The title of this three-story collection is defined by the author: "Hat trick: noun - the scoring of three goals in a single game by one player."
Despite the implication that these stories are sports-themed, they are not about athletic competition or experienced players. The theme of this collection is first-time sex. One character in each story has a new sexual experience, which is hotly anticipated, scary, surprising but thrilling.
All three stories include sex between females (in a strictly biological sense), and in each case, the attraction between characters is described as natural, wholesome, mutual, and not dependent on the presence of a man, even when a man is present. Although the author calls her husband her "muse," she defines her sexual orientation as "queer," and she approaches lesbian sex with confidence and respect.
In the first story, "Drain Cleaner," a young single woman who considers herself heterosexual is puzzled by the androgynous charisma of a friendly neighbor:
" . . .while growing up in a rural, mountainous town in West Virginia, or while attending community college near said rural town, I had never seen a woman who was so intent on looking like a boy. Even more puzzling was that she was attractive. She managed to be simultaneously attractive as masculine and feminine; her lively eyes as pretty as any woman's, her pale skin flawless over squared, handsome features, and her physique broad-shouldered, strong, and lean as any man. My curiosity let my eyes stray to her breasts, which were obviously rather small, and clearly not enhanced by the lines of the tight sports bra under her shirt. I honestly had no fucking clue."
The narrator's confusion is endearing, especially as she becomes increasingly aroused by her neighbor's appearance, skill, chivalry and unsubtle flirting. The narrator's hillbilly background seems intended to explain her innocence, but is the existence of lesbians in the world still a mystery to any college-educated young woman? While this story requires a certain suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader, the dance of seduction between the characters progresses at a believable pace.
By the satisfying conclusion, the reader is hoping that these two women can overcome the credibility gap between them. Interestingly enough, the worldly-wise butch (who knows all about wine, among other things) is a border-hopping Canadian, in contrast to the sheltered femme from West Virginia.
The second story is named "Hockey Stick," but the sport of hockey is hardly relevant to the plot. The significance of the title is that the hunk of male beefcake who answers a call to be the male in a threesome has well-defined muscles, presumably from playing hockey, and is willing to model sports gear for women who have a fetish for male athletes. He is an obliging dude, but then he has the delightful chore of satisfying two women who contrast with each other in classic porn style. The narrator is a willowy brunette and her small but busty blonde girlfriend is still a virgin in the traditional sense: she has never had sex with a man.
The man in this story is not a stranger to the narrator, and this complication makes him seem especially sexy to her. In the best porn tradition, a situation that could give rise to ugly jealousy, rage or exploitation in real life provides all the characters with just enough frisson to guarantee a good time for all.
Sex is described in loving detail throughout the collection, but the sex scenes are especially important in "Hockey Stick." In this story, the author finds or invents a long list of synonyms for sex organs. Here the narrator describes her methods of warming up her blonde friend:
"My tongue slipped easily into her flooding snizz, and I lapped at her greedily, I made certain to flick her clitty with each stroke, and I could already hear her moans and squeals from above me."
Soon afterward, John (the male guest) gives the narrator the attention she wants. She enjoys "the thrusting of his uncovered, throbbing rod." Later in the same paragraph it becomes "his huge prick" and "John's cock." The narrator sucks and licks her friend's "wet mound" and "her button." Luckily, her "snizz" never appears again.
The clunkiest passages in these stories convey the consciousness of innocent characters convincingly, but a narrator with greater perspective would be able to describe the experiments of youth with more insight, or at least with more art. Several sentences contain unclear or misleading words (uncorrected typos?) and omissions, which interrupt the flow of the narrative.
The third story, "Lucky Boy," departs the furthest from the clichés of stroke-stories, and it impressed me the most. Alex, a young man (by his own definition) in his first year of university, wants to lose his virginity, but he also has a secret which he fears will drive away every potential date. The love and support of his parents feels to him like too much of a good thing. And of course, the Goth chick that he hopes to impress discovers his secret before he can work up the courage to tell her. The characters are stunningly believable, and the details (including the importance of vending-machine food in dorm life) are just right.
When three students in this story discuss sexuality, they sound appropriately self-conscious, but never sink to Politically Correct stiltedness. A young man tells his dorm-mates:
" . . .It's not for everyone, but gender-fucking is a great experiment. It teaches you a lot about society's problems with gender lines. I personally couldn't care less about them. I'm attracted to people for who they are, regardless of what's in their pants or up their skirt."
The Goth chick exclaims: "I really don't give two shits about a person's genitals, as long as they're intelligent, kind and hot really doesn't hurt, either."
A second male asks: "What about people who have visited both sides of the fence, but are truly only attracted to people of one gender or the other? Are we unenlightened? Is being a straight male too pedestrian?"
His companions tell him in unison, "Not at all!" The girl explains: "The key . . . is that you weren't afraid to try something out of the normal boundaries. Not everyone is bisexual, just like not everyone is gay or straight, but at least you know for sure what you do and don't like. That makes you highly enlightened in my book."
As in the utopian sexual fiction of Carol Queen, characters with different sexual tastes form solid friendships based on mutual respect. In this story, university really does seem like the place where seekers can gain enlightenment. This reviewer wishes that the narrator of "Drain Cleaner" had attended the same school as the characters of "Lucky Boy."
Unfortunately, the author does not seem to analyze her own writing persona as well as she teases out the emotional truth of each of her characters. Her implication that she (as well as each character) "scores" brilliantly in each of these stories shows an unattractive lack of modesty. In "About the Author," she is said to have "an odd, yet delightfully eclectic approach." Her approach to erotic fiction seems far from odd to me, since her plot premises (a young woman who assumes she is “normal” is shocked and turned on by the suave gallantry of an experienced lesbian, two horny girlfriends find a well-hung stud, a shy young man is seduced by a confident young woman who appears fragile) have all been used before. Other erotic writers have also shown themselves to be “delightfully eclectic,” or capable of describing more than one type of sexual connection.
The third-person author of the author’s bio also claims: “In her writing, A.J. Bray enjoys tackling every angle of sexuality, leaving no kinky stone unturned." I can think of several kinky stones (or sex toys, fetishes, personality types, historical periods, situations, plot twists and genres) that were left unturned in this collection, at least. But then, turning over every kinky stone in the road does not seem to me to be the main purpose of erotic fiction.
The appearance of a certain unspoiled innocence in the author as well as the characters seems to be her greatest strength, as well as theirs. Despite their resemblance to characters in older stroke-stories, these young adults are experiencing it all for the first time, in their own unique skins, and the author seduces us into caring about them. This reviewer hopes that she will gain more technical skill without losing the gifts she already has.