Here’s the thing: as an asexual who reads romances I am very happy that this slim volume of short stories called The Heart of Aces exists. I first heard about it when it was in the idea stage and I came across a solicitation for story submissions. I was excited about it then, but didn’t follow up and get a copy until earlier this year. And I wasn’t even the one to purchase the book, my parents gave it to me as a graduation gift.
I was excited to receive it, but I didn’t have high expectations for the quality of the writing. It was published by Good Mourning Publishing, a company I had never heard of before (but I may be looking for more of their stuff, at the front of The Heart of Aces is a note that begins “Good Mourning is the end of traditional romance novels; we publish only the best and most unique love stories that cover the spectrum of sexualities and cultures indiscriminately.”) and they had found their writers through the internet. I just wasn’t going to get my hopes too high in case my disappointment at the quality of writing prevented me from appreciating the book.
It already had one strike against it, in my mind anyway, and that was the cover. I really don’t know what they were thinking with the picture and the color scheme. Every time I see it I think to myself (and the girl with red hair) “Why aren’t you wearing more clothing?” And then, “What exactly are the pair of you doing and why?” The two girls are holding hands and in their underwear, but rather than making me think of romance, their kneeling stance and failure to look at each other makes me think of virgin sacrifices. And all the gray and white and cream, with just a few touches of pink (which is my least favorite color), makes me think of padded cells and solitary confinement. Anyway, to me, the cover isn’t romantic or sweet, just awkward and a bit off-putting. If I had designed the cover, I would have put two people in some kind of big armchair, fully clothed, one in the other’s lap, turned towards each other, eyes locked, smiling, one caressing the other’s face or feeding the other a piece of cake. After all, what’s better than sex? Cake! (It’s an AVEN thing.)
Despite my discomfort with the cover, I opened the book. I started in on the first story, “Out of the Dead Land” by A.J. Hall. I was immediately absorbed in the story, the voice, the setting, everything. It was good and I was surprised, delightedly so.
However, as I had been afraid of, the quality of the rest of the stories varied considerably. If I were the authors of the stories or the editor of the book, I would have done a lot of things differently.
The second story was plagued by a number of typos and grammatical errors and the descriptive writing wasn’t very strong. The third began with back ground information rather than the story itself and the transitions between past and present events seemed forced. The fourth had inconsistent narration, jumping between perspectives at random within paragraphs. I didn’t, and still don’t, get the sixth story. The narration of the seventh story sounded female even though it was third person limited perspective and both the characters were male. I couldn’t get into the eighth story the first time I read the book. When I finally managed to read it, the reading was a labor rather than a pleasure. Every sentence was so packed with big words that it made walking through fallen leaves an almost incomprehensible act.
We shouldn’t have to settle for bad writing because that is all that is available. I shouldn’t have to lower my expectations for good writing so I can still appreciate the valuable aspects of the stories themselves.
Because despite all my criticisms, I do think The Heart of Aces is an important book and good enough that I would recommend it to everyone who loves an asexual (especially a romantic asexual), whether as family, a friend, or a romantic partner, and everyone who is interested in what it means to be an asexual and the asexual experience.
What the editors got right is the diversity of experiences explored in the eleven stories. Six have asexuals in or entering relationships with sexuals. In three, both characters are asexual. One features a demisexual with a sexual. The last is unclear, but the character may be aromantic. At least three of the asexual characters have had sex, and one of those frequently has sex with his hypersexual partner, and one other character expresses willingness to figure out other arrangements to meet the sexual partner’s needs. There are four stories featuring homoromantic male couples, three featuring homoromantic female couples, and two featuring at least one character who is biromantic, both of which deal with male characters. It is noteworthy (though not necessarily significant) that only one story features a heteroromantic couple. One story involves a person who is trans*. The eleven stories showcase how different every asexual’s experience is.
What the authors got right is the combination of a love story anyone could enjoy with the particular concerns of romantic asexuals. The stories express the worry about giving potential romantic partners the wrong impression; the fear that once someone learns you are asexual they won’t be interested in even trying to make a relationship work; the sense that a sexual, even one with whom you are very compatible, deserves better than you can give; the difficulty figuring out when to come out to a potential partner; and most importantly, all the ways in which asexual romantic relationships are the same as any other romantic relationship: the miscommunications and misunderstandings that get couples in trouble, the fear of having your heart broken and getting left by the person you love that prevents people from declaring their feelings, and the joy of finding someone who wants to tackle all the world’s challenges with you by their side.
So go buy the book and read it, doing your best to ignore the worst of the flaws in the writing. I’m hoping Good Mourning Publishing releases a second volume and takes the time ensure that the stories shine through careful and extensive editing. We asexuals deserve to read more stories about us and we deserve that those stories be well-written.
Queerview Mirror is a semi-regular feature where Queereka contributors review a variety of media. Look for Queerview Mirror posts on Friday afternoons.
Featured image from http://deathbooksandtea.blogspot.com/2013/10/mini-interview-asexuality-in-fiction.html