S.E.C.R.E.T: Canada’s Answer to Fifty Shades of Grey

by Obert Madondo | The Canadian Progressive, Feb. 6, 2013:

S.E.C.R.E.T Last year, a still-unpublished erotic Canadian novel created quite a stir at the prestigious Frankfurt Book Fair.  The Toronto Star speculated that the novel,  written under the pseudonym L. Marie Adeline, was Canada’s answer to British author E.L James’ blockbuster Fifty Shades of Grey trilogy. That the writer was broadcast journalist, author and co-host of CBC Television’s The Fifth Estate, Linden MacIntyre.

Well, S.E.C.R.E.T: Canada’s answer to Fifty Shades of Grey is here. It promises “No judgments, No limits, No shame“. And the real author isn’t a secret any more. Neither is it MacIntyre, Ann-Marie MacDonald or the inimitable Margaret Atwood. It’s Lisa Gabriele, a former producer on CBC-TV’s Dragons’ Den. She’s also the author of two national bestsellers, The Almost Archer Sisters, a great novel full of surprises, full of love, and Tempting Faith DiNapoli, a coming-of-age tale.

So, is S.E.C.R.E.T as explicitly erotic as JamesFifty Shades? Gabriele suggests so. “I’ll make Canada proud of my filthy book,” she told the Globe and Mail. She told CBC’s The Current: “This is a good time to write erotica.”

But the synopsis from the book’s publisher, Random House, doesn’t seem to talk dominance/submission, bondage/discipline and sadism/masochism. In fact, the Fifty Shades of Grey’s Anastasia and her BDSM relationship alpha male Christian have no place in this novel:

Cassie Robichaud’s life has been filled with regret and loneliness since the death of her husband. She waits tables at the rundown Café Rose in New Orleans, and every night she heads home to her solitary one-bedroom apartment. But when she discovers a notebook left behind by a mysterious woman at the café, Cassie’s world is forever changed. The notebook’s stunningly explicit confessions shock and fascinate Cassie, and eventually lead her to S∙E∙C∙R∙E∙T, an underground society dedicated to helping women realize their wildest, most intimate sexual fantasies. Cassie soon immerses herself in an electrifying journey through a series of ten rapturous fantasies with gorgeous men who awaken and satisfy her like never before. As she is set free from her inhibitions, she discovers a new confidence that transforms her, giving her the courage to live passionately. Equal parts enticing, liberating and emotionally powerful, S∙E∙C∙R∙E∙T is a world where fantasy becomes reality.

For some reason, Random House left out the feminism factor. Gabriele, a self-identified feminist, injected feminism into the novel. Blogging on BookPage, she described how she came to write S.C.R.E.T. How she wrestled with the “what ifs” of writing an erotic novel. How she created the world of a secret society of empowered women helping the protagonist, Cassie Robichaud, to rediscovers her sexuality by arranging nine sexual fantasies for her. She wrote:

As a writer I always start with “what if.” When I set out to write S.E.C.R.E.T., a book about a woman named Cassie Robichaud who’s on a potent sexual journey, my “what if” had to do with my own reluctance to write erotica. The question became “What if you got over that fear and reached a wider audience, one now so clearly illuminated by the success of Fifty Shades of Grey?”

I’d always written about women’s struggles with intimacy. But I’d mostly get my characters to the bedroom doorway, then mutter, “Okay. Bye. Have fun. I’ll catch up with you later.” Maybe I’d linger for a kiss, but rarely did I watch it go down. Why? What if my idea of good (or bad) sex didn’t resonate with readers? What if my character’s proclivities were ridiculed?

When Fifty Shades began its bestseller climb, I had been working on a financial advice book. My editor basically dared me to man up (or woman up), and try my hand at erotica, and, well, I did. Following close upon the heels of my first literary “what if” came other questions:

What if my character wasn’t a very young woman but was a little older? What if I gave the story a feminist angle? What if a woman could learn to stay emotionally detached to men she’s sexually attracted to, and what if she could learn to be sexually attracted to men to whom she is emotionally attached? What if other savvier women taught her how to do that?

That’s what I feel differentiates S.E.C.R.E.T. from other novels in this genre. In my book, women help other women develop better sexual attitudes towards their partners.

In S.E.C.R.E.T., Cassie is recruited by a secret society of women in New Orleans that helps her overcome her sexual blocks. The group orchestrates nine daring sexual fantasies over the course of one year. With the group’s support, Cassie becomes more alive to herself. It’s not that Cassie doesn’t “fall” for some of these incredible men, but her guide, Matilda, is there to warn her of the pitfalls of mixing lust with love. Wouldn’t it be great if we all had a Matilda to tell us the truth about the Heathcliffs, the Rochesters and the Christian Greys? In Matilda’s mind, the men in S.E.C.R.E.T. are fine for sex. Perfect, in fact. But for true and lasting love, not so much. And Cassie needs to hear that from another woman who’s been there, done them.

That’s not to say Cassie isn’t on a romantic journey as well. There’s this guy, see, and of course it’s complicated . . . but in S.E.C.R.E.T., the erotic and romantic are explored separately before they finally, hopefully, come together at the end.

Here’s the key: For Cassie to have uninhibited sex with these fantasy men, she needs support and guidance from other women who overcame the same fears, the same reluctance, the same self-doubts Cassie has. She needs to see that women who take big risks often reap great rewards. She needs to be gently nudged out of her head and into the bedroom. The women in S.E.C.R.E.T. carved a path, and support Cassie, and frankly, that’s what E.L. James and other daring erotica writers have done for me.

And for that, I’m grateful.

This is a book I can relate to. It’s still a book about sexuality and fantasy. It satisfies society’s growing appetite for romance and erotica. But it departs from the Shades of Grey’s cheap and tired billionaire-seduces-hapless-lonely-young-woman plotline. You see, I’m not like Pat Robertson, the antiquated host of the 700 Club who recently said he was shocked to discover that women do watch and enjoy porn. That they do the “male thing, a boy thing, a guy thing” called masturbation. For me there’s nothing as fulfilling as an empowered women taking ownership of her sexuality and destiny.

SECRET is being published this week in Canada and the United States.

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