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One of the awesome benefits to quitting my TV habit is that I’m finally tackling some of my backlogged reading list. I grabbed Sarah Gardner Borden’s Games to Play After Dark on a whim. It had a neat cover, and the back seemed suspenseful and vaguely reality-TVish.

You'd pick it up and read the back, too.

The novel chronicles the marriage of Kate and Colin, whose initial drunken encounter after a party turns into a whirlwind relationship, wedding, and suburban migration. The cracks start as mildly kinky sex games–she likes her hair pulled or her butt smacked.

From there, the story gets dark, but the gradations are so subtle that I almost didn’t catch what was happening. Kate’s father dies, for example. Colin wants her to talk about it, but she’s still in a state of shock and unwilling to talk. So instead she invents an elaborate story about taking the neighbor down to the laundry room and screwing his brains out while Colin is at work. So Colin, meaning to snap her out of it, throws her in the shower and turns the cold water on.

Even when she started volunteering at a shelter for domestic abuse victims, you are on her side, easily assuming their situation is completely different, black and white, while hers is justified as a rough patch, or an overreaction. It’s hauntingly subtle, and absolutely perfect. I was glad that Borden avoided the typical ending of having Spouse A (usually the woman) triumphantly walk out on Spouse B. I realize that’s the feel-good thing to do, but I can’t help feeling like it’s often a bit of a cop-out. Games to Play After Dark gives an ending that’s not quite happy, not quite dark, but honest.