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The Bearskin Rug
Jennifer Stevenson
Ballantine Books, 304 pages

The Bearskin Rug
Jennifer Stevenson
Jennifer Stevenson grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and earned her BA in English and music at the University of Iowa. She married theater technician Rich Bynum and spent six years in New Haven, where he went to Yale Drama School and she took her advanced degrees. She now lives in a suburb of Chicago, writing, doing the books for the family business, Hawkeye Scenic Studios.

Jennifer Stevenson Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: The Brass Bed and The Velvet Chair
SF Site Review: Trash Sex Magic

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Sherwood Smith

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Early on, protagonist Jewel Heiss fondly looks back on a relationship she'd had at seventeen with the family's septuagenarian lawyer. He said to her, The world runs on sex. There's no life without sex. Make sure you have fun at it.

If you can read that and smile, the chances are pretty good you will enjoy this book. Jennifer Stevenson, whose first book, trash sex magic, garnered critical acclaim, appears to be offering fluffy chick lit with a side of sex in this last book of her trilogy, but under the wacky goings-on, she comes to grips with a surprising range of issues relating to sex: age, emotional damage, the cost of love, the cost of what one thinks is love, self-knowledge, mother-daughter dynamics, commitment, sex for pay, sex for play (porn).

The Bearskin Rug finishes the story began in The Brass Bed and The Velvet Chair. The three books came out one a month. The Bearskin Rug stands alone; Stevenson interleaves the developing plot with flashbacks that not only illuminate Jewel's early life as a Wisconsin teenager inheriting her grandmother's failing farm, but paints in the relationships established in the previous books.

Jewel is torn between two men. There's Clay, a con man she met when he was posing as a therapist who happened to possess what seemed to be a magical bed. Clay, whose morals have been as adaptable as his vocations, has fallen hard for Jewel. He wants a permanent relationship, but because he's a con artist, he has no idea how to win her except by manipulation. Then there's Randy, who in 1811 was an arrogant Regency earl regarding women as "use 'em and lose 'em" sex objects -- until he tried to seduce and dump a witch. She put a spell on him, binding him to a brass bed until he could satisfy 100 women. Nearly 200 years later, Jewel turns out to be the hundredth, and Randy has undergone such a radical change that he is sincerely attached to Jewel. Thus he's coping with their relationship, which is stormy everywhere except in bed -- and with modern Chicago.

Well, modern Chicago with a difference: sometime recently, it seems, magic erupted into the world. Practical, modern people so dislike the M-word they refer to the phenomena vaguely as "hinky" -- even the people with the job of investigating the phenomena and figuring out how to fix them, which is the true nature of Jewel's job at the blandly named Department of Consumer Services. She also investigates fraud, but her primary focus is on limiting the "hinky" damage in the city, so that Chicago doesn't end up being quarantined like Pittsburgh.

The details of hinky America are vague, because they are not as important as the results of wild magic, particularly the way it affects people.

Jewel is sent as a temp to a Baysdorter Boncil, a real estate investment firm that is cubicle hell, especially for women. The secretarial assistants are dressed in chokingly proper Office Garb, but beneath the quietly efficient order of the office, the male execs have been using these women for far more than their typing and filing skills. Jewel is a fox among the chickens, upsetting the head hen, Ms. Sacker, who turns out to have more secrets than all the other women put together. Events soon lead to a porn production site, where Randy (still unsuccessfully learning to drive a car) soon gets hired to perform as a porn star; meanwhile whenever people in various offices eat the pastries from a certain shop, they inexplicably end up in chandelier -- swinging orgies.

The magic is getting wilder, as Jewel and her cohorts slowly investigate a real estate scam that is far larger than anyone could have imagined. Meanwhile, Jewel is also trying to cope with the emotional fallout of her past habits of bouncing from guy to guy without giving them a second thought (in an interesting parallel to Randy's early life), and her emotional attachments (she avoids the L-word) to Clay and Randy.

How do sex and magic relate? How do sex and emotion relate? The two -- sex and emotion -- are pole stars revolving around the story. The reader experiences a romp through a crazy Chicago as well as an exploration of humans as sexual beings. Stevenson's complex characters, her eye for detail, her 52-pick-up style of magic and her roller-coaster plotting all combine in a complex tale that is both warm and wise.

Copyright © 2008 Sherwood Smith

Sherwood Smith is a writer by vocation and reader by avocation. Her webpage is at www.sff.net/people/sherwood/.


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