Contributing to a worthy cause gives you a warm glow, but seldom does it heat you up the way the Coming Together books do. (The charity benefitting from the proceeds of this book is GMHC.org, an AIDS/HIV care and prevention organization.) Coming Together Presents Amanda Earl, edited by Lisabet Sarai,ramps up the heat especially well. Amanda seduces not only the libido but also the mind, sometimes subtly (although the sex is seldom subtle) and sometimes very blatantly indeed. In the editor’s introduction the book is described as “literary—and literate—erotica,” which is quite true. There are frequent literary references, and characters with backgrounds in (or aspirations to) the literary world, but the sure-handed quality of the prose—raw when it needs to be, even brutal, introspective at times, poignant, complex, and memorable—is what makes it both literary and literate.
I was especially intrigued by the variety of points of view in these stories. Often (but not always) female, occasionally older women with younger men, with a nice range of characterization from deliciously dominant to deeply submissive to downright surreal.
The first-person narrator of the opening piece, “Mind If I Sit?” takes full advantage of sitting next to a young, blond, somewhat nervous “golden boy” with a contradictory “rebel look” on an airplane. She has what it takes to get his attention; “Long legs: check. Flimsy mini skirt: check. Big tits in a low-necked blouse: double check.” Her copy of Kerouac’s On the Road doesn’t hurt, and is the first of many literary references that fit naturally into the flow of the prose. “I’m a capricious bitch,” she tells us. Newly turned forty, resolved not to “sit back in your comfort zone” and let life pass by, she’s a complex, arresting character, good company for the reader as well as the for guy who gets to share her under-the blanket games.
The narrator in the second story, “Real Irish,” has a very different self-image, at least at the beginning. She thinks of herself as a “middle-aged spinster” with indecently lustful thoughts about a good-looking Irish barista and a stream-of-consciousness novel eternally in progress. By the end, though, thanks to her best friend who resembles Botticelli’s Venus and lets nothing stand in the way of what they both want, her stream-of-consciousness has more to celebrate than her most lustful thoughts had imagined. The hottest threesome I can remember ever reading, and the most fun.
We also get a ruthless legal secretary with a “Daddy Complex”, a housewife whose secret is that instead of AA meetings, she goes off to wear a catsuit at a BDSM hideaway specializing in rubberists, and a girl who thinks she’s desperate for domination, pain, and humiliation from a stranger, but has the sense at last to resist a scene that goes too far, and the luck to get away.
In a few of the stories the sex is entirely in the minds of the protagonists, their lust no less arousing for being unfulfilled, with a melancholy tone that provides a contrast to more carefree encounters. In “The Vessel,” the point of view shifts between two not-quite-lovers, each so scarred by their pasts that they can’t believe the other could find them worthy of desire or love. ”Typing for Jack” begins with the woman losing her long-held virginity with a man she’s met at a funeral, but it’s Jack’s funeral (yes, that Jack,) and the defining act of her life has been typing the manuscript of his On the Road. For all her fantasizing, and all the opportunities Jack offered, she knew she could never handle his freewheeling sexual habits, so she handled only his manuscript, and takes cold comfort in a report that he was holding it when he died. And in “Sex with an Old Woman” the fifty-ish narrator can’t imagine her much younger male friend finding her sexually attractive, and tortures herself with imagining how repulsed he would be if he saw her naked. I kept thinking, “But fifty isn’t all that old!” until she revealed how much more than age her body had endured.
I was encouraged by a later story about a woman of fifty who is unabashedly “boy crazy, man hungry,” and thinks of herself (with reason) as “irresistable,” but there’s a dark undertone here as well. “The Adulteress” stalks her literary prey—novelists, poets, playwrights—and seduces them, married or not, with no difficulty. Adultery just adds extra spice. The sex is hot, raw, and described, by the woman writing it all down afterward, with explicit attention to detail a well as evocative imagery. Even at the height of arousal she thinks about what she’ll write afterward, how she’ll “frame this later on the page.” Truthfully, don’t all writers of erotica think sometimes about how we’ll describe sex even as we’re (almost) swept away by its delights? Should we feel guilty? Does it cheat our partners in some way, or does our secretly enhanced excitement intensify their own experience? The latter, I think, but who knows? In the case of the woman supposedly narrating this story, one even begins to wonder how much of what she describes really happened that way (in the context of the story) or is magnified by her writerly imagination. The nuances of this piece are tinged with melancholy, deftly written, and the final paragraph is a masterly handling of perspective. I’ll leave readers to discover that for themselves.
I’ve only mentioned nine of the twenty-four stories in this collection, even though all of them are just as worthy of consideration. Some, of course, will appeal to certain tastes more than to others. My own tastes run to literary references and older protagonists, but the book provides plenty of other viewpoints and scenarios that I found just as enjoyable. I should also note that several stories are of the science fiction or fantasy persuasion, and they’re worth an entire review of their own. I’ll just mention that one involves an orgy in heaven and another has a nice twist involving its deliciously snarky narrator. I may already have come too close to revealing “spoilers” about the other stories I discussed, though, so I’ll leave the rest for the reader to discover. And to savor, just as I did.