Isaac is a class A shitheel with only three things on his mind: his next vape break, his next paycheck, and a just-for-fun feud with fun police coworker, Atticus. Atticus is a surface level stick-in-the-mud. Cleancut and built, he’s never found without hand sanitizer or a scowl. He hates three things: a disorganized workspace, germs of any kind, and Isaac.
The two exist on the verge of Atticus’s fist down Isaac’s throat at all times, until one day, Isaac discovers a secret: Atticus’s pierced nipples. Something clicks in his head, and Isaac goes from zero to a hundred. Obsessed. He has to have Atticus — whether or not the big guy is on board with this budding romance. Things move fast, but Isaac isn’t happy just to get him in bed. He needs to own Atticus body and soul — and doing so requires confronting Atticus’s germophobia, by making him more scared of the person who loves him than he is of a dirty floor.
Warnings: dubcon/noncon, abuse, ableism, violence
Claiming the Cleanfreak is a decidedly dark and kinky erotic novel, more of a drama than a romance, set in a coffee shop, about a horrible delinquent that decides he wants his stern, broody, and OCD coworker. Defying the traditional wholesomeness of the coffee shop backdrop, this reads quite a bit more horrific and the warnings should certainly be minded. That said if you like truly sinister characters and kinky power dynamics, well, strap in for a roller coaster.
The writing here is really playful and fun, especially given its incredibly dark subject matter. It is told exclusively from Isaac’s POV, and while he is the worst piece of shit I have read in a long time, he is also just so irreverent and crass that he is so much fun to read. Upbeat and exuberant about all the wrong things, it’s hard not to have a good time reading his absolutely self-obsessed and delusional brand of cruelty. I will caution the reader though that there is an exceptional amount of ableism inherent in Isaac’s cruelty; while he tells himself that he is trying to be respectful and understanding of Atticus’s OCD, there is also a lot of ableist language in his inner monologues that may be distressing to read, and aside from that, the depiction of OCD isn’t entirely accurate. Hand washing and an obsession with germs is more of a stereotype of OCD than an accurate representation of the nuances of OCD, and besides which a few days of cruelly applied exposure therapy wouldn’t break someone of their obsessions or their compulsions, so take from that what you will. It’s still a fun story to read for it’s incredible amount of unreliable narrator, but may hit too close to home if OCD is something you are familiar with.
I did feel like the author could have given a bit more background into both of these characters. Their personalities and driving motivations seem to simply be taken for granted at the beginning of the story, glossing over them rather than being fleshed out for the reader. We don’t know why Atticus has the hang ups he has about cleanliness, or how long he’s had the OCD diagnosis, or what sort of background and history has led Isaac to being such a profoundly terrible person. There is a side relationship with Isaac’s best friend, which is delightfully well written and enjoyable, but no history between them or why they have the vaguely antagonistic relationship they do. It feels a bit like being dropped into the middle of a story and missing the beginning, and the author might have been able to take more care to flesh out the characters individually before jamming them together. That said, there is a lot of excellent character interactions and dialogue, which May is fantastic at writing, and the emotional quality of the book shines the most in Isaac’s truly awe inspiring ability for self-delusion, thinking of himself as kind while committing the worst acts and patting himself on the back for it. It’s a breathlessly fascinating character study, in that regard.
The coffee depot that the two of them work at is the set piece for a large portion of this story, with Isaac’s place as the other. It’s a very limited world, in a sense, and the locales are definitely just facilitation for the development of the relationship (such that it is) and the smut content. This works perfectly well, but it might have been nice to have seen a bit more of their actual daily lives and the worlds that they inhabit rather than just set pieces. However, the limited nature of the ‘set’ does help to contribute the to feeling of trapped-ness we get from Atticus, the lack of area in which to traverse, even if only in the abstract. The world feels small, so we don’t really feel like Atticus has anywhere to go, which lends the narrative a bit more of it’s horror feeling.
If you like really chillingly frightening smut content, this is for you. This is exactly the kind of get your heart pounding and your skin crawling angst filled disturbing smut that I like to read. Isaac is one of the most profoundly cruel characters, but he doesn’t think of himself as cruel, which makes his POV incredibly engaging in the way that it is hard to look away from a car crash. His horrific abuse and conditioning of Atticus only feels more compelling by the fact that he thinks he is being loving. We get a little bit of a sense from Atticus as well that there’s more going on in his experiences; he is a beautiful depiction of masochism and terror and I felt so connected to him despite never being in his POV. The BDSM content is extreme and hard, running through bondage, slapping, spitting, and conditioning. It’s described with such a visceral quality that it makes for incredibly hot and exciting reading. So if you, like me, want to read the hard and the dirty, this will fit the bill quite nicely. I will warn however that despite the warning label for dubcon, I found it read much more noncon.
This won’t be for everyone, but it’s just the kind of content that gets my blood racing. I like smut that gets me scared, and this delivered in spades with a decent side dish of compelling psychological profile. Isaac will be one of the more memorable characters for sure, though I do urge you to mind the warnings.
Have you read Claiming the Cleanfreak? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!