Black Silk: So strange I needed Ruthie’s help to describe it.

Judith Ivory’s BLACK SILK: a review by Del, with help from Ruthie


Judith Ivory’s BLACK SILK is a weird, weird book and I can hardly express how much I love it in all its wonktastic glory…but of course I’m going to try.

Some Background

This is one of those books people tend to either love or hate. No, seriously. The reviews on Amazon really tell the story, and it’s no surprise they tend to cluster heavily around the 1-star and 5-star ratings. A sampling of those reviews:

  • “In this story the heroine is described as hairy, with crooked teeth. He is decribed [sic]as frivilous [sic], a dandy that cares more about his fobs on his vest than people, and utterly irresponsible. Throughout most of the book she holds him in utter disdain and can barely tolerate him.” – Duchess1968
  • “The romance develops over quite a length of time, and very slowly; this book is not particularly steamy. Probably the most objectionable thing about Black Silk is that for more than three-quarters of the novel, Graham’s primary sexual relationship is not with Submit.” – Mlle. X
  • “I don’t know how they called this book a romance. The two main characters hardly ever interacted with each other until the last 1/4 of the book. The hero was in another relationship with another woman during almost the entire book.” – msjaimemd
  • “There’s only one sex scene in this book, so if you’re looking for lots of action, this will not be a read you’ll enjoy.” – K.B.
  • “The book was like a ball of yarn full of knots that you’re trying to unravel; every time you think you have it all sorted out you find another knot, every time you think you’ve found the beginning piece, you pull it out to find that it’s just a scrap, disconnected from the rest of the skein.” – J.P.
  • “Black Silk certainly isn’t for the mainstream romance readers who wants [sic] their novels fast and snappy.” – Desmond Chan
  • “I have to agree with some of the other reviewers, this is not really a romance.” – ladyisis2004

Here’s an interesting thing – the quotes above come from reviews that run the gamut from one star to five (there’s even one reviewer who openly wishes for a zero-star option). Can you tell which quotes came from positive reviews, and which came from negative ones?

Another interesting bit – no matter the rating, everything in the above reviews is accurate. I think to a certain extent people loved or hated the book based on the same elements. One person’s poison is another person’s cure. This is perhaps a hallmark of wonkomance, and BLACK SILK is one of the wonkiest I have ever read, a true classic of wonk.

The Characters (and just a fraction of their story)

The heroine, Submit Channing-Downes (yes, there’s a lot of backstory behind that name) is the recent widow of a man 43 years her senior, to whom she was married at the age of sixteen. She is twenty-eight when he dies, and through most of the book she is genuinely mourning for him, because she loved him and felt a great kinship of spirit with him despite the age difference. We learn almost as much about her views on her relationship with the late Henry as we do about her relationship with the hero, Graham Wessit. Adding to the wonk quotient: Submit is described in a way that makes it clear she is no beauty. Not the romance book “not a conventional beauty” thing, but actually a bit funny-looking.

Graham, however, is very well-favored. He is perhaps best described as a rake, but unlike the typical romance rake Graham is in no particular hurry to reform. And most (though not all) of the rumors about his dissipation are absolutely true. When the book opens he’s the subject of a paternity suit. He has two older children he never sees. Through most of the book he’s still sleeping with his mistress (she’s married…her husband dotes on her). Oh, and did I mention he was the ward of Submit’s elderly husband, so to the extent they know one another already, it’s because she is in a certain sense his surrogate stepmother? Yes, there’s that, too. Layer upon layer of fucked-up-ness, like an unholy but delectable cake of wonk.

The characters don’t really want to become involved with one another. Indeed, they really don’t want to become involved with one another. Fortunately for them, in that regard, they spend most of the book in different cities. This is probably why, as one of the quoted reviewers point out, they only have one sex scene; they’re rarely physically close enough to make out, much less have sex. On the whole, it’s such an atypical romance that one wonders how she snuck it past the publisher under the “romance” label.

So why read this? I’m going to ask Ruthie to help me out with that, because she knows lots of cool academic terms for the reasons, I’m sure. Ruthie, why should people read BLACK SILK? *passes the baton*

Why You Should Read It

The book was originally released under Ivory's other nom de plume, Judy Cuevas. It had one of the least representative covers EVER!


So many reasons! I could give you some really high-falutin’ answers, like that it’s beautifully written and the characterization is exquisite and amazing and so, so impressive. But here’s what sticks with me: when I finally got to the last scene, after waiting an ETERNITY for Graham and Submit to get together, I highlighted, like, the entirety of the last ten pages of the book on my Kindle. Even though I never highlight anything on my Kindle, and even though I have no use for highlighting, and even though it was silly. I just couldn’t help myself. I had to underscore how delighted I was with everything about the ending of the book. LET ME PAUSE TO UNDERSCORE.

And of course it wasn’t so much that the scene itself was spectacular as that I was so invested in both characters, so intrigued by them and their romance, so ready for them to be together finally, despite all the reasons they shouldn’t be. Because this is not a book where the characters are obviously right for each other on page 12. It’s not even a book where they obviously become right for each other by the end because the “bad” character transforms. That’s what I thought it was going to be, in fact: what I think of as a “romance of regard,” where the hero has to become worthy of the morally superior heroine’s regard (or occasionally vice versa). No, this is a book where the characters are wrong for each other AND right for each other. Where they’re allowed to remain imperfect, to cherish each other’s imperfections, and finally, in the end, to tell each other, “You are so wrong about this, it is insane. I know what you need, and you don’t. Allow me to demonstrate.”

I think BLACK SILK is a book about how love is often uncomfortable. It is an understuffed Victorian settee of a novel, with hard edges. It is not the kind of couch-book where you can lay back and luxuriate in escape. No. What it is is a book about people — deeply flawed, deeply human, deeply interesting people — and life, and “bewildering gifts from the dead,” and love.

It is deeply wonked. And I adored it.

And Another Thing…

Del: *snatches baton back* What Ruthie said! Buy this beautiful piece of wonkitude at the following fine e-stablishments:

Amazon     Barnes & Noble     Kobo      Google     Sony

Posted in Certified Wonktastical, Historical Wonktastical | Tagged , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Random Obsession

Okay, today I’m going to talk about robots. Because of reasons, ok? Because I just want to. It has almost nothing to do with the fact that I totally forgot I had to post and also because I am currently obsessed with this:


I mean…what in the ever loving fookity fookballs is this?? I feel like the internets has creeped into my brain and stolen my personal private sex thoughts. Because that is definitely what my private sex thoughts are about.

An android, that can do whatever you want it to do – including unethical and distressing acts – that talks in a clipped authoratative British accent…and ALSO LOOKS LIKE MICHAEL FASSBENDER.

What on earth were they thinking with this? I’m surprised the combined arousal of a million girls hasn’t formed an almighty tidal wave, and taken out the entire internet. I’m amazed Tumblr didn’t crash due to a million girls being completely unable to process the idea of owning their very own poseable Fassbender.

It was a close thing, I reckon. My favourite Tumblr comment about this…Happening…was one girl who said she’d lost a follower because of the all the foaming at the mouth she’d done over this, and then she’d posted the following gif below:

Yeah, I’m not sorry, either. I’m not sorry that I’ve spent this post raving about a character from a movie that no one in Romancelandia will probably ever care about – he is, after all, a totally passive and weirdly effete English butler android with a hint of the creeptastical that suggests he might just segment you into twenty parts while you sleep and build a wall out of your body.

I’m not sorry that I live for stuff like this. I’m not even sorry that I’d do terrible things to him, if I had one of my very own.

Because I am just that wonky.

Posted in Writing Wonkomance | 10 Comments

Guest Post — Kate Bush: Thirty Years of Wonk

Please welcome the wonderful, wonktastical Penelope Merrin, who is visiting today to favor us with a guest post about musician/artist Kate Bush!


“Normal” is not a word most people would use to describe singer/songwriter Kate Bush. Over the course of her long career, she’s released songs about taboo topics, gleefully shrieked and brayed her melodies, and bucked the conventional studio album-and-tours career model. She is far from mainstream, but she’s enjoyed more than thirty years of success as a musician on her home soil in the UK, as well as internationally.

Bush was discovered by Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour when she was just fifteen years old. Four years later, she released her first album, “The Kick Inside.” It included songs she had penned when she was in her early teens. The album teemed with love songs, including the single “Wuthering Heights” about doomed Heathcliff and the ghost of his lover, Cathy. The title track of the album was inspired by “Lizie Wan,” an old folk song about incest. In Kate’s take on the story, the singer decides to take her own life rather than shame her brother by bearing his child. “This kicking here inside makes me leave you behind / No more under the quilt to keep you warm.”

Every album in the thirty-plus years since then has featured at least one wonktacular romance. With incest out of the way, it was time to move on to pedophilia in 1980’s “Never for Ever.” Bush claimed the film The Innocents as the inspiration for her song “The Infant Kiss.” In the movie, a governess falls in love with the ghost of a man possessing the child in her care. “His little hand is on my heart. / He’s got me where it hurts me.” The songwriter was fascinated by the push/pull of the bizarre relationship in the film and endured lots of grilling from the press when they confronted her about the subject matter.

A few other notable wonk-o-mantic songs include:

“Houdini” (1982), about the famous magician’s wife and her attempts to contact him from beyond the grave. According to legend, when he kissed his wife before performing escapist feats, she passed him the key to his shackles. “With a kiss, I pass the key / And feel your tongue teasing and receiving. / With your spit still on my lips / You hit the water.”

“Song of Solomon” (1993), a recitation of verses from the sensual book of the Bible, with a chorus that forthrightly says “Don’t want your bullshit / Just want your sexuality.”

“Mrs Bartolozzi” (2005), a sexually charged song about household chores and the washing machine. “I watched them going round and round / My blouse wrapping itself around your trousers / Oh, the waves are going out / My skirt floating up around my waist / As I wade into the surf / … little fish swim between my legs.”

“Misty” (2011), a song about sex with a snowman. “So cold next to me / I can feel him melting in my hand / … His crooked mouth, it’s full of dead leaves.” She talks about kissing his “ice cream lips” during their “one and only tryst” before he dissolves.

Kate Bush is inspiring to me not only because of the subject matter of her songs, but also because of the career path she has forged for herself. When she first came on the music scene at age nineteen, the press wanted to label her as a sex symbol. But rather than following this easy path, she stayed true to her unusual artistic vision. Her music videos are bizarre and otherworldly, featuring highly stylized, often erratic-looking dancing and wide-eyed, doll-like expressions that reflect her background in theatre, dance and mime.

Bush chose what worked for her as far as promotion. Because of her theatre background, she worked herself to exhaustion costuming and choreographing her first tour in the late 1970s. Afterward, she vowed never to do it again — and she hasn’t. She has only appeared live once on American television (Saturday Night Live in 1978). Instead of touring to promote her albums, she dedicates herself to the signature unusual music video she enjoys crafting.

She has also released albums at her own pace. After 1993’s “The Red Shoes,” Bush did not release another album until 2005’s “Aerial.” In the quest to remain viable and in the public eye, most artists would blanch at the thought of taking a twelve-year hiatus between releases. Speculation ran wild during this time period — was she washed up, finished with the music business? Would she ever put out a new album after the birth of her son in 1998? No matter her reason for the break, she came out on the other side still producing brilliant music, 2005’s “Aerial” and 2011’s “50 Words for Snow.”

As a writer, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in the “right way” to do things. I completely appreciate all the excellent advice I receive on revising, editing, plotting, self-promotion, and all the other things writers do. But I think it’s easy to lose sight of the forest, focusing on all the trees. Tori Amos, another unusual artist, put it this way: “I know I’m an acquired taste—I’m anchovies. And not everybody wants those hairy little things. If I was potato chips, I could go more places.” Listening to Kate Bush bray like a donkey at the end of “Get Out of My House,” watching her hump a cello in the video for “Babooshka,” I see an artist madly in love with her work, completely dedicated to expressing her wildly creative vision no matter how strange it may seem to others. I appreciate having an artist with a bold career path to look up to, as well as a library of songs to use as inspiration for my own off-kilter stories.


Penelope Merrin (@penelopemerrin) is the author of Playing Along, the story of a cosplay hookup between a waitress and a man dressed as her favorite 1970s TV character. There may or may not be stick-on sideburns involved. When she’s not writing, Penelope enjoys spending time with her husband and dogs, playing video games and walking on the beach late at night having deep conversations with people.

Posted in Life & Wonk, Music, Talking Wonkomance | 4 Comments