When Josie, a graduate Anthropology student studying burial rituals, is assigned to observe a first grade class for her Ethnographic seminar, she expects a boring but bearable project. But then she meets Tyler, a six year old with a penchant for trivia and an obsession with counting, whose emotionless hum of facts and numbers gives her unexpected comfort. As Tyler’s attachment to Josie grows, his single mother Mary proposes Josie become the nanny. Though Josie doesn’t need or necessarily want the job, she cannot help but accept the offer—there’s something about Tyler’s mom—her beauty, her confidence, her resemblance to Josie’s own mother—that draws Josie in. She soon finds herself an intricate part of their family, sharing an intimacy that breeds betrayal when Josie falls for Mary’s crush – Devesh. An Indian surgeon ten years her senior, Devesh is a strong and enigmatic man who pulls Josie into a dizzying world of sexual domination and submission that speaks to her deeply hidden desires. It is a world of games that fast becomes serious, forcing Josie to confront the darkest moments of her past as she desperately struggles with her family history, her own violent impulses, and her love for Devesh.

Rapturous, illuminating, and emotionally charged, Playing is an unflinching look at the irrevocable consequences of giving into our most secret passions, and the freedom and imprisonment that comes with true self-knowledge

Playing has been published in Italy, France, Germany, India, and Israel.


Abrams’ debut novel is a revealing look inside the mind of a woman who… allows herself to be bound and whipped, fulfilling her desire to “play”… The narrative moves fast, and the stark swirl of sex, violence and near-madness will please readers… — Publishers Weekly

Playing is an audacious erotic debut novel that chills, thrills, shocks and enthralls. Through the story of a young American woman’s love for a dark, handsome, older stranger, Melanie Abrams evokes the radiantly dark world of dangerous desires. — Bharati Mukherjee, author of Jasmine and Desirable Daughters

A young woman, taking a job as an au pair, at the same time embarks on an affair that allows her to act out her deepest and most shaming sexual fantasies. The tension between these two poles of her life sends her spiraling into a confrontation with a painful past and with herself. Part fable, part romance, this disturbing, tender, sometimes terrifying first novel announces, emphatically, the arrival of a very gifted new writer. — Robert Hass, author of Time and Materials

Playing is a smart, erotic, and daring debut. Melanie Abrams’ prose is as sharp as the tangled desires she portrays in this compelling exploration of the connections between sex, death, pain, and atonement. — Mark Lindquist, author of The King of Methlehem

In her arresting debut novel, Playing, Melanie Abrams is disturbingly expert at exhibiting how erotic obsession makes a courtship—between Devesh and Josie—a dangerous game indeed. This novel is a breathless read, whose rewards are both unpredictable and unforgettable. A stunning writer. — Howard Norman, author ofThe Bird Artist and Devotion

A daring debut. — Martha Southgate, author of The Fall of Rome and Third Girl From the Left

Playmates who don’t play nice sometimes know the best games, and the best fun, the kind that engages body, spirit, and mind, might not leave us laughing. Melanie Abrams’ fictional playground is a troubled psyche, and the game, a darkly erotic, absorbing, and profoundly serious free-fall into memory that gives full expression to a character’s savaged spirit. — Ann Cummins, author of Red Ant House and Yellowcake