Review: “The Companion Contract” by Solace Ames

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The beginning of 2015 coincided with some hardcore romance cravings. I devoured 3 books in 3 days (all of which I recommend) and while I’ve moved onto different genres, a bout of the cold brought with it a need for the kind of comfort only this particular category can provide. Couple that with the impending release of that movie based on that book we shall not speak of and the desire for erotica in particular was strong.

What struck me in particular about Solace Ames’s The Companion Contract was its skilful hand in crafting a finely tuned and diverse ensemble of characters, each with a fully three-dimensional personality and a refusal to be easily categorised, all while avoiding strained or lazy exposition dumps. The novel follows a young Japanese-Filipino-American porn star, Amy Mendoza, who has grown tired with the industry and is seeking an exit. In less talented hands, this character, with her troubled family life, occupation and complex relationships with men, so easily could have become a preachy after-school special or tired cliché, yet Amy remains a fresh and vibrant presence throughout. Ames’s depiction of a sex worker is deft and refreshingly never falls into lazy whorephobia or sanctimonious condemnation of the industry. The world of porn is not an especially nice one as depicted here, yet Amy’s participation is not something she feels ashamed of. She owns her sexuality and does her job, even as she faces various kinds of criticism and microaggressions.

Her job, of course, entails sex, and the differentiation in her attitudes between the work of sex and the pleasure of it are one of the book’s more striking aspects. Sex with Miles, even during its more adventurous moments, are clinically detailed, going through the expected motions, whereas Amy’s interactions with Emmanuel are rooted in pure passion.

There’s a naturalness to this story that never feels at odds with its melodramatic storyline – Amy is hired by Emmanuel, a rockstar who is also albino, to be the sober and sexual companion of his band’s drug addicted leading man Miles, who also happens to have romantic history with both Miles and a member of his family! What I ended up being reminded of the most was the work of Gina Prince-Blythewood, director of Love and Basketball and Beyond The Lights. She and Ames have wholeheartedly embraced what many would see as maudlin foundations and created tightly crafted and interesting pieces of work with them.

Structurally, The Companion Contract is one less confident feet, with the end coming a good 10% after the story’s natural conclusion. Moments meander occasionally, which stand out amidst the novel’s mostly sturdy pacing and plotting. However, the faults of the novel are greatly outnumbered by the strengths. Solace Ames can surely (and deservedly) look forward to a lot of reader love this coming year thanks to this multi-faceted character driven melodrama.

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