Real and Unreal
"It began with small things," claims the nameless third-person narrator of "Kink," a story about a woman who seems to have a dull-grey life until a pair of spike-heeled leather shoes make her feel like "a woman no one could ignore." These shoes lead her to "the boots: full-length black leather ones that ran up her thighs." At first her boyfriend is intrigued until he realizes that the boots arouse her more than he does, and then he leaves. His absence leaves a hole in the woman's life, which is filled by an increasing leather wardrobe. She finds a leather bar and gets adopted by some of the "bears" (large, hairy men) who hang out in that urban den. The woman's quest for ecstasy shows a momentum, which could lead her to heaven or to hell -- or to one, then the other. Eventually, her new life in the bar leads her to a biker dyke who understands her fetish and who gives her the satisfaction she has been seeking.
Most of the fifteen stories in this collection begin with small things and escalate quickly until each lesbian central character reaches nirvana, enlightenment, disillusionment or death. It is hard for a reader to guess at first where desire will lead. "Be careful what you wish for" seems to be one of the themes of this collection.
So many of the author’s stories (not only in this book but in various anthologies and in her earlier collection, Night’s Kiss) feature magic and the supernatural that even her more realistic plots seem to shimmer with a pinch of fairy dust. In “Anonymous," a woman receives text-messages from an unknown admirer who encourages her to put on an impromptu sex show in front of her window. In this retelling of the ancient myth of Eros and Psyche, the narrator considers making an effort to discover the identity of her mystery voyeur, but then decides against it. She thinks: "Sometimes not knowing is the best part." The excitement of the unknown is so convincingly described that the reader tends to agree with the narrator.
The realistic stories in this collection could be considered tribal, since they all sound like anecdotes that are passed around in lesbian communities: the myths of lesbian culture. For readers who are unfamiliar with such stories, they are likely to seem like visits to a foreign country. For lesbian readers, these stories shed light on situations we have all heard of, but which we might not have analyzed in the same ways.
When the author is not exploring the strangeness of the real world, she explores the strangeness of the strange. “Spec fic,” as it is broadly defined, is this author’s forte, and the most imaginative stories in the collection are this reviewer’s favorites.
Lundoff reworks the conventions of sword-and-sorcery, of international spy capers, of Westerns, of romance featuring shapeshifters, and of sci-fi, providing a smorgasbord of styles and plots. In the fantasy realms of these stories, women play all the roles which have traditionally been played by men. For some readers, of course, that is the major appeal of a collection of lesbian stories.
While the author’s command of various genres is clear throughout the book, the emotional tone of these stories varies enormously. Some of them seem like witty spoofs of literature set in male-dominated cultures. Other paranormal stories in this collection are more genuinely poignant, suspenseful or eerie. All of them center on the mysteries of desire, not only for sex as a quick release.
The one werewolf story is named “Leader of the Pack.” This title, apparently a reference to a rock song of the 1960s about a Romeo-and-Juliet relationship which ends tragically, reminds the reader that the author is influenced by popular culture as well as by literature. This reviewer was also reminded of a witty werewolf story which appeared when Women Who Run with the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes was a bestseller in the early 1990s.
In Lundoff’s version, the “leader” is a female werewolf in the old West who serves as the town sheriff by day and leads a pack of wolves (some of whom seem to be real wolves) by night. In true canine tradition, the leader dominates the pack, including her devoted submissive lover, a waitress in town whom she turned into a werewolf with a love-bite. Like very closeted leatherdykes in a hostile environment, the two female werewolves are in danger of being exposed and killed by human males. The climax of this story is as dramatic as the climax of the rock song by the same name. This story is entertaining, but its cultural references make it hard to take seriously.
The tongue-in-cheek quality of the werewolf story also appears in the fairy-tale takeoff, “The Hands of a Princess.” The hands of the title are not dainty and deft with an embroidery needle, as one might expect, but large, competent and legendary as lesbian sex organs. The princess’ mother, the Queen, had similar hands and a similar reputation among her servants and bodyguards. Will the princess really enter a diplomatic marriage with the man who was chosen for her? Or will she subvert an official tradition in order to continue enjoying “personal services” from the women who serve her? The answer is not hard to guess.
The title “Medusa’s Touch” is misleading, since it seems to refer to the Greek myth of Medusa, the snake-haired monster who turns men to stone. The story by that name, however, contains no magical man-hating dykes. The “medusas” are hair-like wires that are embedded in the brains of space pilots, who can use them to fly spacecraft by their thoughts alone. The author is a computer specialist, and the technology in this story could be seen as a more exciting version of the kind she deals with in the real world. In the story, an amoral dyke pilot-for-hire explains with a leer that the medusas can be used for more than official work. As in other space operas, the central characters must survive by their wits during the Corporate Wars.
A more obvious spoof of spy stories is “The Old Spies Club,” in which the repeated attempts of the two central characters to take each other out of the game is their version of flirting. Loathe to give it up when they reach retirement, a group of them have set up the club of the title.
Arguably the darkest and most gripping of these stories is “Emily Says,” which was previously published in an anthology of literary erotica. Emily is an invisible, irresistible lover who continually distracts the narrator from caring that her relationship with an actual woman (who has human limits) is quickly going downhill along with her life. Like a stranger picked up in a bar, Emily has no last name and no personal history that she is willing to reveal, but the narrator is unable to hang onto her sensible reservations in the face of overwhelming pleasure. The real-life girlfriend’s anguish is palpable.
“By the Winding Mere,” which reads like a prose ballad, conveys the flavor of oral history. The narrator is the daughter of a family of warriors, the only survivor of a battle over coveted territory with a rival clan. The battle-maiden must seek the witch who can heal her if she wishes to live, but she is very conscious of her duty to avenge her male relatives, who lie unburied until she can return to them. The witch, however, has an alternative value system, and she challenges the narrator’s concept of “honor” much like a pacifist feminist confronting a military dyke. Is it really honorable to kill and risk being killed? Is there no better way for a strong woman to avenge her slaughtered kin than by shedding more blood? The narrator herself has no answer for those questions, but she vows to find one.
The final story, “An Evening in Esteli,” raises similar political questions in the realistic context of Nicaragua in 1988, where an international swarm of leftist volunteers have come to support the popular regime. In an atmosphere of hope, solidarity and risk, a lesbian volunteer from New York is fascinated by a multiracial, multicultural woman journalist who grew up in “the States and Spain” and has lived in “many other countries.” A wall mural showing women coffee pickers with hopeful expressions serves as an icon for the New Yorker, who hopes that her relationship with the glamorous woman-of-the-world can also ripen and bear fruit.
In general, this collection shows a remarkable range. All the stories contain sexual heat in various degrees, but following the trajectory of each plot to find out what happens next is such a pleasure in itself that using these stories simply as masturbation material would be to miss out on the distinct appeal of each one. This book is highly recommended, and would make a good gift for any fan of lesbian erotica.
Short stories can be frustrating. Just when you're getting interested in the characters, really eager to discover what happens next, the story ends. Sometimes, too, a short tale can produce sexual frustration; there's rarely enough space for more than one steamy scene, and who can really be satisfied with just one?
Fantasies I, an eBook published by Phaze, offers a solution. This volume is comprised of four multi-chapter erotic novellas, each about sixty pages long, by four woman authors. Each can be read in a single sitting; each offers a generous helping of sexual shenanigans along with more plot and character development than could be crammed into the word limits of a typical short story.
Alessia Brio leads off with "¡Pura Vida!", a sizzling exploration of polyamorous, pansexual relationships. Charlie hasn't seen Stormy in a while, but has white-hot memories of their previous encounters. When his travel business brings him to Costa Rica to consult with Stormy about an advertising campaign, she meets Charlie at the airport with her handsome Latin assistant Pietro in tow. She makes it clear that Pietro is her lover as well as her business associate, but that doesn't bother Charlie - if anything, he finds it exciting. He's used to sexual groupings that are flexible with regard to both gender and partners, since his company back in the States is made up of individuals who tend to mix business with pleasure. In the course of this story, we don't meet Jess or Sam, while Mia and Richard are just voices on the phone, but we're told that:
"If intimacy was the sun, they orbited it like planets – each independent, but influenced by the pull of the others...While their interactions might seem seedy and tabloid-worthy to the unfamiliar, within their ranks they functioned much like a Heinlein family."
The reference here, of course, is to Heinlein's classic exposition of free love, Stranger in a Strange Land.
Stormy, Charlie and Pietro embark on a quest that takes them through the exotic landscapes of Costa Rica, trying to capture the essence of what makes the country so special as a travel destination. At the same time, they explore the sexual territory of their mutual interactions. Ms Brio treats the reader to a variety of couplings and menagés, including an intelligent, realistic and arousing scene in which Charlie and Pietro help Stormy to truly release control and simply allow her body to react. The tale climaxes with an incandescent male-male scene that is no less intense for its inevitability.
I grew up with Heinlein. I find nothing sexier than mixed gender, multi-person menagés, where inhibitions and prejudices drop away and nobody is jealous because everyone is sexually and emotionally satisfied. Hence, Ms Brio’s story strongly appealed to me. However, I felt that it suffered from excessive description and too much backstory.
Costa Rica provides an appropriately exotic backdrop for this amorous tale. Sometimes though, the author seems to forget that this is just the setting. I think she's personally in love with the place, and it shows. However, I occasionally found myself getting annoyed at all the cultural details. I wanted to focus on the action.
This story is clearly part of a series involving the same characters. There are too many references to these past adventures, including allusions to events that seem irrelevant to the current tale. It may be that Ms Brio is trying to influence her readers to go back and read the other installments. Personally, though, I think this made the current story less coherent and compelling.
The second tale in Fantasies I is Leigh Ellwood's "Midnight Passions". Colleen is a divorced single mother who's trying to balance her own sexual needs with the desire to be a responsible parent to her pre-teen daughter. Her self-centered boyfriend Daryl doesn't make life any easier, but he turns Colleen on so much that she doesn't dare to complain. She endures his crassness and sexual selfishness, until the night she discovers that he's also seeing other women. As she tries to throw him out, her rented duplex begins to rattle and shake and the air is filled with a menacing voice, ordering Daryl to leave. He scuttles away, terrified, clutching his jeans in front of his genitals.
Naked and dazed, Colleen steps out onto her front porch to survey the damage from what she supposes is an earthquake. But all is quiet. Just as she realizes that anyone in the neighborhood can see her nude body, her neighbor and landlord, Professor Spence, steps up and offers her a luxurious satin robe to cover herself. Thus begins a series of erotic surprises that ultimately bring Colleen more love and fulfillment than she had ever dreamed of.
The delightful and unexpected twists in this story are one of its best points, so I won't spoil the experience by revealing any more of the plot. All I'll say is that it involves literature, magic, and lots of sex. "Midnight Passions" turns out to be a genuinely fantastical story. The outrageous events later in the story, and its sexy fairy tale resolution, contrast sharply with the painfully mundane but realistic description of Colleen's relationship with Daryl. In fact, if I hadn't been working on a review, I might have given up the story in the face of Daryl's churlishness and Colleen's insecurity. They were just too real to be enjoyable. I'm glad that I kept reading.
"Service Recall" by Bridget Midway is the third story in this collection. This is more of a conventional romance; an impoverished, discouraged and sex starved divorceé meets the man of her dreams when she calls for a plumber to unplug her sink. Although this is familiar territory, the story is engaging and well written. Unfashionably voluptuous Carla is convincingly needy but has a bit of sass. Duke is competent, solid and warm, middle-aged attractive and believably unsure of himself. Their torrid couplings will raise your temperature, and you're guaranteed to despise cruel and sarcastic Roy (Carla's ex) and the cold, upwardly mobile Allyson (Duke's previous girlfriend).
The final tale in this volume is Ann Regentin's "Midnight Conversations". Although it includes romantic elements, this story is also a beautifully crafted exploration of individual and societal attitudes toward sex, as well as a sensitive portrayal of the effects of emotional abuse.
The story begins in the middle of a conversation between two unidentified voices:
"'He was amazing in bed. That's why I married him.'"
"'Tell me,' I said. I needed to hear as much as she needed an audience."
The story of seduction continues, the speaker and the listener both find release, and we still do not know the participants in this conversation.
Gradually Ms Regentin reveals the truth about the voices, ghosts in a house left vacant for thirty years because of its haunting. Little by little we get to know the narrator Cass, a frightened and angry woman pursued by her own ghosts. As Cass works on the old house, strips the wallpaper away and rips up linoleum to expose hardwood floors, we slowly learn more about Cass and her past and why it is so difficult for her to trust anyone. Meanwhile, the ghosts converse with her in the night, sharing their experiences of sexual highs and lows: audacious seductions, impossible attractions, extramarital affairs and forbidden loves.
Gradually, too, Tristan Millman, the former owner of the house who originally refused to sell it to her, woos Cass, tries to show her how the future could be different from the past. She resists him every step of the way, despite being drawn to his generosity, calmness and self-confidence. The story is over before the two of them actually climb into bed together. Still the growth of their mutual attraction mirrors the intensity of Cass' midnight conversations, and the result is a story at least as arousing as the three more explicit tales that precede it.
Together, the four tales in Fantasies I offer a welcome relief from short story frustration. I look forward to reading other offerings from Phaze.
Flesh and the Devil, by Devyn Quinn, comes from Aphrodisia’s Erotic Romance range of titles. Please note, just because it says “erotic romance” on the cover that does not mean the content is tame or unerotic. Devyn Quinn is a mistress of paranormal penmanship and a delightful deviant in the art of erotica. Here she presents a neatly told tale that blends romance and the paranormal. But it is far from tame and never unerotic. Flesh and the Devil smoulders with flames that could have come straight from Hell.
In some ways it’s easy to see why writers choose to make the paranormal erotic. From Bram Stoker’s Dracula (and long before for those literary historians who specialise in this field) readers have been thrilled by the idea of a sexually seductive creature who takes control of a character’s will and forces them to submit, surrender and suffer. The individual’s blamelessness is enviable. As readers we can identify with the pleasure of exploring our deepest and darkest desires, and then innocently protesting afterwards, “But I didn’t want to do those things – I was compelled to do them.”
Yet Flesh and the Devil doesn’t follow that hackneyed format. Yes, there is a demonic and diabolical presence in this story. There is also a great deal of power play, some enjoyable domination and submission scenes, and a mesmerising control that could be supernatural in origin: or it could simply be the power of love.
But I’m not going to spoil the plot by telling you any of the story details. There is too much cleverly woven tension in this tale for me to risk unravelling a single thread.
I will say the hero of this story is not the sort who is shallow enough to go to the depths of depravity against his will. When he does explore his dark needs the reader knows that he is an individual who has made a conscious choice. Brenden Wallace is a believable cop who knows his limits can plumb some torrid levels. But he’s man enough to be comfortable with his desires and lucky enough to explore them with the beautiful Líadán Niamh.
Tall, slim, raven-haired (and with a figure to die for) the story’s devilishly attractive heroine is first seen in a tight red dress that doesn’t just show her desirable curves: it also reveals that she can inspire an unholy arousal.
The story begins in media res as Brenden and Líadán indulge in a soupçon of sensual bondage. From there the plot twists like the loose knot in a scarlet silk scarf and quickly becomes binding and inescapable.
Devyn Quinn has written a convincing tale of a heroic yet credible police officer encountering the deviant side of the paranormal and enjoying (nearly) every sordid moment. Pain, pleasure, punishment and passion sit side-by-side as the story rockets through the darkest streets of Louisiana and into the darker realms beneath.
The sex scenes in this novel are well painted but some of the most powerful erotica comes from those moments when Brenden and Líadán are bonding romantically rather than sexually. There is a genuine frisson between the characters that Devyn has managed to capture with style and authority.
Readers who are already familiar with Devyn’s writing will know she is a competent author who can effortlessly blend the paranormal with rude reality. Readers who aren’t familiar with Devyn’s writing should find Flesh and the Devil is a pretty good place to make her acquaintance.
Hand and Glove: The Path is high fantasy gay BDSM. It follows the story of a smartass Mr. Leather title holder as he transforms from David Greenberg into ‘it’.
As David Greenberg, his life is a mess. He’s an undisciplined pretender to the role of a top, who harms submissives and is unpopular in the Leather community that he supposedly presides over. At a party, he meets a true Master who can see through his pretenses. Thinking that he’s hustling yet another trick, and that he can serve Master Hunter under his own terms, he soon learns that Master Hunter is the real deal.
Told to sell all his possessions except that which can fit into a tiny suitcase, and ordered to arrive at Master Hunter’s compound via bus, David fails his first test horribly. Instead of taking the bus, he drives his prized Red Corvette, and attracts the attention of the town’s sadistic Sheriff. Knowing that he’s probably blown his one chance with Master Hunter, David uses his one phone call to make a desperate plea for help.
Help does arrive, in the form of a lawyer, who has the trumped-up charges against David dropped. The next day, David is taken to the gates of the huge rural farm where Master Hunter reigns.
The farm is the original of a series of estates closely held by a group of Vietnam War veterans. It is self-sustaining, generating its own power, growing its own food, harvesting lumber from the woodlands, and quarrying limestone from a huge series of caverns it sits over. All of this is covered in great detail in the first chapter and again later on.
Rather than being taken to Master Hunter, David is collared, fitted with a harness, and brought down into the labyrinth underneath the complex where he begins his slave training. Over the period of several years, he moves through different slave tasks as a mule – one who performs physical labor – both underground, as a miner and a kitchen slave, to the outside world, where he is a pony boy and a lumberjack. Through that time, each rare glimpse of Master Hunter brings him hope, and a reminder of what he’s working towards.
To his dismay, he is sold at the slave auction to another master. He tries his best to serve, but kept confined in a small room in a filthy apartment, he falls into despair and attempts suicide. His new owner angrily returns him as defective merchandise.
As he is retrained by Handler Dan, who resembles Master Hunter in many ways, David begins the mental shift from I to it. Finally deemed worthy after over three years of reconditioning, ‘it’ is presented to Master Hunter as a birthday gift, to both men’s joy.
This is where the story ends. I understand that it is to be the first in a series of three.
There are several problems with this novel. The prolog and introductory chapters serve only as information dumps. They were probably tacked on with an eye to the entire series, but little of it was necessary to this novel and should have been cut. The writing does improve some after the introduction, but the habit of telling instead of showing continues throughout the novel.
What would have been the interesting parts of this story are relayed as mere anecdotal asides. Every moment of emotional connection between the men is hastily swept aside or happens at a distance. It says he fell in love with Master Hunter, and apparently Master Hunter loves it, but that’s never shown.
The jailhouse rape scenes add nothing to the story except to serve as a morality tale of what happens when a slave fails to obey his master. That point could have been made without being graphic to the point of tedium. That is, unfortunately, one of the weak points of this novel. Punishments are lingered over to the point of reader fatigue and they go beyond Safe, Sane, or Consensual. Yes, it is a slave, but it is also human and there are limits to what the human body or mind can endure.
This novel desperately needed firm editorial guidance. Hand and Glove does not compare favorably to other high-fantasy series such as The Marketplace and the "Sleeping Beauty trilogy."
A Sexual Portrait Of Exquisite Loathing
Sex, Blood and Rock and Roll by Kimberly Warner-Cohen is an erotic novel of genuine metaphoric depth and consequence. Its sleazy parodistic title reveals how the book takes hold of a moment in time -- The East Village in the 90s -- to tweak its icons and symbols. The results lay open a hidden, infectious core. It is a novel about eroticism, and the author is in no way detached from that even if the central character sometimes appears to be. Sex is artfully applied like fetid icing so that it drools, drips, bleeds, exudes, extrudes, sweats, reeks, and soaks the indelicate fabric of this work. That is so much the case that -- what at first seems to be ironic and perhaps slightly comic – grimly transmutes into the humdrum daily toil of accelerating, sadistic serial murders.
Warner-Cohen, who is herself a professional dominatrix in NYC, does not so much embrace the ambiguity of sex; she enters into it. We constantly feel her vibrant, erotic presence in the attitudes, reactions and thoughts of the protagonist, Carrie Chambers. That is not to say this book is in any way a tell-all neurasthenic confessional. At times it verges on satire in the sense that Warner-Cohen assumes a moral high ground in regard to her characters and a clear intellectual superiority to Cassie. That is not to say these murders are not serious erotic business. They are snuff films without the camera.
Nor are these murders the operatic doings of Sweeney Todd. They are hardcore slaughter set in the Meat Packing District of Manhattan’s West Village. What Warner-Cohen does so very well is to emotionally engage with the S&M moments of her novel so that they are incredibly vivid and sexually immediate even as Carrie’s blade penetrates the anus of a lovely young man. Other aspects of this first novel are not equally strong, but it holds up extremely well in style, narrative interest, thematic depth and a high degree of poetic insight.
Sex, Blood and Rock and Roll presents us with Cassie Chambers, a brutal, sexually riven protagonist. Though intellectually lazy, she is both calculating and deliberate in living her life and especially in dispatching her victims. She is the perfect, sexy, carefully scruffy beauty to work the fashionably skuzzy East Village of the early 90s. It is a place of sham that already sported decadence by the metered hour and a dull bourgeois future. Cassie is youth from the sticks in search of opportunity in the Big City. She is not doing this along the lines of Horatio Alger, or perhaps in the modern truth of capitalism, she is.
Cassie adorns this shabby world with her own pretty-girl mask of decadence. She is a clothes horse of the bizarre and a rock club addict. She has carefully cultivated her persona as a weapon and a defense. Her laborious childhood reads like a third-rate therapist’s file filled with vacant sex, grubby drugs, even a dollop of veiled child abuse, and the general mind-grinding tedium of suburban America. Yes, yes, we know it’s dull out there, but why not try reading?
More interesting is that her name is short for Cassandra, the captive Trojan concubine/princess of Agamemnon. Cassandra can see into the doomed future, but no one will believe her. Cassie clearly feels a voiceless impotence because the very prettiness that gets her wrapped attention also voids her ability to be heard and taken seriously. If this seems like a PC cliché, it is; but the point is that it’s a cliché in which Cassie believes.
Without revealing too much of the plot, suffice it to say that Warner-Cohen is aware of this Homeric allusion and it fits her Cassie well. When Cassie’s frustration peaks, she takes up a career as a dominatrix in a salon de vice Anglais, which is most notable for its steady drone of advertisement. The hardened proprietress, Evelyn, exhibits an almost Dickensian obsession with punctuality over concerns of style. To her one ass is as good as another. They are all commodities whether being flashed in leather thongs at the customers or being beaten bloody. Business is business and pussies are interchangeable. She perfunctorily gives Cassie the domme stage name, Averna (the Roman Goddess of the Dead).
We soon learn the name fits. Cassie likes her work. Despite the refinements of her own superego, she signs, signifies and semaphores quite ferociously that she is one angry babe. What is more, that reek of feral appetite is the basis of her deeply hypnotic, and literally overpowering attraction to her clients and lovers, both male and female. By the end of the book the Lizard Id has taken over, and she is not so much a bitch on wheels, as a Cunt on a Hummer Half-track. She is a very scary lady in this role, and one wonders if at times Warner-Cohen is flirting with writing a cautionary tale.
She largely succeeds in presenting Cassie as murderous id and absolutely nothing more. She is not crazy. She is not an evil genius. She is mortally angry and has sexual power that she uses to get what she wants which is generalized revenge on humanity. Cassie is like a horse or cow in a pasture who walks around the fence restlessly arriving back where she started which is at herself. She is no thinker, and her mind never reaches far beyond the end of her nose even at that.
If she were a hair dumber and more self-possessed, she would be a comic weakling like many of her client/victims who are literally asking for it. If she were somewhat brighter, she would turn into the ever-adorable Hannibal Lecter with his cultivated palette and creative cookery. As is, she is that kinky, luscious, leggy monster with a cute ass you can see any day of the week on the East Side Manhattan Local No. 6 Train. She is the girl every guy knows he will never get, and what a relief that is.
Cassie despises her clients because they are old in her eyes and richer than she. Their bodies show their growing imperfection. Thus, unlike her, they can no longer get what they want and need sexually through guile, charm, pathological obsession and looks. However, the novel asks if perhaps the cost is less in simply paying for such things rather than the feckless give and take of false affect at which Cassie is so very good. Cassie’s clients are less deluded than she is in many ways.
Like Erica Jong’s vampire, Cassie offers a zipless fuck. She believes that as long as her cunt is strapped shut in vinyl or leather, that fact makes her superior not only to her clients, but to other whores and other people in general. It is how she holds herself together by being apart and above other people. She wants to believe she is not a whore because she is never entered, though she does a lot of entering herself, especially with large dildoes inserted in male anuses, the 90s gambit of choice it would seem.
What she thinks she sells is the denial of intimacy, the tease, the cranking up of yearning through suffering. But that is a lie, for what she sells is an illusion -- which, as Walt Disney knows, however affecting and deeply felt -- is still only a commodity. It’s not the sale that makes her a whore; it’s the self-delusion about the difference.
In fact she is a bundle of injured self-esteem without the education to have any perspective on the insignificance of that. She is also curiously Euripidean in her similarity to Medea. She uses and exploits love, passion, sex, and even her own fertility as an excuse to kill because it gratifies her ego to do so. That is what the Athenians found unacceptably ‘masculine’ and ‘perverse’ about Medea. In Cassie, it makes her the poster girl for the self-indulgent 90s that would usher in the present era of numbing lawless greed. Cassie horrifies us because we realize that she is consciously using her misfortunes and alienation as a springboard for her atavistic appetites.
In fact one of the novel’s two flaws is that Cassie/Averna has more axes to grind than Paul Bunyan, and she wields much nastier weapons. Much of this complaint is larded onto dialogue that seeks to explain her condition as though we thought that necessary. We don’t, and what’s more, the explanations given are hollow at best. Cassie is a murderous force of nature. Enough said. At base, every single instance where she cries foul as an adult is entirely and completely the product of her own doing. Her childhood was perverse and corrupt but we are given to believe, not much more than anyone else’s. Her boyfriend is a gorgeous twit who always wants to ‘talk” but has nothing to say. He’s pretty but dumb and dull, which hardly seems grounds for murdering a large swathe of the population.
Curiously the second flaw is the mechanics of the murders themselves. Cassie smokes, drinks, takes drugs, stays out all night, and eats nothing of the slightest nutritional benefit. She never goes to the gym and at best her idea of exercise consists of walking between administering floggings. She delivers about ten or twelve of those a week to various bottoms which seems a lot, but it really adds up to only and hour or two of stationary exercise. We are to suppose that in her mid 20s, the signs of neglect have not begun to show disrepair, which in itself is nonsense, but more importantly she has these bursts of implausible prolonged super human strength.
As anyone who has seen Wertmuller’s “Seven Beauties” can tell you, dead bodies are a large, unwieldy problem. You can hack ‘em up, but they bleed all over the place and blood, even with bleach, does not wash up that well. It stains grout and wood. Bodies contain upwards of nine quarts of the stuff. Drop a quart of milk in your kitchen and you will see one quart is quite a mess. Cassie slices and dices her victims at a luxuriant pace which means she would be up to her stilettos in gore by the time she had gotten her jollies. It’s annoying that she seems to solve this with a few paper towels and some Clorox.
Dead bodies are heavy and awkward because they have no muscle tone. Warner-Cohen has Cassie stuff full-grown middle-aged male corpses into a shopping cart and blithely toss them off the old West Side piers into the Hudson. I buy the destination but not the trip. It just would not be possible, as the Mafia will tell you, to do anything of the sort without rearranging their joints with a sledge hammer. Even then, the weight would require two trips if only to keep the cart steady. So now you need a chain saw or at least an axe. It’s a big production and time-consuming too.
Worse still, Cassie is fond of slow strangulation. As any executioner will explain, the body, especially when strangled, opens its bowels and bladder releasing the contents en mass as part of the process of dying. That is why professional hangmen and electrocutionists always pack the rectums of their clients with batting so as not to offend the sensibilities of the audience at such state-sanctioned dispatchings. Why do these details matter? It’s simple.
This is a novel that rests on exquisite hyper-realism. If the characterization wobbles at times, the key events are written with a sensual precision that is truly to be admired. If sex is the novel’s vehicle, murder is its subject. We are brought time and again within the rank breathing space of the victims’ bloody, groaning, struggling, excruciating death. Thus it is a serious problem when the cleanup seems an exercise in amateurish speculation. Furthermore, murder is a messy business and, on one level or another, leaves you up to your elbows in shit. Warner-Cohen needs to do more research.
On the other hand, you are missing something if you do not read this novel. Sex, Blood and Rock and Roll is one of the few books to actually look at sex in America to see what we have done to it and with it. Warner-Cohen is a gifted writer and thinker who we hope will keep at it, whatever ‘it’ might be…within limits. If you like gruesome, this is your dish of blood.