Readers could be forgiven for judging he & She by its cover. The lowercase “h” and photograph of a flogger clearly indicate that this is a story about dominance and submission in which the male is likely not in charge. While that’s true, this novel is noteworthy for being less a sexual romp than a nuanced look at desire and aging, and a stylish piece of literary fiction.
Kit Cayman, also called K., faces midlife with limited prospects. His work as a freelance translator and amateur musician gives him modest pleasure but no prestige or financial security. Then one day, he’s transfixed by the sight of a woman online who turns out to be a professional “domme,” or dominatrix. Long-suppressed desires surface, and K. finds that as he spends more time with his “Egyptian Princess,” his life is not as circumscribed as he’d previously thought. But their relationship is transaction-based, and K. is stymied when he wants more, but the object of his desire pulls away.
Author Wayne Clark brings K. to poignant life in this story. The protagonist drinks too much, then sobers up — and brings a similar extremism to his personal and work lives. When things are in a holding pattern, he overworks, translating faster than his job requires. “When life was flat he built pretend mountains to climb. He loved freelancing on those days when he made it to the top.”
Clark’s perceptive descriptions of New York and Montreal and jazz and nightclub cultures, as well as his nonjudgmental view of BDSM, make he & She intellectually engaging throughout. It’s frankly sexual, but not erotic. A few typos don’t detract from this finely drawn portrait of desire in its fall and winter seasons.
Also available as an ebook.