In Untouched, Annabeth Leong may have written the hottest book you’ve ever read, with the height of sexual tension, at least for those who can appreciate the pleasures of the female body being vividly presented by a female viewpoint. There are male-centered pleasures, too, but the central character Celia is always the one who observes, describes, and usually inspires the hot and heavy scenes that make up pretty much the whole book. Celia is always in control of the narrative, even though much of the story is driven by her feelings of self-doubt and lack of control.
As the title indicates, touch is at the core of the story. Celia can’t bear to be touched, except by herself, even though she’s intensely turned on by being watched as she expertly and creatively pleasures herself. Her panic at the thought of being touched by any living thing, even grass, might be thought of as pathological, but as the story progresses the central point becomes her passionate desire to be accepted just as she is, to be admired and desired for what she can offer, without a lover pressing her for more or being disappointed by what she can’t offer.
A woman in a nearly constant state of arousal could seem like a ploy in a cheap porn film. Celia goes about, even at work, with sex toys imbedded where they’ll provide the most stimulation, and she allows (with insincere protests) a former and quite naturally frustrated lover to post photos online of her in every possible phase of masturbation. But there’s a great deal more than that going on in this book. Celia has been shamed and hurt and made to feel guilty and worthless because of her inability to be “normal,” and her journey to accept herself as well as to find acceptance is the central theme of the story.
Celia craves love and connection on her own terms, and finds these things to some extent with Eli, who responds to her detailed classified ad. But that’s only the beginning. With Eli, Celia gains insights, and a degree of confidence, and eventually a sense of connection so close to actual touching that she can sense the heat of the body that she can’t quite touch.
Two scenes at private sex parties are high points, first when Celia is masturbating with an audience and Eli, being fucked by several women at once, is looking only at Celia. “There was no doubt in Celia’s mind that she and Eli were connected. They were fucking each other right now, even if most people wouldn’t have realized that. It was obvious to her in every line of his face, in the way he couldn’t take his eyes off her. She knew that her gaze made this moment possible for him, just as his did for her.”
At the second party, Celia gives such a bravura solo performance that her voyeurs are awestruck, and women beg her to tell them how she achieves such stupendous orgasms. Her confidence grows, and in another encounter, when she and Eli pick up an appealing woman in a bar and Celia gets to direct the other two through a night of steamy sex, she realizes the powerful effect of being in control. All these things bring her closer to being able to overcome her fears, but they don’t change her deep-rooted need to be accepted for the way she is without any expectation of change.
Celia is appealing enough that I rooted for her to get exactly what she wanted, even while I couldn’t suppress a feeling that it wouldn’t really be good for her. Her story is pretty clearly intended to be symbolic of anyone’s divergence from the norms enforced by our culture, the pain they feel at being despised, and their longing to be able to go their own way without pressure to change.
Another character weaves in and out of the story, Marie, Celia’s former almost-lover. Near the beginning she appears to play the role of the villain, and later developments confuse the issue. Toward the end an extended dialog of what could be termed “processing” slows the flow of the narrative, in contrast to the otherwise well-written prose, but that may just be a matter of my own perception.All this doesn’t do justice to the complexity of Untouched, so you’ll have to search out the subtler aspects for yourself, but you can be sure that the explicit, inventive, no-holds-barred sex will make it a stimulating journey of discovery.