Review - The Roommade by Rosie Danan - I get ugly-emotional in this one

title: The Roommate
author: Rosie Danan
pages: 336
format: eARC
buy it: Amazon | B&N | Goodreads

Bottom Line Up Front

Clara Wheaton is an uptight socialite from Connecticut who has lived such a deliberately, carefully perfect life that she realizes she's got nothing real holding her in place. In a bid to change, she takes an offer to move across the country and live with her long-time childhood crush, with the aim of making him fall in love with her. However, on the day she arrives, Everett announces he's going on tour with his band and leaving her alone with some random roommate he found on craigslist.

Clara determines she's going to just head home, this Josh Darling guy be damned, but before she knows it she's got a job at her aunt's PR firm and a budding friendship with her roomie and decides to stick around. Then she finds out Josh is a porn star. A porn star who's currently not performing because he's in a contract dispute with his production company. One series of shenanigans and UST-filled nights later, Josh and Clara embark on a plan to open a female-focused porn site and see if they can't rock the adult entertainment industry a little.

I have PROBLEMS with this book that all stem from me not being the target audience* (probably) (I think) so here's some good stuff up front before I start complaining: Josh is a sweetheart, the slice-of-life stuff is really cute, and the sex is hot. It's well written on a technical level, and a few bits made me laugh out loud in spite of myself. All around it's a pretty easy read that definitely fits in the category of 'light rom-com.'

*As near as I can tell, the audience for this book is women who like the idea of porn but haven't spent any significant amount of time watching it. more than the idea of porn. *shrug emoji*

The Boring Complaints

  • I feel like Clara and Josh had a really good start-of-a-relationship going, but they jumped from giddy-new-crush straight into declarations of love in a way I didn't find believable. I'm not sure why; maybe it was because the slice of life stuff was so enjoyable in a light-and-cute way that the jump to anything heavier without a proper transition was jarring.
  • Too much stuff happened off-page that should have happened on-page. A major plot point in the climax of the book involved a Big Bad that had, until that point, only been kind of shady with their business practices but not illegal. Then, BAM, a lawsuit happens. Also it happens off-page. What...did they do wrong? I fully believe an entity like that could have, but like, maybe tell me about it?? Also jarring.
  • Josh's various complaints about the Big Bad and the porn industry in general are only alluded to. The only thing that gets spelled out on page are regarding a poor contract he signed and how much he wants out of it for financial reasons, and everything else just got hints. But then the finances end up not mattering and the hints...uh, I complain about after the content warnings.
  • The company they start is...kind of boring. Also there's an overall attitude of "we invented feminine-focused porn, go us!" which made me roll my eyes so hard. Go check out Feminist Porn Guide or Ersties and also make sure to always pay for your porn, y'all!
  • There were too many things going on, with Clara and Josh starting this new company, and Clara working on some DA's reelection PR, and Josh's contract woes, and both of them having family hang-ups, and Josh's ex being a major character...but the only thing that had any real weight to it was the main couple's UST. Everything else felt kind of thrown in there and most of the work was put in off-page. When it came together at the end, felt a little too convenient.

The Content Warnings

  • THIS BOOK IS FINE and my content warnings apply to my review only. There is one scene where Josh gets pretty verbally pushy and short with Clara's boundaries, but outside of that, I can think of no trigger warnings for the book itself. (Unless you think the existence of porn itself needs a warning, in which case kindly fuck right off.)
  • HOWEVER my review is going to talk about abuses within the porn industry, rape, sexual predators, and one particular rapist named James Deen.
  • People are probably gonna get mad at me for bringing up a bunch of stuff that's not even in the book itself, but I had some very emotional reactions to this book so I'm gonna talk about them. If you don't like that, stop reading the review; I've already covered all the story/plot/writing related stuff.

So, Why James Deen?

  • Because Josh Darling was written and published in a post-James Deen world and I can't get around that fact. They're too similar. I had reactions, okay? I'm not saying the similarities were deliberate, I am very much not making that accusation, but it gave me feelings.
  • James Deen was a very prolific porn star who was so popular that he got multiple features and write-ups outside of the porn industry. His public-facing persona was big on education, sex ed, feminism, and other progressive topics. He was extremely popular with female fans, who even gave themselves a collective nickname (Deenagers) and was known for his "boyish good looks."
  • Josh Darling is a prolific porn star who got a write-up in a non-industry publication that was all about his 'female-centered' approach to pleasure, who has hoards of female fans who gave themselves a collective nickname (Darlings), and gets consistently praised for his "boy-next-door good looks."
  • Again, I'm not saying this was deliberate. Deen made his public persona into a sexy romance hero; it's only natural that a fictional romance hero would follow the same steps.
  • DEEN WAS A MAJOR FUCKING RAPIST. There's a reason I've said 'public persona' in this section. And his outing as a predator was a big deal at the time, and shit got...messy.
  • So seeing Josh come on the page with all of these big similarities to the "Bill Cosby of porn" me feeling a whole bunch of ways, okay? A whole bunch of mad ways.
  • Because Deen is not some minor footnote, nor is he the only person in porn to ever use feminism as a cover for being a rapist. (Or in any industry to do that, frankly.) So if you're going to set your story in the porn industry and write a character with that many red flags it just feels important to...acknowledge that? Do enough research to know it is red flags?
  • Again my operating theory is that this book is not written for porn-watchers, so it's not going to throw off everyone or even most ones, but jesus I was skeeved.
  • Like, it wouldn't even take much, a throwaway line about fellow lady co-stars being once-burned, twice-shy and him having to work against suspicion is all it would take.
  • He's just too similar and I hate it.
  • I'm sorry, Josh, in a vacuum you'd be great but you're being published in the real world and I came into this reading experience with baggage.

I yelled "oh my god, watch some real porn" so many times

  • There's actually not a lot of porn in this book, it's just obliquely referenced a lot and has porn actors as characters. Exactly one scene of a pornographic video is described on-page.
  • But the oblique references had me rolling my eyes so hard.
  • Why is the ultra-ripped hero who doesn't actually work out such a popular trope? No, Josh, you did not get those abs just by fucking a lot. (And also steroid abuse is a big industry problem, among other performance enhancers.)
  • Josh's only mentioned female-pleasuring-reputation cred is that he performs cunnilingus which, uh, is really popular in porn? Sorry, he would not stand out with that.
  • Josh is also not unique for being 'ripped but not muscle-on-muscle jacked' like his described body type is also fairly popular. Along with a wide variety of other male body types.
  • Aaaall of Clara's initial complaints about porn are so bog-standard and don't scratch the surface of the huge variety of types and styles and production quality available. And her assumptions about the quality of porn out there never get corrected, only her opinions on the actors themselves. Which is why I developed that belief that this book is aimed at readers who like the idea of porn but don't do much actual watching.

Maaaaybe a topic with this much abuse around it shouldn't be "lite" rom-com

  • Don't get me wrong, I am fucking down with funny shit going on around porn sets/actors/etc.
  • Have you ever seen porn bloopers? You're welcome. 
  • But a rom-com and a 'lite' rom-com are not necessarily the same beast.
  • This book, to maintain that lighter mood, had to gloss over so much shit and sometimes in the process it kind of implied some terrible things.
  • Like, Josh is resistant about signing a new contract with his company because they want him to do "hardcore" scenes. He already does hardcore. Definitionally, that just means genitals are on display, doing their business. People can use it other ways, sure, but this book just leaves it vague so...?????
  • There is an implication that 'hardcore' means 'kink' and Josh doesn't want to do BDSM scenes because 'you just can't tell if the girl was coerced into that or not.'
  • ....
  • ..................................................................
  • I mean, yes, the industry is full, full, FULL of shit and atrocious coercive practices are all over the place.
  • But, Josh, buddy, pal, cutie-pie...
  • ...the same is true of the scenes you're already doing.
  • You think an actress can't have her boundaries crossed doing the most vanilla shit in the world? Really? REALLY????
  • Not helping your JD vibes; that kind of attitude is shit.
  • I think it was an accidental implication, maybe, possibly, but accidenting your way into that kind of an implication is what happens when you can't face head-on the shit that goes down in your chose subject matter. That's why merely alluding to the many abuses in an industry that is rife with them just so you can get on to the fun innuendo parts is...maybe not the best choice.
  • There are funny as shit memoirs from porn performers who don't pull punches about the bad stuff, and dark comedy is a thing, and...idk, I guess you can idealize your fictional world enough that your characters only ever experience ethical porn companies and that could maybe be a way to keep it lite.
  • But either admit you're characters got lucky and don't have to face the abuse and they get to have lite adventures, or face the abuse and name it. Don't make the tone of your book lite and easy while also having an 11th hour plot point about how the production company is actually horribly abusive, but don't worry it was all off-page.
  • And it ain't just actresses getting abused; I already mentioned the steroid and ED drug abuse. Actors are out here fucking ruining their bodies for our entertainment and Josh gets to shrug and say he got his six pack from fucking a lot?

Did y'all forget cam sites exist?

  • The big bad in this book is a conglomerate production giant that basically controls the porn industry.
  • lol, what is this, 2005?
  • That model is so disrupted and everyone is now operating on razor-thin profit margins because of sites like YouPorn and the fact that everything of quality gets pirated and uploaded for free on the tube sites.
  • Everything's moving towards a cam site model and there's a million small producers and the push is to find innovative ways to make things personal in order to entice paying customers.
  • Josh and Clara's cute little live-action kama sutra is not only not new but going to get torrented in a hot second, y'all ain't disrupting shit.
  • Correct me if I'm wrong - maybe this was set in 2005 - but zero of the issues in this book felt like 2020 issues. Except for all the issues that are only alluded to, of course.

I'm fucking serious PAY FOR YOUR FUCKING PORN.

Will I read this author again? Probably. It's the subject matter that got me down, so a different subject would probably hit different.
Will I continue this series? Standalone.

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