Ainsley Booth’s Shame took me back to the year I lived in a friend’s house while she and her husband were grappling with his infidelity. I was not the person harmed, of course, but it was a strange situation navigating the intense emotions and trying to be supportive without being a prop. Reading Shame was a catharsis I didn’t know I needed. It’s angsty, painful, and very messy, but ultimately kind and healing.
Booth prioritizes Grace over Luke, though they both have POV sections. Throughout Shame, Grace is allowed to have whatever feelings she is having. She’s allowed to be angry, sad, mean, vindictive, compassionate, embarrassed, and horny. She gets to feel the way she feels and it’s clear that she has not been allowed to do that for a lot of the marriage. We do see Luke work on himself, because Grace deserves a partner who will fix themselves and not make her do all the work. But even when we are in Luke’s POV, the focus is Grace.
There are a couple of moments that made me want to hug my kindle since I can’t teleport to Canada and hug the author. In one Luke is trying to tell her he wants to fight for their marriage with her. She tells him he’s going to have to do the fighting on his own because she has fought for their marriage by herself for so long. In another moment, Grace tells Luke that she doesn’t want him to be gentle, she wants him to be safe. She wants him to truly be the person she can be herself with in any situation, not just a performance of being supportive. Luke has been overly concerned with appearances and Grace is no longer interested in the appearance of a good marriage. If Luke can’t give her substance, she doesn’t want it. She doesn’t need gentleness, or to orgasm first, she needs a partner who will accept, love, and desire her as she is and as she may become.
Shame is the driver of Luke’s self destructive behavior. Because he can’t deal with his own shame monster he becomes the monster in the lives of his wife, brother and best friend. He stopped seeing other people as their full selves and was used anger to enforce their roles in his life. Part of undoing that damage is Luke creating the space in his life for Grace to be sexual in the way she wants to be sexual. The book gets into some kink, and it’s a mark of Luke’s progress when he allows himself to be uncomfortable and turned on. If you are looking for a grovel that pays off with forgiveness, you won’t find it here. Luke tries a grovel, but Grace isn’t interested. Instead he has to be present, invested, and willing to let Grace go.
I could write at least five essays about the layers in Shame. It’s an enjoyable read with a rich text, which is exactly my kind of thing. I loved this one for everything it was and for the many things it could have been but chose not to be. It’s a redemption story that focuses on the harmed.
I received this as an advance reader copy in exchange for an honest review.