Hannah Tennant-Moore's debut novel is an antidote to 50 Shades of Grey.

By Keziah Weir

"I was in love," declares the narrator of Hannah Tennant-Moore's debut novel, Wreck and Order (Hogarth, Feb. 9), "meaning I was addicted to a specific body." Elsie Shore, a relentless self-examiner at age 16, 24, 30, has a complicated relationship with the men (and their bodies) in her life, for whom she feels a primal mix of jealousy, desire, and hostility. To Elsie, a man's orgasm is "perfect selfishness"; her own, a salve that "separated my longing from the man who had aroused it."

Being human, Elsie also has a complicated relationship with herself. When she is with a man, she's hyperaware that "my arousal came from knowing my body aroused him." Tennant-Moore—in this antidote to Fifty Shades of Grey, Hollywood's beloved simultaneous orgasm, and those personal narratives that treat feminine sexuality like some exotic beast—has managed to do a difficult thing: write frankly about female desire, and unfussily capture the emotional and visceral confusion of pleasure being contingent upon another human. "I had been so certain the night before that my life could not bear any more contact with him," Elsie says of the rough-edged, alcohol-fueled man she spends years trying to shake. "And then: We were making love and eating eggs."

Elsie cannot settle down, in every aspect of the phrase. After a year in Paris following high school, she lands in a California college town but never enrolls; she flees from heartache to a meditation retreat in Sri Lanka, then New York, and then Sri Lanka again. It's there, through meditation, that she learns a new kind of corporeal connectedness—dependent, for once, on only herself. Accordingly, the novel itself is deeply meditative, skewing toward the practice of someone whose mind is at odds with being calm. This is no typical, epiphanic single-woman journey story. In Wreck and Order, for once, we are given a female odyssey that is deeply satisfying without finding, at its end, the disappointing ease of a red satin bow.

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