Review: Torn by E.B. Barrett

Fresh from college graduation and his girlfriend's decision to leave him, James Stevenson spends a summer in Amsterdam coping with unrequited love and the challenge of his identity. Trapped within family and social expectations, he finds himself still in love with Amee and unable to express his desire for the brilliant, compassionate Professor Joshua Thomas. As James works through his past and present, we follow him on an emotional and sexual journey of self-acceptance.

This book confused my feels. 

Some things I liked but mostly found it unpolished, though not terrible. The narrative is relatively engaging, a journey of self-discovery told from that character's perspective as it happens and how they work through their travails is the type of storytelling I typically enjoy. I also liked that Barrett wasn't afraid of penning numerous sexual pairings for James to experience. Torn runs the gamut from mf, ff, mmf, mfm, mff, and even a couple of forays into BDSM settings. I particularly liked Barrett's usage of language which was poetic, if flowery at times. Torn mostly held my attention, though some of the tangents into science I could've done without. 

The framework is sound. The decorating of that framework wasn't to my taste.

James is in college when we first meet him. His girlfriend, Amee, is on her own journey of self-discovery and is dragging James along behind her. Amee eventually sets him free under the guise of not being "in love" with him and needing to pursue her own kinky inclinations. Inclinations James does not share nor does he care for sharing her. Amee's also aware James has been carrying a torch for his professor, Joshua, so it's somewhat altruistic on her part. After graduation he heads to Amsterdam to find himself. And finds Joshua.

Serendipity seems to follow James around like a puppy.

The first 40ish% read like a huge info dump of a backstory. Some of which felt contrived like his growing up in poverty with a mother who suffers from mental illness and is frequently suicidal, yet later he's at a family gathering and someone makes mention of her crystal. They were so poor he wore the same clothes year after year, but they had crystal serving bowls and decanters? 

He also makes a flippant comment about his mother's suicide that didn't ring true. In all of my experiences with children of a parent who's committed suicide never have I encounter them as being glib.

I probably could've overlooked that hiccup had a I liked James. But I didn't. His propensity to compromise himself in order to gain acceptance from everyone I found distasteful. To put it succinctly, James is milquetoast and his telling of his own sexual adventures is the stuff of toast.

Can I get some butter for my toast, please?

He yada yada'd his own sexcapades! I've never felt so disconnected from a story or a character nor has a book with this much eroticism been less erotic. 

It's clear relatively early on that James is bisexual, though he's reluctant to admit it. His hesitancy and denial read true and I empathized with him to a point. What I found strange were his random interactions with multiple "psychics" who "see" him and "know" just by looking at him then proceed to encourage him to pursue cock. How many people throughout the course of one's life do you meet that (a) will be emboldened enough to tell you what your sexuality is and (b) then proceed to tell you not only how to act on it, but to buy a vibrator from this store to get ready for THE ONE? 

Nor I.

Presumptuous for $500, Alex! 

James in all his milquetoastiness takes the counsel to heart and partakes of the cock on offer a few times with a ladygarden thrown in here and there to keep things spicy. His purported sexpertise coupled with his panty/jock dropping pulchritude became tiresome. James, it seems, is the embodiment of Eros. Everyone wants him and he's a natural at the shabbiddy dibbiddy. His best friend showed him ONCE how to go down on a girl and nothing but fireworks since. He's no slouch in the mansex department either. Couple BJs and he's a pro. Can even put a condom on with only his mouth. AND can take a cock like Johnny Rapid.

Some people just have the gift. 

James' version of bisexuality was another stumbling block because it read a lot like polyamory which given his aversion to Amee's polyamorousness seems both hypocritical and like a myopic version of bisexuality. 

If he accepts me, I will be in a relationship with a man. And at some point, I'll have to explain that I still want a woman. He might understand. But I don't want to be this way, that's the real problem.

It's not that I believe polyamory and bisexuality are mutually exclusive, more the dogma that one cannot exist without the other which perpetuates biphobia. It's true for James and that's fine, but it's not a universal truth for all bisexuals. So, I think Torn could benefit from the addition of a polyamory label rather than being marketed as a solely bisexual novella.  

Lastly, NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!! on the kink scene at the end. Just no. There was so much wrongness that I've neither the inclination nor the wherewithal to go there.

However, there are quite a few people who disagree with me and have written eloquent reviews in support of this novella; I encourage anyone contemplating reading Torn to read those reviews as well.

Triggers warnings-cheating, multiple couplings outside of the central protags

A review copy was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Find out more on Goodreads.

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