Over time as a critic of erotica, you learn that the hardest thing to write in this sub-genre is the act of sex without being a bore. For a number of years now, Remittance Girl (hereinafter known as RG) has been the mistress of solving this confounding problem by engaging with it in the most difficult possible way.
As her new collection in the series Coming Together demonstrates, the art of writing sex can be best accomplished by forging the simplest elements into a story that is driven by the most felt and honest of passions. Through the deft manipulation of a minimum of detail, she integrates structure, style, atmosphere and character into a seamless whole. The sex is not the objective of her stories so much as the inevitable, organic result. That result is almost overwhelmingly erotic as well as moving on other levels.
RG writes about hunger, that higher hunger of the body for the touch of another. It may be a rough and sometimes brutal grasping, but it has the honor and the feel of life, as opposed to the more deathly feel of compromise that marks pat formulaic writing, where the passions are winnowed out with decorous care but with less honest revelation.
That is the difference between soft romance that plays at the edges and symptoms of the heart rather than cutting to the actual pounding of that organ of the soul. Perhaps RG succeeds in this simple mode where most fail because no matter how brutal the world she depicts, it never yields to the lesser state of bitterness. Few authors in our time have that sort of strength.
The story that most captures the depth of RG’s vision for me is “River Mother,” about a young woman damaged by war the United States waged against the people of Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 70s. Set in that brutal aftermath, the verdant tenderness the author creates reminded me of what art and love are ultimately about, which is hope – the simple hope that life can survive the worst abuses of a petty, greedy and malicious world.
RG has unique powers of understanding the way people sense each other in the most literal way. She captures the way we see each other, hear each other’s voices and feel the first touch of a lover. Her blend of intelligence and sensitivity lend her stories a winning quality of rue. She knows that for every benefit there is a cost, for every gain a degree of loss and every freedom – sexual or otherwise – has its price. Thus in stories like “The Spy Who Loved His Wife” the principal character seems like a bantering cocktail sipper out of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives.” That is until we, though not he, come to understand that he loses something of himself in gaining what gives him the most pleasure.
These stories are not parables, however, instructing us on the ways of the wayward. They are instead the indelicate, raucous, bawdy, tender, round-bottomed lustiness of the human heart. They invoke an actual tear from time to time just as they provoke a good deal of honest and playful laughter.
A little something should be said here for Lisabet Sarai who edited this volume in the “Coming Together” series, and who writes for Erotica Revealed as a critic herself. Writing is a small world and so it is altogether fitting that I acknowledge the gracious and generous gifts of both of these women as artists regardless of where they are published.
Erotica has enjoyed some very good writing in the last couple of years, which I believe is in large measure a function of some new insight that has come from able, intelligent, gifted and talented women such as RG and Ms. Sarai.
Editor's Note: All proceeds from the Coming Together series go to charity.
Sex – even juicy, well-written, moderately transgressive sex – is not enough. Not enough for me, in any case. Justine Elyot's On Demand, one of the last books to be published by the now disbanded Black Lace, returns to the roots of that imprint. It offers chapter after chapter of enthusiastic and explicit sexual high jinks: anonymous couplings in parking lots, workouts in the gym, dildoes and strap-ons, peep shows and corporal punishment, anal initiations and orgies. Unfortunately, there is little in the way of character development or plot to tie all these lovely sex scenes together.
I believe that On Demand is intended as a novel. By the traditional definition (and On Demand does not strike me as a literary experiment) this implies a core set of protagonists with possibly some supporting characters that move the action forward, and a plot arc with a problem or conflict that will be explored and resolved by the end of the book. Perhaps there will be a subplot involving the minor characters that illuminates or contrasts with the primary narrative exposition.
On Demand offers none of this, really. Instead, the book is a collection of sexual anecdotes linked only by their setting, an upscale British hotel and conference center. Characters appear without any justification and disappear (in some cases) completely after the services of their naughty bits are no longer required. There is in some sense a “main” character (the receptionist Sophie) and a primary problem (her lust for the stern hotel manager Chase and the fact that he persists in ignoring her charms), but Ms. Elyot abandons this narrative thread for chapters at a time while she describes the sexual adventures of other visitors to the hotel and even Sophie herself (who certainly is not sufficiently debilitated by her unrequited passion to mope, moan and stay celibate).
The mechanisms used to introduce these unrelated romps tend to the clumsy. Most often the experiences are recounted to Sophie by the characters involved (implausibly, without leaving out any salacious detail or losing the slightest bit of immediacy). In at least one case Ms. Elyot adopts an omniscient point of view, just for the duration of the chapter, in order to tell the reader about the characters' history as well as their current sins.
The book begins well. Sophie, a bored office drone with a lascivious imagination, misses her train and heads over to the fancy hotel across from the station for an espresso and a more pleasant wait. She falls into fantasy, stimulated by the cushy surroundings and the delicious sense of anonymity engendered by hotels. Ultimately she picks up a stranger and screws him in his car. I was licking my lips, eager for more. The author managed to pull me into Sophie's head. She also allowed Sophie to be just a bit horrified by her own daring.
Alas, that lovely spark of shame is soon lost. Before long Sophie is regularly visiting the hotel bar, picking up one or two guys, even men she finds unattractive, just because she can. I started to get bored. (I would assume that Sophie must have been also, since she didn't give all that many details.) Then the dishy hotel manager Chase offers Sophie the job of receptionist, presumably because he has noticed her seductive behavior and her pick-ups. Sophie is struck with a thunderbolt of lust and the reader thinks, “Ah! That's better. A conquest that means something!”
However, Sophie's pursuit of Chase is desultory in the extreme. Not only do other characters get their rocks off again and again without moving her any closer to her goal—it appears that FOUR YEARS pass, while Sophie consoles herself with the personal trainer, the lifeguard, and the endless supply of businessmen passing through.
?Then, all of a sudden, the book lurches in an entirely different direction as Ms. Elyot introduces a new character (on page 186 of a 240 page book) who is, it turns out, THE ONE-- the man who will not only fulfill Sophie's every fantasy but also give her the emotional connection she didn't even know she needed. Chase conveniently fades away without any explanation as to why he ignored his luscious receptionist for so long.
Other than the fact that Chase's evaporation strained my credulity, the last chapter or two were more complex and involving than most of the earlier chapters. Ms. Elyot clearly can write arousing sex and characters who are more than just cardboard. I only wish that she had done more of this in On Demand. The book feels like a short story or novella that was padded with truly meaningless sex in order to get it to novel length. If the author had eschewed most of the minor characters and focused only on Sophie, she would have written a far better book.
“Breathe,” Dominic whispered again as he dropped his body onto mine, plunging into me and grasping my shoulders as his breath rushed against my ear. He thrust into me with rhythmic strength as I lay like a doll, sprawled powerlessly across the hard foam beneath me. Dominic pumped hard, holding my hips solidly. His breathing changed as he thrust just a bit harder and came inside me, my body like a deflated balloon, a beautiful, motionless receptacle for his come.
“Power Over Power” by Emerald
Please, Sir, Erotic Stories of Female Submission, is the latest anthology to be published beneath the skilful editorial hand of Rachel Kramer-Bussel. Regular readers of erotica will be familiar with Rachel Kramer-Bussel’s substantial contribution to the canon of erotic fiction. And those with good taste and sufficient savvy will probably already possess their own well-thumbed copy of this title by the time this review goes to print.
If I had to pick a favourite subgenre of erotic fiction, female submission would undoubtedly be near the top. There are other niches where my proclivities can sometimes stray. But the concept of masculine domination and female submission works on an aesthetic level complemented by well-written prose. The example from Emerald (above) illustrates this beautifully. The piece below equally exemplifies the high standards of writing in this anthology.
Oh, fuck. I can no longer breathe, much less make a noise of want. This is what he does to me, every day: whips me into a frenzy of words that makes me miss him more than I have the power to say, that makes me so wet that if he were here, I’d fuck him right now, bent over this table, with all these people watching, groaning his name with every thrust. I’d be begging him to fuck me, beat me, make me come with the kind of orgasm that makes everything else disappear.
“Anticipation” by Shanna Germain
One of the key misunderstandings with female submission, as a genre of erotic fiction, is that it does not revolve around misogyny. Admittedly, there may be elements of denigration, humiliation and subversion, all characterised by patriarchal authority: but these are invariably contextualised by the protagonist’s desire to suffer those abuses. It is never power wielded for the sake of wielding power: it is only ever the imposition of consensual authority over a willing subordinate.
“I think that the first time I beat you, I should use a riding crop. Each stroke will hurt more than the last. The pain of a crop is sharp, searing, biting deep. Eating into you, body and soul. I’ll beat you into a lather, my little pony. Your ass will look like it has been barbecued. You won’t be able to sit down for days.”
I could see it all. I wanted it all, wanted it now. The delicate trace of his fingers on my flesh burned like the trails of fire he promised me. His silken voice made me weak with desire. My clit was a red-hot coal threatening to burst into flame.
“Touch yourself, girl. Show me how much you want to be my slave.”
“Stroke” by Lisabet Sarai
Lisabet Sarai is a supremely competent wordsmith. Here she uses her abilities to bring dialogue to life combined with her razor-sharp knack for charging a scene with powerful eroticism. The heroine in this story has a subordinate streak – complemented by the antagonist’s penchant for domination. The whole union is perfectly realised beneath Ms Sarai’s exquisite penmanship.There are a host of superb authors populating the pages of Please, Sir. Not for the first time Rachel Kramer Bussel has proved her laudable ability to gather an international collection of the finest erotica authors and have them deliver stories that are destined to excite and entertain. An essential addition to anyone’s bedside library.
Let’s just toss this down right from the start – Random Acts of Lust is a spectacular erotica collection. Primula Bond knows how to tell a rousing tale.
One of the things I enjoyed about this collection was the way many of the stories interwove. Secondary characters in one story took the spotlight in another. That added depth to the later stories. But in a way, it makes it harder to pick favorites, because the stories support each other and maybe wouldn’t mean as much as standalones. This is (oh, how I hate this word) synergistic storytelling, where the sum is more than the parts.
In “Mademoiselle,” Mary is chastised by her sister Poppy for living celibately. She pretends not to listen, but when the boy next door she once gave French lesson to shows up at her door looking like a rock star – clad in leather and smelling of his motorcycle – she heats up pretty quickly. But in “Second Honeymoon,” it’s Poppy that’s trapped in a cycle of sexual frustration. That is, until she watches the unusual innkeeper, Stella, seduce her husband. Stella’s quite the protagonist. In “Cougar,” she dares photographer friend Sophie to seduce a cute young worker at the gallery where Sophie is showing her work. Sophie’s not above talking women into playing naughty either. In “Good as Gold,” she talks her soon-to-be daughter-in-law into spying on her husband. Caught, Sophie pays the price, and gets a spanking and more from her prospective father-in-law.
The sex scenes are delicious and long enough to warm you up. Unfortunately, I was on a tight schedule and had to zip through in two nights, which wasn’t enough time to linger or enjoy these stories the way I would have liked to. This book and you deserve to spend some quality time together, so pace yourself.
It was such a pleasure to read these original, interesting stories. I do have two small nits. While I liked the recurring characters, in the first few stories, the size of the cast made it hard to track the players and I had to keep flipping back to remind myself who they were. The other charge is a bit more serious. I had an overwhelming desire to smack the writer’s knuckles with a ruler every time I read an incomplete sentence. It’s a good thing that I couldn’t, because by the end of the first story s/he wouldn’t have been able to write anymore, and that would have been a pity. Those, as I said, are small concerns, and barely detract from this work. Random Acts of Lust gets my strongest recommendation. Thumbs way up.
Sweet Love is a collection of scenes that are both realistic and staged. In each story, a heterosexual couple acts out a shared sexual fantasy. In some cases, the more adventurous person seduces a shy-but-willing partner into going where he or she has never gone before.
I'll demonstrate. Here is the opening scene from "A Little Push" by Felix D'Angelo:
How had I let her talk me into this?
As Bolero pounded slowly toward its climax, Carrie stretched out on the bed with legs spread wide, thick pillows under her hips. This position tipped her perfect ass upward at just the perfect angle. Her asshole, glistening and virgin, beckoned to me between her slightly spread pale pink cheeks.
If you've guessed that this game involves anal sex, you're right. So why is the male narrator made nervous by the sight of Carrie's virgin asshole? The agreement between him and her is more complicated than it looks at first, that's why.
Kay Jaybee, author of The Collector, a book of sex fantasies presumably collected from new acquaintances in coffee shops, introduces the first-person story, "Searching for Her," like this:
Fifteen years ago I read my very first erotic story. From that moment I had a powerful recurring fantasy based entirely on its contents. Each relationship I've enjoyed since has had that one sexual expectation wrapped up in it.
The narrator's fantasy sends her on a search for the right woman to join her and her husband for a threesome. Along the way, she has various encounters which don't involve any man at all. When the expected three-way scene finally happens, the two women seem to have as close a bond as the narrator and her man, who imagines himself as sultan of the harem.
The format of most of these stories (sexual adventures in the context of established relationships) allows for some violent scenes of "rape" and bondage, which would be much more disturbing if presented outside a framework of trust and communication. More reassuringly, the "rapes" are eventually revealed to be deep-seated, long-term fantasies of the female "victims," whose chivalrous, understanding lovers or husbands have agreed to act them out despite the risk that concerned witnesses might intervene or call the police.
Here is the heart-pounding opening scene of "Playing Rough" by Kat Black:
Click, clack, click.. .
The woman's heels spike the concrete floor, staccato beat rebounding off the hard, straight lines of the subterranean tunnel. Each step echoes, a solitary sound in an otherwise oppressive silence.
Soon, however, the silence is broken by a resounding thud when an exit door to the car park is closed by someone who then approaches with a steady masculine tread.
The sinister setting (where no help is available), the terse assailant and the polished but increasingly frightened, disheveled and excited career woman are all so effectively described that for most of its length, this story looks out of place in an anthology about "sweet love." The ending of the story allows the reader to come down from an adrenaline high, but it also reveals the sex scene to be misleading, since it is not the account of a random, opportunistic attack.
All these stories are well-written, well-paced, hot and juicy. As the editor's introduction makes clear, they can be used as scripts for real-life scenes, since every scene in the book is plausible, and most can be acted out in one's own home with minimal props and costumes.
So why do I feel as if some essential ingredient is missing? Because most (not all) of these stories are about breaks or digressions from the daily routine of a long-term relationship. Fantasies always reveal something about the fantasizers, but in too many of these stories, the characters come across as cliched or undeveloped. This reader, at least, would like to know more about the individual and combined histories of the players of these games.
There are some exceptions to the general trend. In one exceptional story, "Storming the Castle" by Andrea Dale, the reader is shown why the female narrator has begun masturbating alone: her relationship with her boyfriend has become boring. Here she confides the problem to the reader:
I loved Joe. That's what made it so damn hard. I loved him and respected him. We fit well together at work and at home, with similar interests and habits. Everyone thought we were perfect for each other, and I was hard-pressed to come up with a good reason why we weren't. It was just that the spark was gone.
As it turns out, the shared vocation of the narrator and her man (archeology) enables them to reconnect on the site of a castle in Wales which is scheduled for demolition, much like a relationship which appears to be crumbling despite its strong foundation. Their passionate coupling in the moonlight is both romantic and "feudal," suited to the setting, and it neatly resolves several dilemmas.
In another exceptional story, "Jump or Fall?" by Janine Ashbless, the female narrator is far from bored with her fellow-performer in an acrobatics act. On the contrary, she finds him intriguingly hard to read:
Blayne is a locked box and I don't have the key.
Izzy the narrator pushes Blayne for a closer relationship until he tries to warn her away from him:
He grins without any amusement. "There's this thing I do. It's. . . a part of my life. It doesn't come as an optional extra. And it's not something you'd be at all happy with."
Izzy is still intrigued. She can't be sure she would enjoy the same kinks that Blayne can't live without, but she also knows she is interested enough to "jump" into a new act which enables her to discover a side of herself she has been afraid to acknowledge. These two characters seem made for each other, and their performances together are integral to their relationship.
In general, however, these stories are focused on the pleasure of the moment. As one-handed reading, they are resolutely upbeat, even though this requires being oblivious of the deal-breaking potential of some sexual adventures “on the side” – and of the hard work involved in being truly polyamorous.
Is a woman who is eager to "try out" various women for a threesome really doing this only to please her Master? When a woman discovers her husband's stash of man-on-man porn films (in "Better Bent Than Broken" by Amanda Fox), can she afford to trust him when he tells her, "No, I'm not gay" - and can she completely satisfy him by herself? The denials in these stories are only convincing if one believes that a primary male-female relationship is the basic human connection that everyone needs, and that any heterosexual commitment can be saved by sexual variety.
For couples looking for new fantasies, this book would make a good anniversary gift.