At the very core of its hard and gritty essence, Exploits is a book about power and relationships. It’s a very dark look at the themes of abuse and addiction that are so often glossed over and . . . well, for lack of a better word, exploited . . . in the pages of fetish erotica. It’s not a story of rape, contrary to what some reviewers have suggested, but it is a story about being forced to do things that are against your nature, and not being able to stop yourself once you’ve begun.
Stefanie is a ‘good girl’ who falls hard and fast for Gary. She quickly succumbs to his power, altering her dress, her behaviour, and even her physical appearance to suit his whims. Her descent into darkness would be so much easier to take if she was innocent or reluctant, but she understands precisely what is happening to her. She may be a subject of Gary’s abuse, but she never comes across as a ‘victim’.
Like the protagonist herself, Exploits is powerful and confusing, as likely to make you scratch your head in wonder as it is to make you cover a gasp of horror. It’s a very personal story, and one that reads as if Poppet were sitting across from you, sharing her story over a cup of coffee. Okay, given the subject matter, it’s more likely to be a few glasses of something alcoholic, but you get the idea.
Make no mistake, this is a very dark book that will make you cringe on a regular basis, but it’s also a book that will make you smile and cheer. Stefanie is far from perfect, but she is human – and entirely too easy to relate to. While our relationship with her (as readers) isn’t abusive, it is overpowering. Instead of distancing ourselves from the narrative, and observing from a safe distance, we get sucked right into her Stefanie’s predicament . . . and find it just as hard to find our way out of it.
I think we all have the potential to be in Stefanie’s shoes, whether our ‘Gary’ is our first love or the latest in a string of relationships. That’s what (at times) makes this book so hard to stomach – but it’s also what makes it such an emotionally exciting book (and relationship) to come out of.