In my Alpha Camp trilogy, that I introduced here a while ago, the protagonist is kidnapped to be kept as a pet and/or slave by the other main character. This is of course abusive, and messed up for more reasons than just the obvious. They're both aware of it, too, yet they can't stop themselves. As implied in the post linked above (not much of a spoiler), they end up falling madly in love, and seek each other out against all common sense after the initial situation is resolved.
That's not how the story was meant to go. It was meant to depict the whole chain of events in a horrific way, as we know this stuff to happen in real life. But like any good story, it took on a life of its own, and pulled hard in the one direction it wasn't supposed to go.
None of my readers seemed to mind. Which is strange in retrospect, seeing how some of them are abuse survivors, or at least well educated in the matter. And the worst thing is, that never struck me as odd until today.
Is it because I handled things better than high-profile authors usually do? Or perhaps because the entire premise — and setting — is a feel-good fantasy in the end? (We need a lot more of those as a general rule.)
Yes. No. Maybe. More likely it's due to how I was aware of the issue all through writing the story, and actually addressed the inherent tensions. I'm still proud of the exchange jailer and prisoner have at one point about freedom. All my years spent thinking and writing about that one concept paid off big time.
Because, you see, my characters are aware of it too, and struggle with the conflicted nature of what they're doing. They both realize how wrong it all is right away... and that's what allows them to make the relationship work in the end. That and an honest effort.
Isn't that how you make any relationship work? Even the healthiest kind?
That's why I think fiction can and should tackle problematic subjects. The real question is how. Because it's all too easy to normalize abuse simply by not pointing it out. By implying through silence that abuse is normal and not worth highlighting.
Everything is political. Leave no assumption unquestioned, and you'll do fine.