Other Reviewers: Goodreads
* For this post, some of the quotes are explicit and sexual in nature.
I read a lot of romances that contain BDSM. I suppose one reason is that a relationship that contains BDSM is one that includes everything that a vanilla one does — plus a lot more complexity and nuances. For example, some relationships might live without trust, but a BDSM one cannot. I love reading about the dynamics within the lifestyle, how individuals who find their life, physically and psychologically better because of it.
Which brings me to Dirty Laundry, by Heidi Cullinan. The novel focuses on the issues of Depression, Anxiety, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and how that affects one’s life, friends, family, career, and sexual relationships. I have no idea whether there are any significant benefits between BDSM lifestylers and these disorders, I certainly am not a doctor or psychologist. Yet, by how this author lays out the two main characters I must conclude that it works for them.
So I look to others within the community to gain some perspective, even if they do not consider themselves experts. Insidious Muse from The Love Bite wrote an insightful blog post about the “Psychology of BDSM“, proposing that individuals who are in the BDSM lifestyle are actually more self-aware than those without. If you are curious about the lifestyle, I completely recommend this podcast. It provides insight into both their relationship (Insidious Muse and Novice Nancy) as well as the BDSM world in an informative, honest, and funny manner.
But I digress.. How did I like the book?
Adam (nerdy dude) is saved by a hunky cowboy named Denver when accosted in the laundromat by some drunk frat boys. Hot sex ensues and a relationship develops, but both men bring a lot of “dirty laundry” to the table. Can they overcome their own problems and accept that the other is just the right support they need?
Adam is a graduate student finishing up his doctorate in Entomology. We learn slowly how from his childhood on, his life is controlled by his OCD. So much so that, he is distant to his parents who really do not understand him, has only had one serious relationship (Brad) that ended poorly, and the world of academia is the only thing that makes sense to him and helps to keep his disorders bearable.
That was the crux of obsessive-compulsive disorder. It refused to allow the sufferer to deal with the fact that the world was crowded with uncertainty. No decision could ever be the right one because there was no such thing.
While not everyone has OCD, I think Adam is a character that we can all relate. We all have times of anxiety, but unlike many of us, Adam’s problems are not something easily shaken off. We all know someone who doesn’t want to touch anything without cleaning it first. Did you lock the door? What if someone laughs at me and how I dress? What if I fail? These can all start with sound fears and questions, but unfortunately the sufferer does not have the ability to on their own refute the voice of doubt. For someone with anxiety, these questions are constantly running through their mind, causing self-doubt that can lead to depression.
As a delectable cherry on the top of his neurotic sundae, in addition to depression and anxiety, Adam suffered from a rather sophisticated case of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Oh, everyone could make jokes about hand washing and cleaning things and alphabetizing the cupboard, but in Adam’s experience, very little was laughable. Inside the tortured confines of his mind, everything had to be Just So or the world would not continue to turn properly on its axis. He found comfort int he knowledge he didn’t have something truly crippling, like the poor boy who couldn’t reply in conversation until he’d repeated the words spoken to him by someone else backward in his head.
There was one very large OCD handicap, however, that got in his way more than any other: Adam didn’t know how to navigate the anxiety morass that was people and their respective spaces.
Adam has issues with going to a person’s home and for other individual’s into his own. This “tic” was one problem of why Brad and he could not work, and ultimately why Adam decided to move out and try to live on his own. His brain tries to make order of the disorder and anxiety, by combating it so that people have to stay in “their boxes”: their houses are “theirs” and his is “his.” If he ignores these tics it can easily lead to panic attacks that in itself can become quite dangerous. This is one of the major areas of conflict in the story and the unfolding relationship between Adam and Denver.
But all of this talk of mental disorders should not make you wary of reading this story. It is not all about Adam’s issues, while his world is driven by these problems, he is more than just his disorder. In fact, that is where we see how healthy their relationship is for him and how helpful their exploration into BDSM is.
“Look at me,” Denver ordered roughly.
Adam obeyed, trying to nod, but he couldn’t, so he blinked and fixed his eyes on Denver’s, watching as he thrust. In, out. In, out. Adam’s lips were strained and numb from the latex, his tongue sore from pushing hard against the bottom of the thick rod in his mouth. He felt so fucked. So beautifully fucked. Like he didn’t matter at all, like he was just a mouth, just here to be the place Denver fucked in and out of. Screw moths, screw his dissertation. Nothing matter except that he kept his eyes up and his mouth open wide. His OCD and most of his anxiety had checked out and gone to bed, having decided while Denver was in charge, they didn’t need to play.
Adam was so relieved and happy he wanted to cry.
And this scene is just one reason I loved this book. Sure, the scene itself is hot and sexy, but there is more meaning behind the actions than just mere titillation. We are learning something about each character, and about their relationship together.
Most of the problems we see on the surface surround Adam and his OCD. I do not want to spoil the story by talking too much about Denver and his background/problems. Needless to say, Denver’s problems are exposed within this book just as Adam’s are.
Denver, on the surface is the perfect studly man. He is well-built, works out religiously and his job as a bouncer at a night club has had many benefits of endless supply of twinks to satisfy his sexual urges. But he begins to understand that he wants more in life, both in partners as well as job, but his past is holding him back. He actually considers himself stupid, and the author does an excellent job of demonstrating that not everyone is perfect, that even if someone is perfect on the outside it does not mean that in their own mind they have no insecurities.
It is through understanding Adam and his mental problems that Denver begins to understand that his own life requires change. He discovers that his own problems are not insurmountable, he simply needs another perspective.
What I love about Denver’s attitude regarding Adam’s behavior is that he does not really see it as a hopeless disorder. Denver merely thinks of a solution.
“It’s a crime, is what it is.” Denver tapped his fingers on his leg while he thought quickly. “Tell you what. How about a compromise? We go into the mountains, to the park. I’ll drive you all over the place, wherever you want to go. We don’t ever have to get out of the car unless you want to use the restroom or get something to eat, and I promise all those places will be in full civilization.” There was another silence. “Adam?”
“You’d do that for me?” he said finally, his voice soft and sweet.
“Of course I would. Hell, Adam, I don’t care where we go. I just want to spend the day with you.”
“I’ll be ready in ten minutes,” Adam replied, still soft and gooey and melted.
Denver glanced in his rearview mirror at his truck bed, which was technically pretty clean for trucks, but he remembered how fussed Adam had gotten over pretty much everything he encountered unless Denver was fucking him. Which was what he had in mind for the truck bed, admittedly, but first he had to get him to lie down in it…
“Give me half an hour,” Denver said, started his engine, and headed for the wash.
One character strength is his patience and attention to detail. Because he observes so much about Adam, he notices what makes him uncomfortable and proactively deals with it. This is another advantage, as a Dom he is extremely observant to Adam’s actions and body language, often preventing a panic attack to even begin.
There is more to Denver than just how he supports and reacts to Adam’s issues, but I want to save them for when you read the book. Needless to say, he has his own issues and his own complexity to make him far from perfect.
We are all fucked up. That’s right. Each and every one of us come into a relationship with baggage. It might be covered in Gucci or a paper bag, but the weight is the same. In Dirty Laundry, Cullinan shows up that there is someone out there who can help their own load feel lighter.
“A therapist I used to have always told me that when our brains aren’t healthy, we look for unhealthy relationships.” He laughed, a soft, sad sound, and shook his head. “I think I knew Brad was wrong for me a long time before he broke it off. Part of me knew he was best at being the voice I had inside my head, only on the outside, telling me I was bad in all the ways that felt familiar. Why that’s better sometimes than people who treat us right, I don’t know. When we’re broken, it’s like it’s scary to hear we might be fixable. Or maybe that we don’t need to be fixed, that we can be okay as we are. That’s actually hardest for me. The idea that I might have to live with being OCD.”
For Adam, his BDSM relationship with Denver allows him to accept that he will always have OCD, but that it does not make him unloveable or unable to be a half of a healthy relationship. For Denver, he learns that while he is a Dominant and a Top, it does not mean he has to always be the strong pillar for their relationship. He too is vulnerable with Adam and Adam will be there to support him. They work as a team, each one giving and each one taking. Being a submissive does not mean you are weak, it means that often your strength is silent but still as strong as the one wielding the whip.
The first strong point within this book is Heidi Cullinan’s writing. I have not read many of her books, but I will certainly look up more now. It is often difficult to understand a disorder until you can get into “the mind” of the person. Remember all of those cop shows where they always talk about “getting into the mind of the killer”? Yes, it sounds cheesy, but in this case, we really do need to get into the mind of Adam, so that we can experience what he experiences. I am not sure how Heidi has knowledge of panic attacks, but having suffered from them before myself, she nailed them on the head.
“Tell that fucker to call 911, or I’ll be calling it for him,” Denver bit off.
Another wave of panic hit, this one making Adam curl into a ball, the pain in his chest so bad, echoing the pain in his head now, and when it passed enough that he could fumble for his phone, Denver was gone.
“No,” he cried, trying to dial the number again. He tried again and again, his fingers always fumbling, the freight train in his head rushing louder and louder until he couldn’t live in the real world anymore, could only curl into a ball, into the panic, its screaming fury and promise of fatality the only security life had left to provide.
The second strong point within this book is the writing of the BDSM scenes. They seemed realistic and intense. I hate when I read a book that has a “50 Shades” lipstick view of BDSM that is too slick and too glossy. The scenes within Dirty Laundry allow us to see how both characters eventually open up, show honest emotion and need without any shame for it. Cullinan does such a good job of showing how the structure and control of submission actually could help Adam calm his anxiety, as well as fulfill the need that Denver had within himself to be dominant and in control. The urge to submit to Denver begins to overtake the need to submit to the voice of his OCD.
She also shows how some outsiders see the bruises and marks, not as badges of courage and marks of possession, but rather as abuse. She shows how responsible Adam and Denver are in discussing the relationship and play in a safe and consensual manner.
What could be better?
When I give a book a five-star, such as this one, it is hard to think about what could have been better. It was certainly easy for me to pick quotes for this blog post, in fact, I might have had too many, but I found an abundant number of quotes that resonated within me. So no, there is really nothing that I would do to make this book better. In only a few weeks I have read it three times, and it resides in my “favorites” pile.
In life, very little things are perfect. When we want to read a book for escapism, we often search for topics that are foreign to our own lives. So reading a book where the characters are fallible and have their own issues on the surface seems counterintuitive. After all, why would reading about two men with mental disorders cheer the reader?
Obviously I am not saying that BDSM will save anyone from OCD and cure them, certainly that is not what Cullinan is suggesting. For example, Adam is still on medicine, he has supportive friends, a supportive partner, and he continues to go to therapy. However, there is no doubt to me, that the dominant/submissive nature of Adam and Denver’s relationship helps Adam rather than the destructive nature of his previous relationship with Brad.
This book is really about how each individual can prevail over their own problems, and still find a healthy relationship that supports them, not tear them down. And if these guys, with their such heavy burdens can make it work, well hell, we certainly can find happiness and love.
I adore this book, it provided just enough sex and kink to make it interesting, but it also provided quality writing and substance so that my intellect could sink her teeth in and come away with a message. This book is more than just a kinky romance book. I admire the author for her ability to write about a complex disorder and about a lifestyle that most would find disturbing and demonstrate how powerfully positive it can be.