Dangerous Liason:
A Review of the Novel "3"

Author: Julie Hilden
ISBN 0-452-28443-0

Reviewed by Lisabet Sarai

For some, power is the ultimate aphrodisiac: power to control a partner, to wring pleasure or pain from the other's body at a whim, to submerge her in shame, humiliation, even terror, yet still see her obey. For others, ecstasy can be found only in surrender, in the freedom that comes from opening the self to the lover and holding nothing back. When someone of the first type comes together with someone of the second, their complementary passions can produce a bond of awesome, dangerous strength.

Maya and Ilan have a love like this, pure and fevered, a connection that sets them apart from the world. Ilan's power is borne of knowledge. He sees Maya truly when everyone else quietly ignores her, her brilliance, her vulnerability, the physical and emotional depths of which she is capable. They meet when they are in their late teens, but Ilan has insight and sexual skills beyond his years. He teaches Maya about her capacities, tapping into her need to be mastered even as he molds her into the woman he wants her to be. Thirsty for love, Maya submits eagerly, seduced and transformed by Ilan's focused desire.

Ilan need for Maya is equally intense. He basks in the totality of her devotion. But for him, she is not enough. He needs to prove his mastery by captivating and bedding other women. When Maya discovers him in flagrante, his pain at the possibility of losing her is nearly as great as hers at the betrayal. And so they strike a bargain. Maya agrees that he can have other women - but only if she is present and included. Gratefully, Ilan responds by marrying her.

For a while, it appears that they have found a perfect, if unconventional, solution. Maya finds their kinky games with the women Ilan chooses doubly arousing. Not only is she pleasing him, she finds her own pleasure in the silky, wet flesh of their partners (deliberately selected to resemble her, with the same red hair and slight frame).

Each time Maya acquiesces to Ilan's demands, however, they become crueler and more extreme. Little by little, playful bondage and blindfolds give way to "play" with razor blades and revolvers. Maya begins to understand the darkness edging the blaze of their passion. She senses that if she does not leave Ilan, he will eventually kill her. Still, she is paralyzed, unable to imagine life without him.

The twists of plot that follow are part of the delight and anguish of reading '3'. Maya escapes from Ilan, and yet she can never escape him. I will not reveal the details here, but merely warn that the story is shocking, surprising, and deeply revealing.

Ms. Hilden writes with authority and sensitivity about the darker aspects of sex. She shows clearly how Maya and Ilan's connection, rooted in complementary perversities, becomes an obsession that literally threatens their lives.

Here is Maya speaking, after Ilan is gone:

That first night at home, I let sleep take me very early in the evening. As I become drowsy, watching the light outside the windows fail and fade, it is as if I begin subtly to feel myself disappear.

As I shimmer out, I begin almost to see you, Ilan; the dark bruise-like circles under your eyes start to resolve. I cannot help it; my heart races with a mere glance... Burning, I rise in sleep, like a body jerked upward by invisible strings -- as if in a moment I will levitate. Pleasure runs through me like a tremor, like a seizure, like faith.

This is no ordinary love; it is diabolical and all-consuming. Nor is the sex in '3' of the ordinary variety. An edginess pervades the sex scenes, even the most vanilla. The characters are constantly pushing boundaries, and pleasure is always tainted: by fear, by shame, by insecurity.

I do not mean to imply that '3' is not arousing. Ilan and Maya's encounters, on their own or in their contracted threesoms, have a breathless immediacy that pulls the reader into the scene. However, the sex in '3' is always a cipher, a physical manifestation of motivations and conflicts far more tangled than the intermingling bodies. Even as my pulse raced, I was acutely aware of the ambiguities and dangers lurking below the surface.

Ms. Hilden has created a compelling and disturbing novel, one that will haunt you long after you have finished reading, as the vanished Ilan haunts Maya. Weeks after I completed the book, it still colored my thoughts. I suddenly recognized the irony in the title. No matter how many women Ilan brought home for menages a trois, finally there remained only Ilan and Maya, only two. Or perhaps, in a seductive, frightening and yet starkly true sense, one.

Dangerous Liason:
A Review of the Novel "3"
© 2003 Lisabet Sarai





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