[This is the text of the book review from episode 54, which includes a reading of one of the steamy scenes.]
This episode’s book review is Approaching the Swingularity: Tales of Swinging and Polyamory in Paradise by Cooper S. Beckett.
I received this book for free and Coop runs swingset.fm, but I auditioned to read the part of Paige in the audio version of this and didn’t get the part. So, fuck this guy. This book is a piece of shit.
I’m kidding. Cooper is the sort of author who would want an honest review anyway and he can take criticism. With that as a preface, I don’t have a great deal of negative to say except, like in A Life Less Monogamous, the first book in the series, everyone appears to be drinking, all the time.
But I’ll get to that in a minute.
I was going to review this on the show long before there was any plan to join the network, because I loved the characters of Paige and Bruce from A Life Less Monogamous, which I reviewed in episode 5.
To recap that book—Ryan and Jennifer are a youngish couple in a lacklustre, monogamous marriage. They meet vibrant, older couple Bruce and Paige and zoom into swinging. And they all drink a whole bunch and almost never seem to get drunk unless they need to be for the plot.
That was one of my quibbles with the last book. I said you shouldn’t read that one if you struggle with alcohol because I don’t usually have a problem saying no and I wanted a drink.
This book takes place some time after that one—not years, but it doesn’t pick up the next day, either—and all four of them have gone off to a swingers’ resort in Mexico, Xanadu X, along with one hundred and eleven other couples.
That’s a lot of genitals to possibly interact with.
That’s also many characters to juggle. Which the author does admirably.
The book is broken down by day—the holiday lasts a week—then, within each day there are chapters, each are told from the point of view of various characters.
Some chapters are by Ryan, Jennifer (who now goes by Jenn), Bruce and Paige, then we have new people, including the person who has run the get away for ten years, Raymond and whose partner has recently left him. He’s not exactly in an orgy-mood, as you can imagine, but has to put on his party face for the benefit of the other attendees. There are chapters by Alejandra and Crista, Xanadu’s first lesbian couple and all I have to say is Coop seriously knows some lesbians, because he’s nailed what lady relationships are like.
Crista also has a reactive libido, rather than proactive, meaning that it’s a special flower that needs careful nurturing. He uses the book to educate on many subjects including things like reactive vs proactive sex drives, but also things pertaining to poly and swinging and has his characters demonstrate safer sex and kink negotiations as well as STI and STD conversations. And the conversations come across as quite natural. It’s obvious this was written by a person who actually does these things.
In terms of ‘doing these things’—people did a lot of things. There were many sexual activities experienced including a gang bang and an orgy and pegging and a lesbian foursome and a standing sixty-nine and… just… so many things.
But the book isn’t just one scene of debauchery after another—each of the characters are going through their own woes because obviously your week-long orgy isn’t going to happen when life is going perfectly, is it? At first I was thinking, ‘Jeez, is anyone’s life going well?’ but then I realised that of course life is going to happen to you when you just want to get your junk out on a Mexican beach.
There are some profound moments and some heart-wrenching ones, as well.
There were a few laugh-out-loud moments, too. Someone gets stung by a jellyfish at one point and a Mr Helpful type comes running up the beach to pee on the poor bastard in a scene that had me cackling… That’s an urban legend, by the way. Don’t pee on someone who’s been stung by a jellyfish. It doesn’t help. No one’s in the mood for watersports just then.
The people narrating the story aren’t the only ones around, either. The author isn’t enough of a masochist to attempt to introduce us to all one hundred seven other couples, but some other people are regular players.
There’s Strom and Kitten—the podcasters—who start out obnoxious and … well. They’re fun.
Then there’s Will and Madison. We’ve all met a Will. He’s that guy you want to shoot into the sun. We’ve also all met a Madison. Where you think, ‘Why, girl? Why him?’
There’s James and Debra—the much older couple who’ve been to every Xanadu since its inception. I loved James and Debra. They appeared to be the only couple who weren’t having some sort of relationship or personal crisis. That reminds me—fuck you, Coop. I know you’re reading this.
Xanadu had its first triad—in the form of a gay guy, bi guy and straight woman—Rory, Terrence and Marley.
And finally, perhaps my favourite character, Lydia. The person Ryan has his first thuper kinky experience with. (It’s the steamy scene I chose to read at the end of the episode.)
There were a few others who appeared by name, but those were the big ones—the ones with plotlines.
As a writer—respect to juggling all of that. I was mentally keeping up with how all of the 500 plotlines were going at any one point and whether they would or would not be resolved and how believable those resolutions would be.
Well-fucking-done, man. I’ve been going over various subplots in the days after finishing it and just wind up being impressed all over again.
Ryan is curious about exploring his bisexuality and his thoughts on this were really well expressed, as were Crista’s experiences as someone with a less-than-naturally-enthusiastic sex drive.
We learn more about Bruce and Paige—who, in the first book—seem to have this whole Swinging Open Poly thing down. We learn no one is perfect and people are just trying to make it work as best they can. And that even people who know swinging or poly is right for them can still have fears and doubts.
We also get to see how the foursome’s relationships have grown and changed in the time between books. It made me happy. That’s all I’m going to say. Dear god, a lot happened in this book. Not until writing this did I realise just how much. It didn’t feel like a Russian novel.
I highlighted lots of bits and pieces, but I really liked this one:
‘when does time ever truly allow for our desires in full? Instead, it keeps us humble, parceling out moments, making them precious.’
Yeah well, time’s a jerk. I desire more time to read and write. So, you know. Who wants to be humble.
I read the final, pre-editorial draft, so there were more than the usual typos, but because I didn’t read the final draft I’m going to give Coop and his editor the benefit of the doubt—they both probably caught a lot. I’m just covering my bee-hind with this note.
As mentioned before, everyone drinks, all the time. Which may simply reflect the swingers’ resort culture, but, again, if you struggle with that sort of thing—wave off, wave off. I really want an espresso martini, though, and I can’t have either of those things without regretting my entire life.
That’s it. Which is a fairly short list of quibbles.
Overall: The author’s writing improves with each book—this is his best yet. Character, pacing and plot are all on point. This one is sexy, hilarious and full of heart and you might learn a few things, too. You don’t have to start with A Life Less Monogamous, but you might as well, as it’s a good one, as well.