Paul and Riley are roommates. Paul is a professional soccer player who suffered a serious injury and has spent the last year coaching for Portland’s team while they see how much he recovers. Riley has been in a professional and creative rut since her ex-boyfriend chose his career over their relationship. They are each in a stuck place. As a reader you also know that they have feelings for each other, but neither has had the courage to say anything.
For reasons that make sense in the book, they decide to make a sex tape to enter into an amateur adult video contest. They agree to “stay friends” even though they both know it’s going to change things between them and the reader knows they are already not “just friends.” Riley, a director, has a vision for the film, which unintentionally reflects the tension in the relationship between Paul and Riley.
Sex does not have to mean anything beyond a momentary trust and physical pleasure. Riley and Paul are assuring each other that that is all they are looking for from each other. They are able to act on their feelings, desires and vulnerability while shielded by the pretense that they are doing this for art. The juxtaposition between their actions and the words they are willing to say when the camera isn’t rolling is part of what makes Press Play such an interesting novella.
What makes it frustrating is that after a while it was hard for me to accept that Riley and Paul were being anything other than willfully obtuse. Both of them spend an enormous amount of time in their own heads, and it got a bit wearying. I am not a fan of grand gestures and there are two in this book. One made sense and the other didn’t. That said, I mostly enjoyed the book. It’s well worth a read even if it’s imperfect.