Melanie Abrams
Julius Addlesee
Shelley Aikens
A. Aimee
Jeanne Ainslie
Fredrica Alleyn
Rebecca Ambrose
Diane Anderson-Minshall
Laura Antoniou
Janine Ashbless
Lisette Ashton
Gavin Atlas
Danielle Austen
J. P. Beausejour
P.K. Belden
Tina Bell
Jove Belle
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
Ronica Black
Candace Blevins
Primula Bond
Lionel Bramble
A. J. Bray
Samantha Brook
Matt Brooks
Zetta Brown
James Buchanan
Louisa Burton
Angela Campion
Angela Caperton
Annabeth Carew
Julia Chambers
Dale Chase
M. Christian
Greta Christina
Valentina Cilescu
Rae Clark
NJ Cole
Christina Crooks
Julius Culdrose
Portia da Costa
Alan Daniels
Angraecus Daniels
Dena De Paulo
Vincent Diamond
Susan DiPlacido
Noelle Douglas-Brown
Hypnotic Dreams
Amanda Earl
Hank Edwards
Jeremy Edwards
Stephen Elliott
Madelynne Ellis
Justine Elyot
Aurelia T. Evans
Lucy Felthouse
Jesse Fox
I. G. Frederick
Simone Freier
Louis Friend
Polly Frost
William Gaius
Bob Genz
Shanna Germain
J. J. Giles
Lesley Gowan
K D Grace
K. D. Grace
Sacchi Green
Ernest Greene
Tamzin Hall
R. E. Hargrave
P. S. Haven
Trebor Healey
Vicki Hendricks
Scott Alexander Hess
Richard Higgins
Julie Hilden
E. M. Hillwood
Amber Hipple
William Holden
Senta Holland
David Holly
Michelle Houston
Debra Hyde
M. E. Hydra
Vina Jackson
Anneke Jacob
Maxim Jakubowski
Kay Jaybee
Ronan Jefferson
Amanda Jilling
SM Johnson
Raven Kaldera
J. P. Kansas
Kevin Killian
D. L. King
Catt Kingsgrave
Kate Kinsey
Geoffrey Knight
Varian Krylov
Vivienne LaFay
Teresa Lamai
Lisa Lane
Randall Lang
James Lear
Amber Lee
Nikko Lee
Tanith Lee
Annabeth Leong
James W. Lewis
Marilyn Jaye Lewis
Ashley Lister
Fiona Locke
Clare London
Scottie Lowe
Simon Lowrie
Catherine Lundoff
Michael T. Luongo
Jay Lygon
Helen E. H. Madden
Nancy Madore
Jodi Malpas
Jeff Mann
Alma Marceau
Sommer Marsden
Gwen Masters
Sean Meriwether
Bridget Midway
I. J. Miller
Madeline Moore
Lucy V. Morgan
Julia Morizawa
David C. Morrow
Walter Mosley
Peggy Munson
Zoe Myonas
Alicia Night Orchid
Craig Odanovich
Cassandra Park
Michael Perkins
Christopher Pierce
Lance Porter
Jack L. Pyke
Devyn Quinn
Cameron Quitain
R. V. Raiment
Shakir Rashaan
Jean Roberta
Paige Roberts
Sam Rosenthal
D. V. Sadero
C Sanchez-Garcia
Lisabet Sarai
R Paul Sardanas
R. Paul Sardanas
Elizabeth Schechter
Erica Scott
Kemble Scott
Mele Shaw
Simon Sheppard
Tom Simple
Talia Skye
Susan St. Aubin
Charlotte Stein
C. Stetson
Chancery Stone
Donna George Storey
Darcy Sweet
Rebecca Symmons
Mitzi Szereto
Cecilia Tan
Lily Temperley
Vinnie Tesla
Claire Thompson
Alexis Trevelyan
Alison Tyler
Gloria Vanderbilt
Vanessa Vaughn
Elissa Wald
Saskia Walker
Kimberly Warner-Cohen
Brian Whitney
Carrie Williams
Peter Wolkoff
T. Martin Woody
Beth Wylde
Daddy X
Lux Zakari
Fiona Zedde
Best Women's Erotica 08Best Women's Erotica 08
Edited By: Violet Blue
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573442992
November, 2007

Reviewed By: Lisabet Sarai

What do women want?  Freud’s perennial question recurs again and again in my wanderings as a reviewer through the thickets of contemporary and classic erotica.  Violet Blue’s latest anthology of erotic fiction by women, and presumably for women, offers a possibly surprising answer.  Women want the thrill of an anonymous encounter, the sensual high of breaking taboos, the peak experiences of pleasure or pain without the complications of a long-term relationship.  Almost all the stories in this excellent volume fall into the category of sublime quickies with near strangers.  One might almost call the anthology “erotic non-romance.”

Violet Blue sets the tone with her compelling introduction, “For All the Johnnys.”  She begins by telling us that introductions are boring, but then treats us to a smoldering and possibly true account of sharing a lap-dancer with her fuck buddy and maybe-lover, Hacker Boy.  “I never saw Johnny again,” she writes, “but I wish I could read this entire book to her.”  The tale reeks of alcohol and come, garnished with tattoos and desperation, but it is sexy as hell.

Jacqueline Applebee’s “Penalty Fare” offers a furtive blowjob in the cramped bathroom of a train, an exchange for a deliberately lost ticket.  Jordana Winters’ “Peekaboo” gives us a plain Jane who discovers at a sex club how much fun it can be just to watch.  Saskia Walker’s lovely “Winter Heat” offers a bit of sweetness as a woman reminisces about her first orgasm, but still, it’s at the hands of a young man chance met at a bus stop.  EllaRegina’s prize-winning story, “The Lonely Onanista” is an original account of a woman who lives inside the Washington Square Arch and screws any passerby who knows how to find her.

One of my favorite stories in the collection, probably because it taps into my own fantasies, is Xan West’s “Please.”  The narrator meets an intriguing guy in a bar, and he fucks her, body and mind, in the bathroom.

“Here are the rules.  I do what I want to you.  You don’t touch me without permission.  If you want me to stop, you say ‘stop.’  That is the only word that will stop me, but if I hear it, I will stop immediately.  I won’t do anything to harm you, but I may want to hurt you a little, and I definitely want to fuck you.  Are you game?”

Imagine hearing these words from a stranger, and then discovering, at this stranger’s hands, the purest pleasure, the truest release, that you’ve ever known.  In a sense, this story distills the essence of what Violet Blue is trying to present – the intoxicating notion that the ultimate sexual experience waits for you, just around the corner, in the most unexpected places, with people that you haven’t met but who are destined to fulfill your dreams.

Of course, there are some stories in Best Women's Erotica 2008 that don’t exactly fit this mold.  In “Strangers in the Water,” R. Gay’s narrator returns with her uncomprehending American husband to her native Haiti, to the river where her grandmother conceived her mother in a furtive tryst with a fugitive.  Alison Tyler’s “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John” is a high-spirited romp that will make you want to return to college.  Donna George Storey takes us back to the Japan of her novel, Amorous Woman, in the elegantly sensual story “Wet.”  “You Can Do Mine,” by Cerise Noire, gives us a couple who have been living together for a while, pushing their limits.  And then there’s A.D.R. Forte’s deftly-written tale, “Mercy,” about three co-workers whose pair-wise relationships meld into a scorchingly original ménage.

“Picture the cast of characters:  Rhys — dark hair just a little too long at the neck, tie loosened slightly because it’s hot here at the hotel bar, pretty-boy mouth set in that unintentional but totally fuckable pout so at odds with his seriousness; Kyle — half a head taller than every man in the room, blue eyes, wearing the power suit to end all power suits; charisma and control in different ways.

And me, staring at both of them over my glass of cabernet, my mind so deep in the gutter I’m afraid I’ll need scuba gear to find it and drag it out again.”    

Finally – well, not finally, because I haven’t covered every one of the excellent stories of the book since I want to allow you to discover some by yourself – still, I have to mention the strange and poetic “Lost at Sea,” by Peony.  This story is hazy and potent, like a dream; I read it three times and I still wasn’t sure that I understood it all:

“You.  A synapse fires inside my head.  Somewhere near the surface I can see a faint glow fractured by surface ripples.  I must be a long way under.  We shouldn’t have.  We did.  It’s done and cannot be undone.  We’re on the other side of that which had grown so large between us, the lust that devoured us, swelled fat from the absurdity of it.” 

In a way, this tale echoes the exhilaration and desperation of Violet Blue’s introduction.  This is what lust can do, these stories say: strip you naked, rip you open, leave you with scars that you will finger longingly in the future, when your lover of the moment is long gone – remembering.

Crimson Succubus: The Demon ChroniclesCrimson Succubus: The Demon Chronicles
By: Carmine
Logical Lust
ISBN: 1905091109
February 2008

Reviewed By: Jean Roberta

This collection of succulent mini-stories started appearing in 2001 as isolated pieces posted to the Erotica Readers and Writers Association list and to other on-line sites including the website of Logical Lust, the small press which eventually collected and published them in paperback form. Most of these stories are flash fiction: 100 words at most. These are suggestive without including much sexual description, and they prepare the reader for the longer, more diabolically explicit tales.

The central character, depicted on the cover in the style of a vintage horror movie, is described in the forward: 

“One of the lesser-known angels to fall with Lucifer at the climax of the battle between heaven and hell, Crimson Succubus imbues wanton desire without measure.”

Crimson Succubus actually seems to be every female demon in Judeo-Christian mythology. She is described as a daughter of Lilith, first wife of Adam, the first man. According to unorthodox Biblical sources, Lilith rebelled against her husband by refusing to “lie beneath” him, whereupon a patriarchal God banished her to the outer regions and replaced her with the more submissive Eve. Crimson Succubus, daughter of Lilith, is also identified as the Scarlet Whore of Babylon.

These stories about the shapeshifting demon, who appears in her “true form” as a black-haired, red-skinned woman with leathery wings, a forked tongue and a snake-like tail, look like bawdy teaching stories from the distant past. Passages like this help establish the atmosphere:

“Father Matthias wakened before dawn and stared at the moldering wall across from his bed. Upon the rancid plaster writhed an amalgamation of deformed creatures engaged in infinite forms of debauchery.”

As a reader who lived in cheap apartments in my youth, I can attest that “rancid plaster” can actually give this impression, especially when the tenant has been drinking too much.

Unfortunately, the author’s use of formal, archaic language doesn’t always work like a charm. Introducing Crimson Succubus in a structured poem (“To the Devil, a Daughter”) was a good idea, but authors with no sense of rhythm probably shouldn’t try to seduce their readers with song lyrics. Here is some evidence, with my comments:

Come here, my darling
And sit by our fire
Set free inhibition,
let loose your desire
Feel how the flames burst
[ooh – the catchy dactylic beat of the first four lines is slipping]
within this tenebrous pyre [and now it is totally lost]
Savor each struggling ember [apparently the author is trying to recover the beat here]
Climbing higher and higher [too little, too late].

“Struggling” seems to be a key word in this stanza. While the concept of a potentially endless saga about an immortal sex-demon seems promising, there are both technical and philosophical problems in the way her history is presented.

Most of the characters who interact with Crimson Succubus as adversaries or victims of seduction (or both) seem too obscure to be recognized by readers in a secular age, and they are not explained in footnotes or an index. A bigger problem, at least for me, has to do with the world-view from which a succubus could be born, or hatched. Do 21st-century readers share the dread of sexual sin and damnation which plagued our ancestors? Do we regard women with wills of their own as evil incarnate? (Well yes, patriarchal thinking is often impervious to common sense.) Are we supposed to find Crimson Succubus weird, horrifying, fascinating or campy? The author’s intentions don’t seem clear enough.

Like real “chronicles” of ancient or mythical worlds, these pieces are episodic and disjointed. Gaps and contradictions are characteristic of old literature which has been rediscovered, so the very thing that frustrates a reader’s desire for a coherent story also contributes to the period flavor of the collection.

Maybe the inconsistency of this collection is only a problem for curious readers like me. The stories are appealing as individual fantasies about a kind of archetypal Mistress or supernatural Domme. If they are read as BDSM scenarios, it needn’t matter very much that Crimson Succubus is not always on top, or that her desire to give and receive pain as well as pleasure sometimes makes it hard to distinguish winners from losers in her perpetual war of wills with other beings, male and female.

Here Crimson Succubus has a lesbian encounter with one of her enemies:

Seal of Solomon

 Demon-huntress Mytoessa stepped into the dark chamber, her shimmering blade at the ready. Along the obsidian-like floor writhed a young woman whose hands tugged at strawberry nipples while dawn’s dew painted her crescent-shaped cleft.

 Mytoessa’s mouth and slit watered. She dropped the blade and stepped into the woman’s sphere. She was accepted and both drank deep from each other’s honey-filled well. “You are mine,” Crimson Succubus said as her flesh turned sanguine. “I did not think you could be so easily fooled.”

“Seen from above, we form a hexagram.” Mytoessa grinned as she licked. “It is you who are trapped.”

Crimson Succubus seems more clearly dominant in her relationship with the Countess of Bathory, legendary vampire. After being seduced by the succubus in the form of a maidservant named Ruby, the Countess writes her own epitaph:

“Beauty is to reflection
As blood is to dust;
The minion is Beth Bathory;
The mistress, Crimson Succubus.”

In another story, Crimson Succubus invades a hidden temple devoted to “forbidden arts” where a Japanese “Master of ropes” asks her what she wants. She answers: “Excruciating pain, Master.” He strips her naked and uses elaborate rope bondage to turn her into an “ikebana,” a flower arrangement, suspended from the ceiling.

The succubus complains, “This is nothing!”

The Master explains: “You shall give pleasure to all my guests, for every night I shall hold a sumptuous repast in this very room. Their eyes shall gaze upon you, a thing of beauty. Ah, a true ikebana. Is this not a demon’s pain?”

Crimson Succubus sees his point, and lets “euphoria” pierce her heart.

One of the most memorable characters in the book is Shanna the hermaphrodite, who works in a whorehouse run by Crimson Succubus and performs as a human pony at Sanguine, the succubus’ “most exquisite residence.” Shanna has “full breasts,” “luscious hips,” and “eight inches of thick, round meat.” Crimson Succubus uses her as a tool to debauch those who can’t resist Shanna’s versatile charms.

Another sex worker whose life is changed by Crimson Succubus is the tragic Lupita Morales:

“Five years ago, Lupita was a senior in high school, active mostly in theater and cheerleading. She had wanted to become an actress, and upon graduation, she drove an old Volkswagen bus to Hollywood, which two years later spit her out like a rotten tooth. Then she worked as a waitress and later helped out at a warehouse, where she met Doug Stone. He introduced her to the lucrative world of pornography and prostitution.”

Some time after Lupita is disfigured by a disappointed john, Crimson Succubus offers to erase her scar and the signs of wear that have decreased Lupita’s market value. The succubus tells her:

“A whore requires beauty, not dignity. Relinquish the latter and embrace the sins of vanity, lust and sloth. Forsake the dust, for you are made of filth and sediment, much like the sister that imbues those who forsake the second one, who many call Eve.”

It seems unlikely that Lupita would understand such unclear advice. Nonetheless, she responds by screaming to her reflection in a cracked mirror that she is a whore. She accepts the skin-deep beauty offered by the succubus as well as the material rewards it brings. What happens to Lupita as a result ranks with the most extreme and unbelievable expressions of cruelty in the works of the Marquis de Sade.

As one who knows that prostitution has always been a default career for women who have lost their dreams one way or another, I was nauseated and confused. Are we meant to see Crimson Succubus as the ultimate “Scarlet Woman” (whore) and role model for all mortal whores, or as the ultimate sadistic vice cop? Or is Lupita’s grim story, like Countess Bathory’s epitaph, meant to suggest the illusory nature of whatever is physically desired? Is “Carmine,” the mysterious author, a disappointed john, a cynic, a lapsed Catholic, a fan of black comedy, or a woman trapped in a conventional life?

Some fans of BDSM fantasy can probably enjoy the adventures of Crimson Succubus without needing answers to any of these questions. As a thinking reviewer, however, I can’t help thinking that the colorful demon sometimes seems like the embodiment of ancient religious prejudices which have never deserved to be taken seriously. 

In any case, this book is food for both the intellectual and the sensation-seeking reader. Read it, and judge for yourself.

Getting Even: Revenge StoriesGetting Even: Revenge Stories
Edited By: Mitzi Szereto
Serpent's Tail
ISBN: 1852429615
October, 2007

Reviewed By: Ashley Lister

I have to say before I begin this review that I don’t approve of revenge.  Revenge is the selfish face of subjective justice.  Revenge is the acceptable justification of an unacceptable vendetta.  Most importantly: revenge is just too bloody time consuming.

I speak here with the voice of experience.  To quote directly from Gilbert and Sullivan:  “I’ve got a little list.” 

Actually, my list isn’t that little.  If I bothered to print it out I expect it would look like the Oxford English Dictionary – the twenty volume, 750,000 word edition.  Many people have pissed me off throughout my time on this planet.  And I’m petty enough to carry grudges the way a boy scout carries badges of merit.

I’ve also taken the trouble to list my nemeses alphabetically and by individual category.  And I’ve also cross-referenced both lists.  Former bosses take up quite a large category on their own.  The boss that didn’t know how to flush the lavatory in the small office we shared – he’s on the list.  The boss that told me he couldn’t afford to give out pay rises because he’d just bought a new BMW – he’s got a special place on there.  The boss who tried to sue me after I’d left his company, because I owned the copyright to his company’s website – that worthless little tosspot has his own category. 

But part of my problem is that I don’t have the time to exact revenge on these cretins.  More distressingly: I don’t have the imagination to plot the appropriate revenge.  I stress this latter point because I sincerely believe that all revenge should be poetic.  The Bible tells us we should seek “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.”  I know Jesus came along after that part, and suggested some pacifist bullshit about turning the other cheek, but that sentiment only appeals to pussies who are too weak to get the job done properly.  Turning the other cheek is for those mere mortals who don’t want the powerful satisfaction that comes from exacting a cruel and sadistic (yet wholly justifiable) revenge. 

However, whilst I know my last employer needs to suffer a payback appropriate for the sleight he has made against my reputation, my gut reaction is to simply kick the little bastard in the balls. 

Of course, this plan is hampered by the fact that he doesn’t have a pair.  But, if he had a pair, I would don my steel toecaps and that would be my first option as a course for revenge.  Yet it wouldn’t be poetic – and a good act of revenge needs to be singularly apt.  It’s a rule that seldom applies to justice but it always applies to revenge: the punishment must fit the crime.

Getting Even: Revenge Stories contains some exquisitely poetic revenge stories.  Editor Mitzi Szereto has compiled a collection of stories that are clever in their execution, stylish in their composition, and wicked in their eventual denouements. 

I should state here that this anthology is not the collection of erotic stories one would usually expect from Mitzi.  There are some erotic elements, granted, but with this anthology Mitzi has focused strongly on the theme of revenge.  The content of each different tale varies through various levels of payback.  The stories are always exciting, often devious, and sometimes sexy, but they seldom venture into the lurid or pornographic. 

However, whilst the anthology isn’t erotic, it is extremely compelling and certainly makes for powerful and unputdownable reading. 

The Spanish say that revenge is a dish that’s best served cold.  Of course the Spanish would say this.  Spain is a fairly hot country and most dishes are best served cold over there to counterbalance the risk of dehydration.  Personally, I think revenge is best served steaming hot with a side-serving of smouldering passion.  Cold revenge can be seen as plain vindictive – boiling hot revenge is the sort of delicacy that leaves you sated, drained and wholly satisfied.  Getting Even contains recipes for revenge that are hot enough to make a volcano blush. 

I have favourites from this collection.  I adored the clever turnaround in Becky Bradford’s “More Than Skin Deep,” the tale of a philandering tattoo artist and his mistreated partner.  I also loved Stella Duffy’s genius catalogue of retribution from “Payment in Kind.”  Danutah Reah’s “Glazed” is a wickedly inventive way of beginning the anthology and Jean Lamb’s “Esprit de Corpse” is a wonderfully dark and twisted way to bring about the conclusion.  I was also enamoured by Tony Fennelly’s genius methodology in “How to Kill an Aries” as well as Mitzi’s own devilish contribution to this anthology: “Hell is Where the Heart is.”

In short: it’s impossible to find fault with this collection. 

I think everyone looking at this page, if they’re honest, will have harboured thoughts of revenge at some point in their life.  Forgiveness may be divine but forgiveness doesn’t give the gut satisfaction of revenge.  Whether it’s pain, purgatory, misery or murder: we’ve all contemplated payback and Getting Even shows how revenge can work at its best in fiction.

It’s said that revenge is sweet: it should be noted that Getting Even is even sweeter.

L is for LeatherL is for Leather
Edited By: Alison Tyler
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443085
February 2008

Reviewed By: Kathleen Bradean

L is for Leather is the latest offering by Alison Tyler is her successful line of alphabet anthologies. From the quotes before the table of contents to the editor’s bio, this book is packed with more leather than a vendor booth at the Folsom Street Fair. Thirteen writers explore the smell, taste, look, and versatility of leather.

Radclyffe’s “Skin-Flick Sex” offers up a hot, tasty tale of sex in the dark with a stranger – the holy grail of we girls who fantasize of women only sex clubs and the dark labyrinths of anonymous sex within. Add to it a touch of voyeurism, the threat of discovery, almost public sex, and a woman packing a cock she knows how to use, and this story hit a lot of my hot buttons.

It’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of reading one of Thomas Roche’s stories. While doing the FedEx delivery guy/girl is a staple of office sex fantasies, he brings so much humor to this tale in “Venus in Uniform” that it charms instantly. His observation of how women can nice each other into sexual catatonia is sharply delivered. Then he deftly swerves into a bit of boot worship and what happens when girls stop playing nice, and that’s when things get really interesting.

Through the Erotica Readers and Writer’s Association, I’ve had the pleasure of reading Mike Kimera’s stories for years. “Other Bonds Than Leather” is unusual in this collection in that leather doesn’t figure in the character’s arousal or in the sex, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t belong in this anthology. Mike’s strength has always been his characters. In this story, a middle-aged woman meets with a man who may become her Dom and he shows her his dungeon. Her reactions are so spot-on that I can imagine saying those same things myself. Even though this is a dungeon scene and about power play, the sex is gently passionate.

For the title alone, Lisette Ashton’s “Truman Capote Was Wrong” had me wondering what it was all about. About leather, of course! How it feels against the skin, how it smells, and how turned on this young woman gets by her movie inspired wardrobe. She’s over her Matrix coat and is moving on to Underworld wear. She enjoys good tailoring, and her tailor enjoys watching her enjoy his work. I’m not much for fashion, but I’ll admit that there is something about those kick-ass femmes in head-to-toe leather that makes even me sit up and take notice of what they’re wearing, so this story hit a few guilty-pleasure chords with me.

Kate Pearce’s “Sunday Service” is a bit of historical erotica. If you like cowboys, and especially if you’ve ever looked at a saddle horn with less than honorable intentions, this BDSM story of a widow and a ranch hand is for you. Sommer Marsden’s “How He Likes Me” is another power-play story with a pair of black leather gloves. In “Cleanup On Aisle Ten” by Sheri Gilmore, leather takes the form of a dog collar and leash. Madeline Moore explores the power of the legendary “Little Black Dress,” a wardrobe basic, but this one is leather. In Shane Allison’s “Dangerous Comfort,” a black leather jacket provides cover for some public indiscretion.  For Michelle Houston in “Tempted,” it’s a pair of black leather pants over a fine ass that leads the narrator astray. I’m a bit of a boot junkie, so I could sympathize with Jude Mason’s Max in “Those Boots” as he stands transfixed at a shop window by a pair of especially arousing boots. In Tsaurah Litzky’s “Love Is Long,” the narrator is out for an ego-boosting quicky, and comes away with a newfound appreciation for leather in the form of masks. Rounding out the anthology, editor Alison Tyler adds her take on the joy of leather in “Hide.”  The owner of a leather clothing shop in LA keeps the cheap junk up front for the Melrose crowd, but the good stuff is in the back, waiting for just the right customer who can appreciate it. Leather pants, leather jackets, leather boots, leather gloves, they all come into play here as a connoisseur of fine leather clothing meets up with a connoisseur of fine women.

Leather is a surprisingly versatile material. It can be warm; it can be cool. Touch it, and the texture can arouse a wide variety of feelings. Wearing it can make you feel powerful, or protected. It can be soft and comforting, or it can de harsh and unrelenting. A leather jacket can make the wearer look both hot and cool at the same time. It has an animal scent that makes your nostrils widen as you draw in a deeper breath. It’s one of the few materials that we associate with power.

These stories delve into all of those associations, and more.  Not every story in this anthology is BDSM, although many are. That’s not surprising given how leather and kink are closely linked in our psyches. I was pleasantly surprised by how many lesbian stories there were. If you’re not into power play or lesbian tales, I’d still recommend you give this anthology a chance simply for the level of writing. 

By: Jean Roberta
Eternal Press
March, 2008

Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Obsession is the topic and the title of Jean Roberta’s new collection of short stories.  She has got the title right, but the book does not deal with sexual obsession as I suppose most of us think of it.  It is not a book about sexual fixation.  It is  about obsession as a state of being of which sex is a key part.  Her principal characters fasten onto others in sexually obsessive ways but they want more from them than an orgasm.  It is not at all certain they will get whatever it is, nor should one be too confident that fulfilling their desires is the best fate for them.  In that sense, they are much like many of Shakespeare’s characters who yearn for some possession, conquest, or revenge in the name of completing themselves.  That is often as much a flaw as it is an objective.

The best example of sexual obsession in Shakespeare is Lord Angelo in Measure for Measure.   He has an uncontrollable desire to sexually possess Isabella, a votary in the strict order of St. Claire.  It is precisely unyielding chastity which draws him on to her. He is completely aware of that, but he cannot help himself.  Like many of Ms. Roberta’s characters, Angelo’s mania is driven by the fact that what he desires is what he would otherwise never allow himself.   What is more, he would never have been possessed by that need if fate had not thrust the object of his desire in front of him.

In Jean Roberta’s world, obsession is most often the result of existential disconnection, a sense of drift that the characters feel more than they see and sense more than they articulate.  It is the low level uncertainty that I believe all modern people feel as we are barraged by irrational bits of information and formless disorder.  Sex does not fulfill her characters as it gives them a way to define themselves, regardless of whether they like the picture that forms or not.

Her characters’ problems cross all the lines of age, gender, and sexual proclivity.  We may all be very different people in her mind, but we all come to the same dumb obstructions and forced turns in life. Her stories include gay and lesbian couples as well as straight sex.  There is a fair amount of D/s and BDSM that is ranges from the overt to the symbolic. The greatest strength of these stories is the authenticity of the sexual play. 

It is not that Roberta’s writing is unusually graphic or clinical.  They are not, even though the sex is often earthy, often mildly comic, and hotly detailed.  Her sense of the erotic is highly sensual and she has a remarkable sensitivity to the emotional impact of scent, taste and touch.  You feel the presence of a lover’s body in these stories as a source of power, attachment, arousal and comfort.  She uses sex as a deeply human form of faltering connection in an unreliable and harsh world.

The better stories in Obsession penetrate the superficially banal lives of middle-class Canadians. The stories range from incidents of the moment to broad political themes, but the resolution is never more than partial by design.  Roberta is not trying to dig out the nasty – and tedious -- secrets of the bourgeois. She seems to me rather more interested in the ways in which the condition of being – and sexual being – evokes the conflicts that we can never fully understand or escape inside ourselves.  That extends from erotic punishment in the form of racy spankings to the results of procreation, having children. 

What do these things mean?  They surely mean something, but what?  We will never fully know.  In that sense, sex in these stories defines itself as the medium of passion and affection.  Why do we love and make love as we do?  It is because that is who we are.  I believe this passage from “Taste” reflects that very well :

“I wished I could tell Simone about my latest dreams and hear about hers, but that kind of exchange hadn’t happened between us for years, and now it just didn’t seem possible.  Despite her attitude, her values, her portfolio and her apartment, she still seemed like a child in many ways.  How much could she know about the kind of need that is too strong for politeness, discretion, or remorse?  Ironically, she was the result of that kind of need, as perhaps all children are.  Nonetheless, they rarely seem to understand it in themselves, let alone in us.”

Overtly this story is about the abrasion created by the difference of a mother and daughter’s sense of taste in such banalities as clothing.  Unlike other authors, Roberta does not use the quotidian as a clue to the deeper self.  Here the mother deeply understands that their differences of taste deeply express the difference of their sense of the sensual and thus their view of the world. It is very moving to read because these are two intelligent likeable women speaking across an uncrossable gulf.

Ms. Roberta’s style varies in quality.  In a few cases, her writing becomes stiff if not rather starchy, as though she were over-explaining some nuance of literary irony to a class of dunderheaded undergraduates.   As one can see though, the passage quoted above has a wonderful sense of flow and insight.  It is nearly poetic.  She sometimes has a hard time with dialogue.  The nature of dialogue is that people do not say things when they talk.  They talk to discover what they are saying.

“The Hungry Earth” is a about the Serlingesque misadventures of a gay couple in a cornfield.  As any casual fan of sci-fi will tell you, grain is menacing stuff especially when it is still on the stalk.    In this case, the narrator feels compelled to tell us that having abandoned the “liquid flesh” of his former wife, he sought, “to discover the good solid earth of another man.”  If the image were not painful enough, what he ends up with seems to be a twink who sweetly inquires, “I want to go to the farm today.  Will you take me in a wheat field?”  Apparently the old rake will because he replies, “My dirty boy.  You sure you don’t want a date with a sheep?” Heady stuff, eh?

“The Hungry Earth,” however is the exception in this collection. I can only imagine that this story is as it is because it is so far from direct experience.  She clearly does best with narrative environments that are based in the concrete and recognizable.  It is in such places that her characters seem able to discover and expand their awareness, which is the reason Roberta sets them before us in the first place.

Just as Measure for Measure ends in shady resolution, many of Roberta’s stories end in uncertainty. In some ways the stories remind one of “The Graduate” wherein there is a happy ending of sorts, but it is hard to say just what it is and what will become of the characters. The people of Roberta’s world may well be perfectly comfortable with their fate; but the reader is hardly reassured, and we are not meant to be. What we do know is that the world of the characters has been shaken and disturbed by deep, obsessive tremors of eroticism.

*Jean Roberta is a regular critic for Erotica Revealed.