Review: Docile by K.M. Szpara

*This post may contain spoilers*

Docile

Synopsis:

There is no consent under capitalism

Docile is a science fiction parable about love and sex, wealth and debt, abuse and power, a challenging tour de force that at turns seduces and startles.

To be a Docile is to be kept, body and soul, for the uses of the owner of your contract. To be a Docile is to forget, to disappear, to hide inside your body from the horrors of your service. To be a Docile is to sell yourself to pay your parents’ debts and buy your children’s future.

Elisha Wilder’s family has been ruined by debt, handed down to them from previous generations. His mother never recovered from the Dociline she took during her term as a Docile, so when Elisha decides to try and erase the family’s debt himself, he swears he will never take the drug that took his mother from him. Too bad his contract has been purchased by Alexander Bishop III, whose ultra-rich family is the brains (and money) behind Dociline and the entire Office of Debt Resolution. When Elisha refuses Dociline, Alex refuses to believe that his family’s crowning achievement could have any negative side effects—and is determined to turn Elisha into the perfect Docile without it.

Rating:

I have decided to forgo rating this book because I don’t feel comfortable assigning a point system to my feelings regarding this story. More on this in my review.

Review:

CW: Abuse (physical, sexual, mental, emotional), rape, drug use, suicide attempt, suicidal ideation

Docile started out strong, I found the plot interesting, I found the characters to be compelling, and overall I was incredibly interested in seeing where this story took us. I finished reading this a little over a week ago and knew I wanted to write a review but realized I needed time to properly record my thoughts about this novel.

This book was well written and hard to put down but I think the way that it skewed towards trying to be some sexual dystopian story really took away from what it is at the core. This story is about slavery.

The following quote is lifted from a Goodreads review about a Tweet posted sometime last year describing Docile. If I’m able to locate the tweet itself I will insert that here but as of now, this is what I have.

“Dramatic Trillionaire Content
BDSM & then some more BDSM & then a lot more BDSM
Hurt/comfort & hurt/no comfort
Cinnamon roll of steel
The most scandalous kink: love
Courtroom drama, bedroom drama, Preakness drama
Debt & Decadence”

I have also seen now, numerous people describe it as “gay 50 shades of grey” and genuinely all I have to say is *what the actual fuck did these people read in comparison to what I read*. This is not some kinky romantic BDSM lovey book. This is disturbing, it is literally about slavery. It literally says in the description that THERE IS NO CONSENT UNDER CAPITALISM. This book is about rape, it is about abuse of power, it is about a dystopian capitalist future, it is fucked up. I think that there’s a really big disconnect between the content and readers, well not only that but a huge disconnect between content and marketing. I for one went into this book expecting something far different than what I was presented. From the get go I was incredibly disturbed by what I was reading and in the end was let down by an utter lack of critique of capitalist culture and disregard for the historical impact of slavery on the United States.

One of the main characters, Elisha was broken from a very early stage and completely lost his agency and I think that this ended up leading to most of the issues that I had. There may be two viewpoints that this story is told from but because Elisha is unable to think for himself within a short portion of the book and thus the whole novel is skewed to show the trillionaire lifestyle as more positive than it is. In the end, you can see the psychological damage that has happened to Elisha but the author tries to create a happy ending in which it implies that he will eventually go back to his abuser, Alex, because Elisha has somehow magically overcome the damage that has happened to him. In that same vein, Elisha’s mother is magically cured by a drug that was barely tested, I’m assuming, in order to once again try to give Alex some form of humanity to make him more likable.

Disclaimer: I do think that Alex did show a bit of character growth from the opening of this book to the end but I also think that it was a bit too convenient that he so quickly realized the error of his entire lifestyle solely because he was “in love” with Elisha. Yes, his entire life was dismantled because he realized that Dociles are also people but I genuinely have no sympathy for him.

Back to the characters, I find it unfortunate that I ended up thinking so many of them to be flat. There were numerous plot points that took me by surprise that involved certain characters but I felt like we were just supposed to take this information and go with it. The relationships between any characters except for Elisha and Alex were boring and it pained me to see neither of them narrate even a slightly broader backstory to either of their family’s or friend groups. Elisha’s family treated him poorly after he came back to visit but yet we have no understanding as to why they think what he’s done is awful. We know that Elisha’s mother had an adverse and long term reaction to Dociline but Elisha didn’t take it and if Elisha hadn’t left, his sister would have been the one to sell herself into this debt slave system so it makes no sense to me that Elisha’s father would have such an extreme reaction to what Elisha did. Not only did he sell off his entire family’s debt, they were also getting a monthly stipend which should have made things at least slightly better for them so the reaction that Elisha’s father had seemed outlandish. From the very brief interactions and descriptions of Elisha’s sister she seemed to be written as knowledgeable and headstrong and it wouldn’t make sense for her to fall prey to an idealistic world as long as she was able to keep off Dociline and away from the debt slave system.

I also found the world in this book to be incredibly underdeveloped and I would have appreciated more backstory as to how this debt system came about, how the world functions outside of the trillionaires and honestly even just how the trillionaires functioned as well. It was all quickly glossed over that this master/slave system was created to dissolve debt and that the center of it all was this drug (Dociline) but the “whys” were just *not there*. From what was mentioned, this system is not used worldwide, it seems that it wasn’t even used across the entirety of the United States. So this makes me wonder how the rest of the world handles debt and the treatment of those who don’t have money. We saw very small glimpses into the development of Dociline through Alex’s work but I’m still unsure why it was developed in the first place, why it needs new versions and why there isn’t more of an uproar in the outside communities because there’s absolutely no way that Elisha’s mother was the only person to have had a non life term that ended in an adverse reaction. I also had hoped to see more of a critique of capitalist culture as this book is very eerie in terms of the future of the United States but we’re all just lead to believe that everyone just accepts the debt and accepts this slave system. There’s an undercover resistance group but they don’t do anything to try and put forth revolts, nothing to try and undermine the system, they do what they can but I was expecting a full blown revolution and this didn’t give me even a crumb of that.

Before I sign off, I want to leave you with some reviews that I think are very well written that speak far more in depth about some of the issues that I had that I didn’t know how to speak on:

A review that goes in depth about the slave/master aspects, AKA talking about how this is slavefic

This review says everything I wanted to say and more. The quote below is from this review and I couldn’t agree with that statement more.

If a white author uses slavery as a focal point of their book’s plot, a plot that revolves around dismantling capitalism and consent in AMERICA, there needs to be a serious interrogation of like…context, history, trauma on the bodies of BIPOC. It was like slavery and racism never existed in Docile and that continues to bother me! It’s bothersome to have two white narrators as the lenses through which we see the horrors of slavery, because UH…all of these things happened to BIPOC!

Lastly, I wanted to share this review but not review that really tackles race within Docile

PLEASE, if anything, go read the above linked post because this says everything I could have wanted said about this book.

I have never read anything related to slavefic. I’m not a fan of relationships where there is a nonconsensual abuse of power. But I am always interested in seeing where people go wrong with the way that they handle issues of race because these issues will always be prevalent and they will always be important. Docile was an interesting book, I’ll give it that, but I think in terms of everything else it has a long way to go before being a book that should be praised the way it has been. I appreciate that there are people out there who are much better than me at raising critiques and questions because I knew as uncomfortable as I was when I was done reading this book, I could never adequately describe what I needed to say. I think that Docile was poorly and incorrectly marketed and it kind of disgusts me that people would praise this for the sexual nature.

As I said at the beginning of this post, I have decided against rating this book and would like to warn anyone that does want to read this to go into it with these critiques in mind. Or to read critiques afterwards because there’s a lot left unsaid within the novel.

Take care everyone, and enjoy your weekends.

 

 

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