Touted as a “darkly erotic novel about a good girl gone bad”, In the Red, by Elena Mauli Shapiro focuses on the destructive path that a young Romanian-born, but American-raised young woman takes when she leaves her adoptive parents to attend college. Irina is literally and figuratively seduced into an oddly comfortable world of anonymity and subservience by Andrei Vadrescu, an older man who meets her at a fountain. He tells her stories of her homeland, and quickly becomes her lover. Kindle at Amazon
She meets the young bride of one of Vadrescu's associates, and the two become convenient friends. They are both molded, manipulated, and abused by their men. Sometimes the marks that remain are physical; brutal, intentional, and methodically inflicted. Others are psychological. Often the women rationalize that they are in “love”, or view the treatment as a trade off for what they get in return, or simply as what they must endure.
The reader can feel for Irina and Elena who have become deeply victimized by the cold blooded criminals, yet often they seem more comfortable than afraid, so it is easier and more rewarding for them to stay and do the men's bidding, than escape and risk death and independence. Do they really have a choice?
What is intensely interesting about In The Red, is how the women think and feel through the brutality, and how they develop bravery and a true sense of self.
While the time line in In the Red could use a bit more continuity, and less back and forth, the stories are what become annoying. Although initially interesting, they are much too frequent for this reader. With recurring themes of warlords, conquests, and royalty, they often illustrate either love or cruelty or some combination. Perhaps they are meant metaphorically, or as entertainment, or history lessons, or at times loose parallels to Irina's life. They maintain interest only for so long.Irina sees herself as an accessory, and makes a comment about finding a (real life) story she could fit into. Perhaps that is the point.
If you are looking for a love story, you won't find it here; only a warped attachment that encounters of the flesh can sometimes bring. Likewise, it is not erotic in a sensual or enticing sense of the word. Sex is sometimes brutal and cruel. It is by no means explicit. That being said, it is very consistent with the lives the characters lead, and is an important but not exclusive part of the story.
Shapiro's characters live too much darkness in their short lives, but there is light! Unfortunately thought, this reader did not enjoy this book as much as anticipated.
Just an aside, it is curious the the first name of one of the main character is the same as the author's.