Maxim Jakubowski’s novel Confessions of a Romantic Pornographer is outstanding if for no other reason than because he understands that sex comes from people, as opposed to a lot of porn where the authors seem to believe that people are literally created by sex. Sex is an important part of human nature and it does indeed influence the rest of our lives in myriad as yet unclear ways. Nonetheless, a character whose thoughts and feelings are entirely driven by sexuality is little more than a talking species of appetite with no memory and thus, no consciousness. Now I don’t doubt that we can find any number of people who fit that description in modern life, but I am equally obliged to say that such a creature is unworthy of fiction. Why? It is because they are literally too boring for words.
Mr. Jakubowski has given us an impeccably detailed, raw, and often obscenely graphic landscape of the body sexual personified in a young woman who is part detective, part masochist and sometime sociopath. For non-specific reasons she is in search of a dead writer’s last manuscript. She goes through a succession of people, most of them, twisted, narcissistic and middle-aged, in search of his work. Have no fear though, whatever their deviance, kink or sheer lack of affect, they have met their match in the beautiful Cornelia.
She does indeed give them what they want in every form imaginable, often at considerable cost to herself, except in one respect. She makes herself available to them sexually, but not personally. She seduces but does not woo. She provides and exceeds every bit of the pleasure that her body and distant charm promise, but they are never anything much to her, other than necessary steps on the path to her objective. As such, it is a very chilling story although an endlessly fascinating one as well.
Much of that arises from Mr. Jakubowski’s authentic and deep talent as a writer. He can for example, talk about his heroine’s cunt or her anus any number of times and each view of these openings leads us to a new understanding of them. That may sound facetious but I mean no irony whatever. His writing reinvents the subject of sex and sexuality. These qualities so truly emerge from characters whose presence can be felt. These are not just urges, they are people, and it is perhaps that very fact that makes them so scary.
Jakubowski’s style is both precise and fluid. Detail brings this book to life because the author has thought through the psychochemical process of erotic response. Thus the book is truly sexy as well as erotic in the thrilling, often awkward way that the body works in reality. Fantasy works on the flesh and then the flesh enhances the fantasy for Jakubowski’s characters. That in turn constantly raises the stakes sexually for what is actually going on between them.
Structurally this novel is wonderful because it shifts point of view constantly from chapter to chapter. You have to actively read this book and pay attention to stay with it and get its full effect. It is an enormous source of excitement frankly to read someone once again who can shift focus clearly and effortlessly rather than beating out the action from a single point of view like a first grade music teacher who has recently discovered the metronome. Humans are fundamentally irrational, especially about sex, and this book retains clarity without reducing character to cartoon figures.The fact is that most erotica is deliberately devoid of ideas, stylistically clumsy, and grindingly lacking in talent or vision as a result. Mr. Jakubowski is the exception, which he so beautifully demonstrates with Confessions of a Romantic Pornographer.
Black Lace, an imprint of Virgin Publishing in the United Kingdom, now owned by Random House, is erotica by women for women. The stories contain a lot of sexual description and are mostly heterosexual romances with happy endings. The themes of the anthologies are broad and fairly conventional by now. Unlike quirkier collections from smaller publishers, these stories belong to a recognizable brand: well-written, effective as one-handed reading, but light on character development and philosophical analysis. These stories challenge the persistent double standard of sexual morality which still limits women's sexual choices, and they deserve to be read for this reason alone. Fiction which seriously challenges or illuminates the status quo needs to be found elsewhere.
As the saying goes, it is what it is. The Black Lace novels and anthologies continue to occupy a worthy niche between traditional “porn” (badly written and edited, cheaply produced, intended to be used once and thrown away) and literary erotica which thoughtfully probes, as it were, the significance of sex in the complex context of life. Black Lace books generally seem free of clunky prose, grammatical or technical errors, and they are attractively produced. I think of them as a verbal equivalent of Devon cream: an English treat which is irresistible, though not especially nutritious. Sex fantasies don’t get much better than this.
The theme of Liaisons is secret or uncommitted sex: trysts between lovers who are married to other people, lightning-strike attraction between new acquaintances, the consummation of seemingly hopeless crushes. This is a fruitful topic for both fantasy and tragedy, but all the stories are contemporary and realistic, loosely speaking, and all the characters seem to benefit immensely from their liaisons.
The jolly stories of adultery feature devoted, trusting husbands who never seem to guess how they are being deceived by their horny and clever wives. There are also several stories about the traditional male teacher-female student hookup, although in one case, the heroine's encounter with a younger, lustier and more honest man enables her to realize how her older, married lover (formerly her tutor) is exploiting her. In the cleverly misleading "Men" by Charlotte Stein, a woman "confesses" to her current lover that she has had memorable affairs with a variety of very different men -- yet the lover has no reason to feel jealous. "A Stroll Down Adultery Alley" by Portia da Costa is not about adultery at all, and the sexual attraction between the unlikely hero and the divorced heroine looks like a sign that they were made for each other.
The voyeuristic thrill of fantasizing about a mysterious stranger before acquiring carnal knowledge of him is evoked in two memorable stories: “The Woodsman” by Charlotte Stein, and “Glamour” by Carrie Williams. “The Woodsman” is set in a contemporary English forest, but it evokes hairy, half-wild men (or the “Green Man,” the spirit of the woods) in traditional tales and artwork, as well as the unspoken prohibitions in them. (The narrator knows that if she spies on her strange lover, or invades his privacy, she will be punished.) In “Glamour,” a young Polish immigrant to London earns her living as hotel maid although she is actually a musician from a country that is too full of them. Her life is lonely and frustrating, but she relieves the tedium by fantasizing about the important man whose room she is assigned to clean, and who never seems to be there. Eventually, Marta learns what makes him tick, and why he needs her as much as she needs him.
“Archeogasms” by K.D. Grace and “Junking” by Alison Tyler are very different stories, but in some sense they each deal with the fascination of the past. In “Archeogasms,” a woman archaeologist leads a team of researchers who are exploring a cave which is rumored to be the site of ancient fertility rites. She is surprised to learn that the man and woman in her team who grope each other in semi-public places enjoy watching her watching them, but the central scene in this story is not a threesome. When a curious male journalist interviews Dr. Allegra Thorn, she invites him to join her in the cave on the Summer Solstice, where they are both enlightened in several ways.
“Junking” by Tyler, the perky chronicler of sex in Los Angeles (“El Lay”), is about a distinctly American kind of historical research in the form of bargain-hunting for the artefacts of retro pop culture. Fiona the heroine runs a second-hand shop for which she is always seeking out merchandise while she lives with her yuppie boyfriend, a man who neither shares nor understands her passion for “junk.” He remarks: “There’s a fine line between ‘broken in’ and broken down,’” and this statement applies to his relationship with Fiona as well as to her former taste in men, who always turned out to be missing important parts (honesty, loyalty, job skills, a plan). On her search for good, well-preserved items, Fiona meets another “junker.” He is a good, well-preserved Dom who is outfitting a garage “dungeon” with used items that can be adapted to other purposes. Fiona has met her match.
“Advanced Corsetry” by Justine Elyot is a more elaborate and tightly-laced BDSM fantasy told by a custom corset-maker who loves her craft. She is approached by a man who orders a corset for his “wife,” a woman who seems to be under orders never to speak. Following the “husband’s” instructions, the corset-maker is able to arouse the “wife” in unmistakable ways, but a disturbing question about the consensuality of the “fittings” hangs in the air. When the corset-maker is almost excited enough to ignore her own concerns, the “wife” breaks her silence to reveal her true motives. This story is essentially a lesbian romance to which a man has been added as window-dressing.
The best and most intricate of the lot, in my opinion, is “Table for Three” by A.D.R. Forte, in which two men and a woman explore their feelings for each other at a beach resort. The shifting currents of visual attraction, jealousy, exhibitionism and self-discovery are convincingly and poetically described in sections which jump from one character’s viewpoint to another’s. Eventually, the reader becomes intimately familiar with all three characters as the woman character learns that she can watch the interaction between male lovers without being shut out of a “gay” scene. Here she has the last word:
“It’s over. But it’s just begun.”
“Power tends to corrupt”, wrote Lord Acton in 1887. When I opened the erotic anthology Power Plays, I was looking forward to a set of decadent and decidedly corrupt stories about the way that people in politics wield their power in the sexual realm. I rubbed my virtual hands together at the prospect of feverish trysts fueled by the charisma of a popular leader. I expected that some of the authors would bring together the notions of political power and the “power exchange” that is at the heart of BDSM. Perhaps I would see political potentates gladly surrendering to the erotic power of a master or mistress. Maybe some author would explore the implications of a seasoned Dom being elected as president or prime minister.
For the most part, I was severely disappointed. As a group the stories in Power Plays do not exploit the potential of the anthology theme. They are mostly rather ordinary sexual romps in which the political affiliations of the characters have little impact on the conflict, the plot or the interactions. Several of the stories, notably “The Sanctuary” by Olivia London and “Changing Moon” by Angela Cameron, stretch the definition of “politics” well beyond what seems reasonable. Ms. London's story chronicles an affair between an office temp and her supervisor, with a passing mention of “office politics”. Ms. Cameron's tale is a sexy and atmospheric werewolf romance concerned with a leadership struggle within the pack, a sensual tale, but too far from the book's proposed topic to fit well.
“Filibuster” by Vanessa Vaughn offers a tasty ménage with a bit of an edge, but it hardly matters that female and male protagonists are both members of Congress. We might see these office antics in any company or organization. Victoria Lacy's “A French Tryst” gives us the first woman president, seduced in a museum by a classically sensual Frenchman. Their coupling is torrid but the scenario (a U.S. president, on her own without security?) is completely improbable. In any case, the heroine could be any high-powered businesswoman. There's sex here, but no power, no politics. “Board of Directors” by Jen Bluekissed, is set against the backdrop of a corporate election, but its main focus is sex and chocolate --always a popular topic, but not really related to politics and power.
A few stories save the collection from total mediocrity. Maryn Bittner's “Whatever It Takes” is a satiric gem. Set in Florida during the disputed presidential election of 2000 (and with artful references to the future election of 2004), the story is told by a savvy Republican mover and shaker, sent to guarantee a Bush victory. He meets a wealthy and distinguished man who promises to deliver just that – but at a carnal price.
“Voter Registration” by L.A. Mistral is also noteworthy for its original voice. Gorgeous and horny Tequila, the main character, is a power junkie turned on by the politicians she sees on TV:
The onscreen politician reached out to her and her alone from the high-def, quantum-leap megapixels of her TV. His sturdy, knowing hand reached out for support and for national unity. I want to support you, he said. I'm reaching out to you, he said. Tequila imagined his hand on her, holding her, supporting her. His four-square image and the conviction of his imagination spread over her pale body like a symphony, plucking every secret need and every unspoken melody. His words untied her diaphanous robe and let it fall away. Her red robe was so sheer, it was more of a whisper than a word. His face smiled over her body as she lay open for him, his eyes appreciating her favors, her rapt attentions and her pledge of support. Tequila did the rest.
Despite the occasionally mixed metaphors, the author manages to create a unique character here, one for whom politics is the ultimate aphrodisiac.
A third story with some unusual aspects is “Small Town Tastes”, by K.D. Grace. A randy congressman attends a small community's annual picnic and is captivated by the mayor's nubile daughter. We think we know the outcome, but in this story, nothing is quite as it seems.
Overall, however, this collection is far from outstanding. I found the editor's one-line commentary at the start of each story gratuitous and annoying. For the most part the production of the book is adequate, but for some reason the final story was marred by such serious formatting flaws that it was nearly unreadable.I approached this book with a frisson of excitement. By the time I had finished, I felt like I'd been through yet another one of those electoral contests in which one votes for the lesser of multiple evils.
The state of the world being as it is, the fabled Mile High Club seems a reminder of the past, the swinging 60s and whatever the 70s were about. While the new paranoia brought scrutiny that seemed likely to end airborne frolics, Rachel Kramer Bussel’s anthology The Mile High Club is a ray of hope for the altitudenaly inspired.
Most of the stories in Mile High Club are contemporary, but Craig Sorensen’s “Top Banana” goes back to the days when stewardesses were hired for their looks and portrayed in media as bimbos. Those were the years when traveling salesmen got out of their cars and took to the skies. Subject of countless bawdy jokes, meet career gal in a mini skirt. No wonder the public imagination flew with that combination. But in Craig’s story, the stewardess is tired of her male passengers’ sense of entitlement, and on her last flight, she teaches a horny salesman a lesson he never forgets.
Donna George Storey creates consistently wonderful stories. “Her Nasty Little Habit” is my favorite of the sex in the seat stories in this anthology, although Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “Urgent Message” and Ryan Field’s “Bert and Betty” are damn hot reads too.
If you like a bit of domination, try Bill Kte’pi’s “34B,” Matt Conklin’s “Wild Child,” or “Obedient” by Teresa Noelle Roberts.
Thomas Roche’s “When Your Girlfriend Wears a Very Short Skirt” deserves special mention. Thomas is an incredible writer, so I tend to have higher expectations for his stories than for writers I don’t know. Much lighter in tone than most of his work, this one delivers.
Speaking of writers I’ve come to expect a lot from, Alison Tyler also contributed to this anthology. She may not know me, but she definitely has her fingers on several of my hot buttons, and I can’t recall a story of hers that didn’t push at least one. Her “Planes, Trains and Banana-Seat Bicycles” doesn’t take to the skies, but there are planes involved. In her skillful hands, that’s all you’ll need to fly.
“Wing Walker” by Cheyenne Blue is the most original story in the anthology. The biplane pilot from an aerial show tells his wing walker that he’s going to find her a lover. She laughs off the offer, and as months pass, he doesn’t follow through—until he does. On a practice flight meant to test the newcomer’s skills out on the wing, he shows her that he has moves she’d never imagined. This may be a flight of fancy, but it’s a good one.It’s impossible to think of sex in a passenger plane without also imagining the danger and embarrassment of being caught. If two people head for a lavatory, everyone notices, or at least it feels as if they do. So even if joining the mile high club never appealed to you in real life, your inner voyeur or exhibitionist may feel a frisson of excitement in all the right places as you read these stories.
I’m thinking of getting a slave. I’ve put an ad in the local paper.
However, I’ve not had many positive responses yet. Unless you count the enquiry I had from the police. But that doesn’t really count because they weren’t willing to supply a candidate for my vacancy. Or tell me where they buy their handcuffs.
Please, let me say here, that I enjoyed The Slave Zone. Granted, it has many of the faults one would expect from a first novel. There are a handful of sentences that a more experienced author would have trimmed, cut or lost completely. However, overall, the novel is competently laid out and tells an intriguing story.
The intriguing story in this case is Lana’s journey from virginity and inexperience to a world of sexual-enslaved-servitude on a Caribbean island. (I have to point out here that Lana is one of my favourite girl’s names: mainly because it’s ‘anal’ spelled backwards). Lana’s story starts off with pathos – her mother dies and her father turns into a shit – but Lana has sufficient spunk to turn things around and take her life in a more satisfying direction.
The more satisfying direction begins with a wet T-shirt competition (which Lana wins). After the consequential induction to sexual slavery, there is a five year gap in the narrative followed by a Fine Form competition at a biker bar in Arizona (which Lana wins).
It would be interesting to analyse here whether Lana’s participation in these contests is the author’s subtle critique on the shortcomings of contemporary society, or simply an excuse to write about tits. We live in a shallow world that advocates the idolisation of physical perfection over spiritual, mental or emotional substance. This is particularly prevalent in the objectification of attractive young women through the medium of beauty pageants, Fine Form competitions and wet T-shirt contests.
In some ways, the inherent sexism is a double-edged sword that inflicts misogyny on a society in a twofold fashion. Initially it is reductive to female participants reducing their contribution to nothing more than appearance – reinforcing the stereotypical sexist ideal that a woman’s only value in society is to look pretty. Secondly, those women participating in the contests contend that the experience is empowering – a view that could be construed as an extension of sexism’s self-subjugation. However, whilst this misogyny could be considered detrimental to the ethos underpinning Fine Form and wet T-shirt contests, it’s also a good chance to see tits, so we shouldn’t consider the experience to be a total loss.
This is not my subtle way of saying that The Slave Zone contains sexism. There will always be an element of some sort of “-ism” in a book about sexual slavery because the dynamic of sub/dom politics requires some sort of power exchange. If the characters were portrayed as being in an interracial relationship it would be deemed racism. If the characters portrayed had an extreme age difference, it would be deemed ageism. If the characters portrayed are of different genders it will either be misandry or misogyny, depending on whether or not it’s a woman striping a man’s backside or a man dominating a woman.
Wolkoff presents the power dynamics of a slave/master relationship with stilted competence and describes a variety of characters of differing genders who take various roles as either dominants or submissives. Admittedly, the tendency in The Slave Zone is for men to be strong and women to be willing but the story’s conclusion shows that Wolkoff has his own ideas about what constitutes real strength in a woman and it’s an innovative conclusion to the story.
At more than 400 pages in length, The Slave Zone presents an epic story of sex and submission. Lana is an intelligent and likeable heroine who knows what she wants and usually gets what she deserves. Her adventures are summarily catalogued and presented in a style that is accessible despite the aforementioned handicaps of first-novel-itis.
I think it’s fair to warn readers of this column that the book is fairly predictable. It's moderately well-written but there is no engagement with the central character on an emotional level. Lana just goes from fuck to fuck without developing as a person and, over 400 pages, you'd expect a better understanding of the character. Or perhaps I’m too jaded from living a life immersed in a mire of erotic fiction?So, in summary, there are two things to remember this month. First, if you want a romp through the world of slaves and sexual submissives, buy The Slave Zone by Peter Wolkoff. And, second, if you fancy experiencing your own personal slave zone, get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m still recruiting.