*This review may contain spoilers.
UNEVEN by Anah Crow is a well-crafted, beautifully executed novel that wasted no words in getting straight to the action and heart of the story. I was lucky enough and grateful to obtain a copy of this novel since it’s currently out of print. Originally published in 2008, UNEVEN is a May-December M/M romance containing graphic BDSM scenes that some readers might find shocking or disturbing. Because I had read a few reviews and recommendations of this book, I knew what I was getting into.
So, I wasn’t horrified when Gabriel beat Rase until he was bleeding or when Gabriel left Rase bruised and battered on the floor during their first encounter. They understood that they needed it at the time, though they’re not exactly certain why, and they didn’t feel either abused or used. The physical and emotional intensity of their first encounter is not unlike the start of any new relationship between two people who have out of this world chemistry and an instant connection. The difference with their relationship is that the way they express their emotional and sexual needs doesn’t conform with societal norms.
Rase is a godlike, insulated, emotionally distant, billionaire CEO, whose skyscraper office in the clouds is like Mt Olympus and whose factory empire spans the globe. His office is a cold, remote environment, all steel and factory parts, but a chance run-in with a bold stockroom employee awakens his repressed needs to be dominated and hurt. Rase feels shame and self-loathing for his needs. When Rase was a teenager, a BDSM scene got out of hand. He permanently injured his shoulder, was taken to the hospital, and was subsequently outed to his controlling, emotionally abusive father. Since then, Rase has been living in his father’s shadow, has been married twice, and has a teenage son with his first wife. He also has a gun in his safe, because thirty years is a long time to live a lie.
Meeting Gabriel changes Rase, because there is something about the younger man that makes him feel alive again. Though Rase initially feels shame, humiliation, and self-loathing from Gabriel’s beatings and total domination, for the first time in his life, he feels safe and cared for. Gabriel comforts him and validates his emotions and needs, rather than reinforce the shame, humiliation, and self-loathing that Rase learned from his father. The sex scenes are startlingly intimate, because they expose Rase and Gabriel’s vulnerabilities. Both are affected, awed, and perhaps humbled by their visceral responses to each other. Their “uneven” employer-boss relationship and age difference become less of an obstacle when Gabriel quits his job at Rase’s company and because Rase treats Gabriel as his equal.
Though Rase is the narrator, Gabriel’s emotions and internal conflict are shown through his actions and in highly-effective dialogue. Gabriel distrusts powerful, privileged, and wealthy men who used him in the past as a stress-reliever and an outlet for their egos. The hurt he inflicts on Rase is nothing compared to the hurt and degradation he suffered at the hands of these powerful men, who treated him like a paid toy. After Gabriel was fired from his law firm by one of those very powerful men, he has been struggling to survive and working menial jobs. Gabriel is terrified by his feelings for Rase and his sadomasochistic need to hurt Rase, by Rase’s unequivocal trust, obedience, and submission, and by the way Rase looks at him as if he were Rase’s entire world. The way Rase sees him motivates Gabriel to regain his dignity.
Rase and Gabriel’s relationship lift them from the darkness of their past and present lives, though they arrive at their destination individually. They own their choices and have a healthy, mature relationship based on trust, respect, and mutual love and affection. Their sex life might not seem “normal,” but their story is a universal one. It’s about finding the one person you can truly be yourself with, the one person that fulfills and complements your needs, the one person that completes you.
By the end of the novel, I truly believed Rase and Gabriel were soulmates. The sex scenes weren’t gratuitous but felt meaningful and essential to their story, not to mention hot and sexy as f***. I thought this novel was honest and heartfelt, and the ending brilliant in tone, setting, and scene. UNEVEN is the kind of book that if you have an open mind and willing heart can change something inside you.