He was already two knuckles deep into my cunt, so asking for his name was kind of pointless.
Thus begins Kathleen Bradean's wonderful contribution to Gotta Have It, entitled "A Good Stiff One." I start my review with Ms. Bradean's story not only because it's one of my favorites, but also because it captures the essence of Rachel Kramer Bussel's new collection of flash fiction - stories that turn on the heat from the very first sentence. The subtitle of this book is definitely appropriate. With no more than 1200 words available, these stories tend to race into the clinches, leaving both the characters and the reader a bit breathless.
The best tales in Gotta Have It, however, are more than just fast and furious sex scenes. I was extremely impressed by the depth and originality some of these authors managed to pack into a small package. Ms. Bradean's story is a case in point. It captures all the awkwardness, the inwardness, of fucking a stranger at a party - the lack of emotional connection even as you're being propelled into the sensual stratosphere, the judgments one can't help oneself from making.
Consider Carmel Lockyer's lesbian lust-fest, "Pink Satin Organza." "Here's the problem; Sonya isn't even my friend," the narrator begins, guilt-tripped into acting as a bridesmaid for her sister's best friend. The bride's stern aunt provides some rough consolation, though. By the middle of the tale, "Her red lipstick is being equally shared between her mouth and mine." The characters in this story could easily sustain a much longer piece. I'd love to see the narrator and the aunt at the next "fitting."
Gotta Have It offers considerable variety in orientation, kink, mood and even explicitness. There's the high octane collision between two women on the leather seats of a vintage Corvette in Evan Mora's "My Femme," the improbable but irresistible M/M butt-fuck at 35,000 feet in Mike Bruno's "The Copilot," the deserved punishment of the deliberately clumsy waiter in Sommer Marsden's "Laugh," and the unabashedly naughty exhibitionist in Jeremy Edwards' "No Blame, No Shame" ("Even the hum of the ice machine sounds libidinous.") Shanna Germain offers up an ironic woman Bible teacher in "Genesis" ("I don't hunt them down. They come to me."). D.L. King serves up a sizzling version of the stern librarian fantasy in "Punishment Befitting the Crime." In "Intersect," Burton Lawrence gives us a zero-G liaison between two space freighter captains that's constrained by physics to no more than seventeen minutes. "After Ten Years" by Christen Clifford masterfully conveys the complex joys and disappointments of sex after a decade of marriage. And Salome Wilde wins hands-down in the category of originality (or possibly bizarreness) with "Too Wondrous To Measure," about the love affair between a human woman and Godzilla. (I'm not kidding!)
Of course, given who I am, I was particularly drawn to some of the BDSM-themed stories. Mike Kimera's chilling "Need-Leash" manages to be arousing and disturbing with no actual sex at all. "My nipples stretch the silk the way my desire for you stretches my morals," says the nameless female narrator, only too aware of her own abasement. "Over His Shoulder" by Maximilian Lagos is a more light-hearted tale about the erotic power of the written word. Teresa Noelle Roberts' story, "Laughter in Hell," highlights the paradoxes in a power-exchange relationship. ("My cane still makes her wet and her laughter still makes me hard." Possibly my favorite BDSM tale was Valerie Alexander's "Don't Struggle," which gives us a peak into the thoughts of a manipulative but appreciative Dom. The insights in this story will stay with me. (I read it at least four times.)
Of course, with sixty nine stories, I can't begin to mention all the stories I enjoyed. This is a huge book - over three hundred fifty pages. Overall, Ms. Bussel has done a great job assembling work by both familiar and new authors. Having edited anthologies myself, I'm in awe of the amount of effort that must have been required, managing communications with sixty-eight contributors. (The collection includes one of the editor's own stories as well.)
The depth and breadth of Gotta Have It means that there will be something here for every reader. If you're in the mood for a quickie, I highly recommend this book.
Oh that this too too sallied flesh would melt,
Thaw and resolve itself into a dew,
Or that the Everlasting had not fixed
His canon ‘gainst self-slaughter. O God, God,
How weary, stale, flat and unprofitable
Seem to me all the uses of this world!
Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2
The Hamlet quote from above flashed through my mind when I first started turning the pages of Legacy: Book Two of the Chronicles of the Nubian Underworld. I have always perceived these words as being Hamlet’s desperate cry for God to strike him down and end his suffering. That was certainly the reason why I bellowed them to the empty heavens. And, just like with Hamlet, my cries for mercy remained unheeded.
Hamlet ended up with the misery of family death, torment and a country’s suffering. I ended up having to read Legacy: Book Two of the Chronicles of the Nubian Underworld. I can’t decide which of us got the worst deal. Of course, I’m joking with that last line. I’m fairly confident I know which of us got the worst deal.
If it sounds like I’m being harsh, that’s only because I am. Let me state before I go any further that Legacy: Book Two of the Chronicles of the Nubian Underworld is clearly fueled by a powerful imagination. The story is delightfully complex and the characters are fully rounded. However, it’s difficult to appreciate those intricacies because the standard of writing makes the narrative inaccessible.
This is from the introduction to Legacy: Book Two of the Chronicles of the Nubian Underworld.
Now, to give you a premise for the book you’re reading now, Legacy.
With Amenhotep gone from the local POC scene, however, a transition begins, and everyone in the community is trying to get used to the idea that the balance of power has shifted within the Atlanta BDSM POC community. Some were okay with it, others obviously not, but that’s how the scene goes sometimes. The only thing I could do was keep on my toes and make sure that no one tried to slip in and try to throw a monkey wrench in the plans that I had. What plans might that be? Well, I guess you’ll have to find out, won’t you?
In the meantime, I guess I need to leave you now. I have a few business ventures that need to be checked on and a collaring ceremony to prepare for.
I’ve reiterated this passage so that those readers with an interest in this title can appreciate the quality of the writing. By contrast with the opening lines of this review, I’m sure we can all see that it’s not Shakespeare.
I could be hypercritical and discuss the need for some elegant variation (Now, to give you a premise for the book you’re reading now…), or suggest a requirement for pruning extraneous words (“With Amenhotep gone from the local POC scene, however, a transition begins …”). I could just be snide and suggest that it would have helped to employ an editor. But I sincerely doubt an editor could have done much with this title.
The book opens with the following sentence: I felt like the headset I was wearing had become a chain. This is wrong as a statement. Consider what is being said here.
The phrase ‘I felt like…’ forewarns a comparison.
‘…the headset I was wearing had become a chain.’
This is a delightful image, worthy of the metaphysical poet George Herbert with his classic metaphor description ‘chain of sands.’ However, it bears no correlation to the comparison preceding it.
The opening three words (I felt like) suggest that we are about to be given access to the feelings of the protagonist. But, instead of being told about the protagonist’s feelings, we’re given a piece of stark metamorphoses-esque imagery.
This could be construed as a clever blending of the abstract with the concrete. But we all know it’s not. Most likely it’s just a mistake.
Perhaps the first word should be ‘It’ instead of ‘I’ – that would make more sense. “It felt like the headset I was wearing had become a chain.” But if that’s the case, it suggests that the editor had given up on this book even sooner than I admitted defeat.
In many ways this is a shame. Legacy: Book Two of the Chronicles of the Nubian Underworld, has clearly been inspired by a vivid imagination and a furious desire to share a full and exciting story. The sexual shenanigans are arousing and entertaining but they are splattered across the page without the finesse or style of a competently constructed narrative.Some careful revisions and a harsh edit could have made this book compelling.
In her introduction to Sweet Danger, editor Violet Blue mixes a bit of romance - committed heterosexual couples - with games that they play while fulfilling sexual fantasies. What would you do if your significant other was willing to indulge your wildest fantasy? What would you do for him or her? How far would you be willing to go?
Donna George Storey's “Picture Perfect” leads off this anthology with style. A husband and wife film their sexual exploits for a connoisseur of homemade porn. It's safe exhibitionism, one step removed from the man watching them while they're fucking, but not exactly tame either. “Takes all Comers” by Ainsleigh Foster explores the same theme, with a wife talking to her phone sex customer while her husband listens in on the conversation.
In “Old Friends” by N.T. Morley, a man catches his wife in bed with her college friend. He's upset at first, but when they tie him down and have their way with him, his anger melts away along with his inhibitions. “Richard's Secret” by Saskia Walker is also a three-way between a married couple and a friend, only this time, the friend is male.
If you're into cuckoldry, “In the Back of Raquel” by P.S. Haven might be just what you're looking for as a man watches his wife suck the cock of another man in the back seat of his prized vintage car. “Pearl Necklace” by Jolie Joss has a keener psychological edge as a woman leaves her husband on their anniversary to hook up with a guy from the internet. The man she's cheating with uses her phone's camera to take a picture of her sucking his cock, then sends it to her husband. “Greedy” by Eric Emerson features a well-organized gangbang of a suburban hot wife. The civility of the whole scene, as the husband whisks into the room long enough to provide drinks, fresh sheets, and even padding for his wife to recline on while taking on several guys at once was funny in an almost surrealistic way, and I hope that was intentional.
“Performance Art” by Oscar Williams, “Dress Me Up” by Erica Dumas, “House Rules” by Sara DeMuci, “Rest Stop” by Felix D'Angelo, “Evening Class” by J. Hadleigh Alex, “Dinner Out” by Marie Sudac, and “Moneymaker” by Isabelle Ross tread the extremely popular and well worn paths of female submission and humiliation. If you're into that, you're going to get your fill of it in this anthology.
“Medical Attention” by Skye Black was one of the few truly unique kink/fetish stories in this anthology. It's nice to read something that I haven't seen before. A woman is immobilized in casts and undergoes a medical exam. The professional detachment of the nurse and doctor play wonderfully against what they're doing to their patient. Thomas Roche also shares a hot gun play story in “Cocked and Loaded” that isn't your same old BDSM scene. “My Number One Fan” by Sarah Sands self-references in calling itself a rape fantasy, and the sex is rough, but if you're really into rape fantasy, it might not fit your definition. “Alice” by M. Christian features gender play and cross dressing in a sweetly approachable story. “Daddy's Boy” by Elizabeth Colvin also includes gender play with a touch of queer sensibility to it. The couple is hetero, but I felt as if I were reading a very hot butch/femme lesbian piece instead. Don't let that put you off. It's a damn fine story, A damn fine story with a certain unidentifiable vibe that set it apart - in a good way.
Violet Blue knows how to put together an anthology that will appeal to a broad range of tastes. Her stated aim was a touch of romance, and for the most part I had the feeling that these characters cared about their partners and their relationships. At least they had reached the point where they felt that they could trust their partner with their deepest, darkest fantasy. Sadly, not many real life couples can. So you get a double fantasy here - a good, strong, loving relationship, and the ultimate sexual fantasy fulfillment. One, or more, of those fantasies might be yours. You might not be willing to share it with your partner, but you can read about it between these covers. Come on. You know that you want to peek inside.
Like skilled acrobats, these stories straddle the line between realism and fantasy, and fly through the air between them. Sexual attraction between men in the circus world seems like such a good fit that I wonder why no one compiled an anthology on this theme before. Like gay men, circus performers have traditionally been nomadic social outcasts, and the yearning of a lonely boy to “run away and join the circus” seems like a thinly-disguised desire to “come out.”
Several of these stories are set in a realistic past, when trained elephants in a travelling show were less controversial than the human performers and crew. In “Roustabout” by Dale Chase, the twenty-year-old narrator begins his story in California in April 1878:
“Jack Hodges was shot two days ago and while the man who done him in has been strung up, there remains an empty place in me that will not likely be filled by justice, be it vigilante or otherwise.” The narrator was Jack’s lover, and he goes to the circus with a barely-conscious plan to find some distraction for his grief.
An exchange of meaningful glances between the narrator and Tully, an older, muscular roustabout who is setting up a tent, leads to a fast hookup, which could possibly lead to a deeper relationship. But there are no guarantees.
“The Twenty-Four Hour Man” by Dusty Taylor shows a professional P.R. man through the eyes of a “rube,” an innocent young man in a small Kansas town in 1915. While seducing the whole town to come to the circus starring “Buffalo Bill,” the handsome stranger seduces the narrator, who has never met anyone like him before. The young man’s father had always warned him to beware of con men and circus types as moral ‘stumbling blocks,’ but even after the handsome stranger has left him forever, the narrator doesn’t regret their night together.
In “Circus Wagon Love” by Garland, a group of circus performers listen to the radio during the Second World War, wondering if they will be sent to one of the camps where people go in but never come out. When the narrator, a contortionist, learns that a Hollywood movie, Freaks, is being made about the sideshow, he feels ambivalent: I honestly didn’t know how I felt about it. His reaction is much like that of a gay filmgoer to a film that shows his “people” as freaks, but which gives them public exposure.
In the fantasy stories, the circus represents an imaginary world of unlimited sex and real monsters. The narrator of “The Midnight Barker” by William Holden is an immortal wraith, one of a circus `family` that survives on the energy of the living:
The young man we want has to have a tainted heart. He has to want it, need it, desire it. Through their desires, we create our Netherworld where we make their fantasies come true. Through their fantasies, we feed. The circus is a jealous whore, a ravenous hag that sucks the vitality right out of a person, just like a bloodthirsty vampire sucks the veins dry.
Like a vampire, the narrator seems likely to change his chosen victim into one like himself.
The title character in “The Great Masturbator” by Daniel M. Jaffe is rumored to cause gay men to disappear from the real world. When the narrator, whose life is going nowhere, goes to the circus to be cheered up, he learns what has happened to the missing men. He is trapped in a kind of limbo from which there seems to be no escape, but he tells the reader: I live in hope.
“Circus Maximus” by Sean Meriwether is set in a dystopian society run by clowns whose “patron saint” is John Wayne Gacy, serial killer of young men in the real world. The story is told by an “ant,” a young man whose lack of performing skill condemns him to the lowest rank and whose protective love for his younger brother drives him to kill. The two young men run away from the circus and discover a tribe of fellow refugees led by a magical queen who resembles the older wisewomen in The Matrix and Tommy. At last the narrator finds his tribe and the male mentor he needs, although the life of a fugitive won’t be easy.
“Oggie Joins the Circus” by the team of Jay Neal and R. Jackson is a lighter story: a teenage boy’s masturbation fantasy. Parker the Barker introduces young Oggie to the circus of his imagination:
Ah, young sir – we have many wonderful wonders ready to amazingly amaze you. Inside my pants – inside our tents, I mean – you will meet the world’s best-hung midget, incredible twin contortionists, Melvin the Magnificent – soothsayer, human goat and tattooed man – a mystifying fun-house of mirrors and a remarkable game of skill and luck, to mention but a few of our unique attractions.
Oggie discovers all these wonders before being welcomed “home.”
Steve Berman’s story, “Tell Me What You Love, and I’ll Tell You What You Are,” shows a contemporary circus as a slice of untrustworthy reality. Printed in two columns on each page, the story is an episodic two-ring show in which a rueful older man accompanies his closeted nephew and the nephew’s ‘friend’ to a circus of illusions. The handsome guy working the “Guess Your Height, Your Age, Your Fate” booth seems attracted to the uncle – or is he? The reader can never be sure what is real and what is not.
In a parallel story, “Magic” by Matt Kailey, another lonely, disillusioned gay man discovers a circus that advertises only by word of mouth, where an incredibly well-hung performer chooses him for magically painless public sex.
One of the “realistic” stories (to use the term loosely) focuses on the role of a “fluffer,” a kind of roustabout in the world of porn films. “Charlie Does the Big Top” by Hank Edwards is an over-the-top “dirty joke” in which the circus is actually a porn-film set, and the central character gets paid to keep the stars as hard as they need to be.
“The Worker” by Cage Thunder is about “coming out” into another dream job. In this story, a bored college student has come home to Kansas for the summer. (Did The Wizard of Oz start a tradition of setting quest stories in Kansas?) At the circus with his former high school buddies, the narrator is fascinated by Steve Starr, a pro wrestler who helps “the kid” to find his calling and his stage name, Cage Thunder.
The remaining stories are more-or-less true to contemporary life, and are as captivating as the obvious fantasies. “Il Circo dei Fiori” by Gavin Atlas suggests that the circus (as entertainment, business and lifestyle) may be doomed, but the narrator tries gamely to save the “circus of flowers” which has been in his family for generations, and hang onto the man of his dreams.
In several of these stories, the appeal of circus performers for audience members and humble handymen is a source of erotic tension. In “Aiming to Please” by Nathan Burgoine, a knife-thrower seduces an enthralled audience member by hurling sharp knives that barely miss the target’s flesh while pinning him in place. In “Winter Quarters” by Tom Cardamone, young Jimmy (who works the concession stand) gets to wrap his idol, a performer of his own age, in cotton candy when the circus is not on tour. In the brief “Horse’s Ass” by Ralph Seligman, the handyman narrator has dramatic sex with a clown who uses white grease paint as lube.
If you’ve ever made a bet and realized that you were going to lose, then you’ll have no trouble connecting with the characters in this wonderful – and absolutely sexy – set of stories written by Darcy Sweet. If you’re not the betting type, don’t worry – you’ll still get suckered into anteing up by Sweet’s clever and fresh approach to what could otherwise have been a tired repetition of a romantic trope.
The series of bets with their winners and losers moves from the artsy subculture to the world of journalistic one-upmanship, and from campus life to corporate wheelers and dealers. There’s very little sense of repetition in Wanna Bet? In most anthologies with a tight theme, I find I need a break between the stories.
Wanna Bet? I gobbled whole.
I credit this to Sweet for delivering a very different flavour of tale from story to story but holding to her theme throughout. The five stories sizzle on the page and offer a wide variety of pleasures. My favourite of the bunch, the phenomenally told “Hypothetically Speaking,” has a gem of a set-up; the two girlfriends of some rambunctious college studs finally agree that they’ll do what they’re asked to do to each other by their boyfriends – but only if their fellas also do the same to each other. “Hypothetically Speaking” is just plain hot, and after the steam settled, the story delivered a punch-line that made me laugh out loud. The ménage and exhibitionism crackle with sexual energy in the first story, “Painted Into a Corner.” Inara, the heroine discovering that the cost of losing a bet is going to be a fairly public display of her painted body, evolves from timidity to a luscious sensuality as the story. And in “Told You So,” I found one of the most masterfully written scenes of a woman delivering dominant oral sex I’ve ever encountered – again, after the heroine has a personal evolution.
The core strength to Sweet’s work is in the way her characters grow – they aren’t simply erotic puppets putting on a quick peep show for you, these are fully developed individuals on a journey. In every story, you watch at least one of the characters develop sexually, usually crossing a new boundary or discovering a new sexual appetite. They’re vulnerable, or jaded, or yearning in some way, and much of the joy in these stories comes from seeing them get in touch with something more. Add to that the sheer dirty heat that Darcy Sweet pumps into her stories, and you’ve got a great compilation with something sure to please everyone. The author bio at the end of the anthology says Sweet “has a head full of wicked stories.” This is good news indeed for erotica readers.
One thing’s for sure: losing a bet has never been so good.