characters speak with intelligence, but that doesn´t mean all of them already know everything; they are funny, but that doesn´t mean that their timing is impeccable; they are passionate, but that doesn´t mean that their desires don´t have consequences. Up For Air is a delightfully mature look at adults trying to live their life to the fullest, and what some of the consequences are. Strongly recommended.