Searchers by Pepper St. Claire
Available from Whiskey Creek Press
Katie's marriage seems to be falling apart. Her husband Rick ridicules and insults her when she stays heavy after the birth of their son. Then, when she slims down, he bothers her constantly with his need for sex, not understanding how deeply his earlier snubs hurt her. Katie recoils from him, unable to forget or forgive his insensitive behavior. Once high school sweethearts, now they're practically strangers, growing further apart with each passing day.
On a rare night out with her old friend Irene, a handsome younger man buys Katie a drink. Joey is funny, attentive and considerate, as well as unbelievably virile. Fleeing from the misery of her marriage, Katie hurls herself into an intense, passionate affair with Joey. His affection and approval liberate her from her self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy. In his company, she discovers new capacities for pleasure as well as a surprising sexual imagination.
As she and her young lover grow closer, Katie struggles with guilt and the uncertainties of her future. Should she throw away her marriage for a chance at love and fulfillment? External events suddenly force her to choose between Rick and Joey, and Katie suffers terribly, knowing that someone will be hurt regardless of her decision.
In Searchers, Pepper St. Claire has penned a moving, believable piece of erotic fiction. The book is arousing in its depiction of a woman's sexual awakening, but its greatest appeal lies in its vivid depiction of Katie's desire, confusion and guilt.
In a moment of madness, under the influence of alcohol, Katie gives in to her attraction to the delightful Joey (who knows from the first that she's married). The validation he provides is at least as addictive as the physical pleasure. One glorious encounter leads to another. Before long, Katie is lying not only to Rick, but also to her mother and her friend - and she hates it. Her love for Joey is tearing her soul apart.
Ms. St. Claire makes it eminently clear that cheating is not easy for her heroine. Katie is a good person, a good mother, whose husband hasn't given her what she needs. Joey's love restores her self-esteem - but her own dishonesty eats away at her happiness in his company. The book makes Katie's inner conflict very real.
The author comments in her Afterword that writing erotica doesn't come easily for her. Nevertheless, the love scenes between Katie and Joey have a sensual intensity that flows naturally from their mutual passion. I thought that the scenes involving Katie and Rick were somewhat less effective. This may be partly because I'd come to dislike Rick in the early phases of the book, due to his treatment of Katie, and even after he "reformed", I didn't quite trust him. Ms. St. Claire also throws in some light dominance and submission late in the book, which to be honest really didn't seem to fit Katie's character (Katie herself appears to feel the same way).
Despite her own misgivings and an occasional outbreak of euphemisms, though, I'd say that Ms. St. Claire's sex scenes are more effective than many I've read, especially in terms of their emotional intensity. The author understands in detail how her characters feel and really communicates that to the reader, or at least to me.
Overall, Searchers is an erotic tale with a serious message. It's not the light-hearted, bawdy romp one finds in some erotica. Rather, it explores the importance of sexual fulfillment in making marriage work, and portrays, with delicacy and insight, the pitfalls of monogamy.
I, for one, enjoyed the book, and I'd be happy to read another erotic novel by Ms. St. Claire, if she can be convinced to write one.