The Rolling Stones sang you “can’t get no” and Mayberry’s latest says take it for yourself. That’s the gist of Mayberry’s sexy new novel, Satisfaction; the pleasure of it is in the myriad ways our hero and heroine discover how to lead full lives in and beyond the bedroom. Miss Bates read Satisfaction with reader avarice for the only romance author she’s ever glommed without losing patience, or enjoyment. Because Mayberry’s one of Miss Bates’s favourite romance writers, a new book is scrutinized in consideration of the impressive body of work and slotted into a place in Miss Bates’s hierarchy of beloved Mayberry novels. This can’t only be a review of Satisfaction, but an assessment of how good Satisfaction is in light of the reader purrs other Mayberry novels have coaxed from Miss B. Moreover, one of the coolest things about being familiar with an author’s work is being aware of her preferred storylines, characters, and themes … if an author is re-inventing and not repeating them, this is sheer pleasure. Satisfaction accomplishes both: to be familiar and tell a fresh story.
The first Mayberry novel Miss Bates read was 2010’s Best Laid Plans. She loved the story of the thirty-something Alexandra who is determined to have a child and arranges to be artificially inseminated with the co-operation of her colleague, Ethan. In the course of this practical arrangement, they fall in love; the theme of getting what you want and finding what you didn’t expect was wonderful. What she loved about Best Laid Plans was echoed in Satisfaction, a heroine who decides what she needs and wants and sets out to get it. Miss Bates loves that about Mayberry’s heroines. They’re not hard, cold women, nor are they neurotic; they’re unique, feminine but not caricaturishly so, consistently independent and established. They know what isn’t enough for them. In Alex’s case, it was a child … in Satisfaction‘s Maggie’s case, it was an orgasm. In both cases, what they learn is that the best part of getting what you want and need is what you discover on the journey there. The attraction of Mayberry’s heroines is how well they know themselves and how resolved they are to seek the changes they deem necessary to making their lives more fulfilling. They want to round out the gamut of their experiences, not to miss out on anything life has to offer.
In Maggie’s characterization, Mayberry has created a “modern-day virgin” in her lack of sexual fulfillment. Maggie has a thriving business, a bookstore, good friends and a generally happy life; yet, she wants more. How she sets out to get it is one of the best meet-cutes Miss Bates has read in a long while. On the “testimony” of a book club friend, she visits Brothers Ink, an upscale tattoo parlor run by Brazilian twin brothers, one of whom, Eduardo, is a lady’s man and ladykiller. Maggie is lovable, endearing, and funny. She “was no seductress. She was a bookshop owner. A twenty-seven year old orgasm-challenged bookshop owner wearing new, very uncomfortable underwear.” But she’s gutsy and brave and confronts her lacking-ins head on. In the parlor, she feels gauche and near loses heart, “It was all very modern, very classy, and very cool, and Maggie had never felt more like a fish out of water in her life. She wore cardigans, for Pete’s sake, and got excited about first editions.” She hangs in there, however, in one of the many initial comic scenes of the novel, except she solicits the wrong twin, professional, responsible, staid Rafel instead of womanizing Eduardo.
Possibly Miss Bates’ favourite Mayberry romance is 2009’s She’s Got It Bad. It too centres around a tattoo artist, in this case, the heroine, Zoe. She’s Got It Bad is as tormented and hurt in its protagonists as Satisfaction is light and humorous. But that is Mayberry’s strength; no matter what mode she writes in, she imbues her stories with a certain depth and graveness because she recognizes that people are complex and interesting and vulnerable. They have their stories and those stories are often impediments to emotional intimacy. This is beautifully developped in Satisfaction. Like She’s Got It Bad, Satisfaction contains frequent and explicit love scenes. Miss Bates would say that the more recent title feels more gratuitous in this than the Blaze. In either case, it is key to understanding the heroines: Zoe uses her sexuality like a shield and as proof of her femininity for a viable reason. Maggie is the more compelling of the two, Miss Bates would say, because her repressed sexuality is the result of a childhood that required her to grow up very quickly, be the adult in her relationship with her mother, and maintain control of her feelings and impulses at all times.
Mayberry establishes Satisfaction as an opposites-attract narrative; Maggie “was safe, a good girl, deeply conventional. He [Rafel] was a modern-day cowboy, blazing his own trail.” Zoe, from She’s Got It Bad, is a bad-girl, as different from Maggie as her tattoo-ed skin is to Maggie’s pale, clear, good-girl, un-marred-by-ink peaches-and-cream one. But they’re both deeply hurt by a sense of inferiority and they both gain strength and confidence to go after what they want. What they want is the hero; how they claim him is compelling and empowering and fun to read.
And what of Rafel? He is a delight, a good, generous hero to our lovable heroine. Once he admits his desire for Maggie, he does everything in his power to give her what she needs and wants. He lets her use him … not that he doesn’t derive pleasure from it, but Mayberry does an interesting reversal of objectification. His response to Maggie’s gauche advances brings a Leonard Cohen song to mind, “A Thousand Kisses Deep”: “You came to me this morning and you handled me like meat. You’d have to be a man to know how good that feels, how sweet.” 😉 What makes Rafel the Paragon gain in depth and bring him down a notch from his pedestal? He is one in a long list of Mayberry heroes who’ve been hurt by “another women,” or who’ve “loved and lost,” who’ve been made vulnerable by a failed relationship, or a loss. Miss Bates’ favourites are Martin from Mayberry’s first self-published title, Her Best Worst Mistake and the grief-stricken Michael from Within Reach. Rafel most brings to mind (and Miss Bates’ favourite of the favourites) Oliver from The Other Side of Us. When Rafel meets Maggie, he’s a year post from a five-year relationship. He’s no longer in love with his ex, but nostalgic about the their past and cautious about loving with abandon again.
Even more so than Mayberry’s Blaze titles, the love scenes in this novel are … um … relentless. There is satisfaction in them, but pleasure lies in the exchanges of Rafel and Maggie beyond the sheets. In the hands of as good a writer as Mayberry, love scenes give way to the HEA-bound romance’s conservative bent: to interactions beyond the bedroom, dinners and jokes and shared books and music to friendship and liking and finally love and commitment. There are no secret babies, but two people getting to know, like, and ultimately, love each other, “This was a thing. A relationship. Two people exploring real possibilities.” In that sense, Mayberry, does, to a certain extent, write herself into a corner: if your hero and heroine are good, loving people, what could possibly keep them apart, break them up only to bring them back together in a final, triumphant realization of love? Sadly, the deux ex machina creaks its way into the final few scenes. And yet, the dialogue, the avowals are so good, it’s forgivable. No one, after all, is perfect. Nearly so, though, in the details: the role of the beloved Georgette Heyer in a marvelously wrought scene is the nonpareil. (However, Miss B. demands that Mayberry recover and complete that abandoned Trivial Pursuit game.) And in a narrative that can mention both Heyer and Miss Bates’ university addiction, we have a master at work. In the hierarchy of Mayberry goodness, Miss Bates would designate Satisfaction as middling … but in the hierarchy of romance fiction goodness, it points to “a mind lively and at ease,” Emma.
Satisfaction is Mayberry’s second self-published title, the first being the marvelous Her Best Worst Mistake (a novel with a broader canvas, Miss Bates would say). Satisfaction has been available since Feb. 27th and may be duly purchased in e-format from the usual merchants.
Miss Bates is grateful to the author for an e-ARC in exchange for this honest review.
Miss Bates loves Mayberry’s books quite unabashedly. Do you? Which ones have you read? Which are your favourites? And what do you love about them?