Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Review-The Life Not Lived by Michelle Houston

The Life Not Lived
by Michelle Houston
February 2010
Erotic romance, lesbian romance, paranormal/horror romance
Short Story (27 pages) 7K words
Ebook- Phaze Publishing

Guest Review by M.A.

Buy it Phaze, ARe, Fictionwise

We all have those moments in our lives we wish we could take back. Natasha has come to regret the choices she has made in her life, the biggest one being turning away from the one woman she had ever loved. But thanks to a late night visit from a succubus and a magical diary that found its way into her life, she can have a second chance. If she¬s willing to take a leap of faith...

I’ve read The Life Not Lived a few times and mulled over how to grade it. This short story qualifies as an “almost-book,” imperfect in places, but still likeable enough I want to recommend it.

Houston’s lyrical “voice” is a pleasure to read. Its cadence best compares to rainfall or the waft of soft piano music from a distant room. Her storytelling resonates with beautiful, subtle imagery. I often visualized specific scenes as though they’d been shot with soft-focus effects. Dream-like, no harsh edges.

Like many good short works, The Life Not Lived relies upon scene/setting, atmosphere, and emotion to build itself. Houston’s talent shines in her ability to craft a tale where 95% of the action occurs in a single location – the protagonist’s home – without ever inducing claustrophobic tension. Sufficient description illustrates Natasha’s world without overwhelming the plot.

Natasha is a convincing, well-drawn protagonist with whom many readers can identify. Recently divorced and approaching middle life, the successful professor/scientist contemplates past mistakes as she refurnishes her home. Years ago she broke off a romance with her college roommate, Lydia, in favor of marriage to Andrew because she viewed heterosexual marriage as a social and professional advantage. The selection of career over love haunts Natasha, and her recent acquisition of an old diary boasting paranormal properties may offer her a second chance for true happiness … if Natasha pays an unspecified price.

Self-doubt and fear of the unknown cook conflict through the storyline. A demonic visitor’s revelation of Lydia’s awful fate raises the stakes as Natasha reconsiders the toughest choice she ever made. As a horror fan, I enjoyed the subtle terror these elements added to the narrative. Great payoff followed great tension, but Houston remained true to the romance genre and provided readers with a happy ending. In a manner of speaking.

The Life Not Lived is marketed as erotic romance. It contains brief explicit content, including masturbation and f/f(demon) erotica. I viewed the erotica as neutral and a little gratuitous, not integral to the plot. It disappointed me that none of the erotica portrayed Natasha and Lydia together. Technically the “demon lover” contains an aspect of Lydia, but it was concealed to the point Natasha did not recognize her. In my opinion, an erotic romance featuring a character willing to seriously consider altering fate for a lost true love should contain the couple’s lovemaking.

The beautiful, flowing qualities of Houston’s storytelling do hit some awkward “bumps” at times. The plot lacked consistency concerning Natasha’s relationships with Lydia and with Andrew. At the beginning, Natasha describes Andrew as her college sweetheart, colleague, and friend turned faithless spouse. Later on, the narrative hints that Andrew’s extramarital affairs were condoned by Natasha, their own union platonic, and their divorce amicable.

The story also implied that Natasha’s interest in Lydia was more superficial while Lydia was truly in love with Natasha during their heyday, even though Natasha has never moved past her feelings for Lydia. It read like, from chapter to chapter, the author couldn’t decide who Natasha truly loved and who Natasha used. I normally enjoy the complexities related to sexually fluid characters. I think the author wanted to convey Natasha loved Andrew and Lydia, but this wasn’t addressed in a way I found credible.

Editorial problems included awkward word/phrase use and repetition. I’ve decided to only “count” technical issues if they are glaring and frequent enough to actively interfere with my reading enjoyment. Given this story’s size (approximately 7,000 words,) I felt too much error/awkwardness made it to the final copy. I’m unhappy saying that; Houston’s talent shines in this story, and a conscientious “polish” would have made all the difference.

An issue that might irk some readers is the low percentage of dialogue involved in the story’s word count. This worked, in my opinion; it increased the aura of isolation contributing to the story’s horror element. Since trends in popular fiction indicate preference for lots of dialogue, the silence might be an issue to some.

This story appealed to me. It has that “something” capable of engaging me through the read. I’m not blind to its faults, but the beautiful tone and voice combined with emotional subtlety and good horror elements outweigh its flaws.

I recommend The Life Not Lived to readers seeking a pleasant, entertaining quick adult fairy tale, keeping in mind fairy tales contain creepy moments.

Heat level: Erotic

Grade: C +


LVLM said...

Hmm... this looks kind of interesting. The fact that it's short might make it OK for me. I don't like the fact that the two women aren't actually together. Nor that one character seems to waffle on who she wants to be with.

But writing itself can get me past plot and character flaws. So maybe I'll pick this one up.

M. A. said...

I don't like the fact that the two women aren't actually together. Nor that one character seems to waffle on who she wants to be with.

Hi, LVLM. The story does end HEA. I found the erotica confusing because to my mind an erotic romance involving a specific couple should feature erotica including that couple.

Regarding the "waffling," I felt that Houston didn't clearly communicate who Natasha loved. In a way, I saw this inconsistency as a reflection of Natasha's own confusion, and the ending does resolve that. I didn't witness it transitioning appropriately through the narrative, though.

I did like this story in spite of its drawbacks. I think more craft and better editing would have made a difference, but I liked it anyway. : )