In Shadow by Giselle Renarde
Smashwords and Kindle Digital Publishing, 2016
Although Clover is twenty four, she’s still a virgin, living with her mom and her step-father Gord. Somehow she has never had the urge—or the courage—to strike out on her own. She spends her days creating paintings in her studio out in the garage, pretending to ignore her vague sense of dissatisfaction.
Clover’s family gets along well enough, but they don’t talk much about their feelings, or about the wounds in their past. All the hidden pain and twisted need starts to surface when Clover’s sister Brooke marries her long-time beau. Gord’s son Mason flies in from Vancouver, where he runs a successful business, to attend the wedding. Clover works hard to treat her step-brother as just another member of the family, but her shadow reveals her true desires. When she’s in Mason’s presence, she’s horrified to see their shadows engaging in what are obviously carnal activities.
No one else seems to notice as Clover’s shadow becomes increasingly outrageous and menacing, independent of her physical activities and her will. Is she losing her sanity? Is she possessed by some sort of demon or other supernatural presence? All she knows is that she wants her step-brother, and the attraction seems to be mutual.
This synopsis may make it sound as though Giselle Renarde’s In Shadow is just another instance of the taboo step-brother incest erotica that’s become so popular lately. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Truly, this short novel defies categorization. It’s intriguing, mysterious, insightful and frustrating, in part because Ms. Renarde never resolves the true nature of the Shadow that haunts poor Clover.
It could be something paranormal—the purple-haired lesbian witch who gives Clover herbal tea and crystals seems to imply something of this sort. It could be the product of repression and abuse. The terrifying scene in which Clover is attacked and sodomized in a church stairwell by the shadowy Presence suggests that she might have experienced something similar at the hands of her father, a convicted paedophile who died in prison. The reader never knows.
This tale has a psychological depth that one rarely finds in erotica. (Indeed, despite some sexual content, I’m not sure the label “erotica” fits.) Clover is a complicated and believable character, despite her sometimes extreme reactions (like chopping off all her hair). To some extent, she suffers from arrested development. She behaves like the teenager she was when Mason left home for his first job, after the earliest appearance of the Shadow. Indeed, one can also view this novel as a coming-of-age story. By the end, Clover has undergone some dramatic changes.
The story is also about lies and about corruption. From the married priest who screws Brooke’s best friend, to Clover and Mason themselves, almost everyone in the book tries to hide the truth. Clover is a virgin for a good part of the book, but neither she nor anyone else is “pure”.
I deeply appreciated the originality and emotional intensity of In Shadow. However, I had the sense that the author herself was confused by it. The happy ending seemed overly facile, even inappropriate, since the core conflict (the nature of the Shadow) is never really resolved. Although the story has the raw quality that comes from writing out one’s visions, I think it would have benefited from some structural revisions. It felt to me like something scrawled in a notebook after a feverish dream, rather than a polished novel.
Still, if you’re interested in sampling a truly different take on the step-brother romance trope, as well as enjoying Ms. Renarde’s always evocative writing style, I would recommend In Shadow.