Let me say at the outset that 37 Stories About 37 Women is not erotica, at least not by my definition, despite being released by a publisher that specializes in that genre. There's a lot of sex in this book – though it's incorporated mainly by offhand reference, rather than described – but precious little desire, even of the physical sort. For the author/narrator/hero of this volume, sex appears to be something you engage in by default when you can't figure out what else to do, and especially when you're drunk, high, broke, depressed, feeling self-destructive and figuring you'd like to pass that mood along.
The book is a series of thirty seven vignettes, two or three pages long, each labeled with the name of a woman (with the exception of chapter 32, entitled “Sean's Whores”). They're written from different perspectives and points of view, which is initially confusing but ultimately adds to one's sense that this book is a deliberately constructed work and not merely a collection of miscellaneous ramblings.
Rachel: “He was going to leave you until he found out you were doing Morphine.”
Kristie: “I was fascinated with Kristie during her trial for murder.”
Melissa: “I never thought you would be getting off work at seven. When one's girlfriend is a waitress, that possibility does not enter one's mind.”
Erin: “Cody used to hit me so I left. It wasn't that simple of course. But that isn't what this story is about. I liked Brian. I had seen him at the Portside or at Pearl. He wasn't with that gorgeous blonde girlfriend anymore. I think he was with someone else but I knew that much anyway.”
When I began reading, the book struck me as snarky, facile and clever, a sort of literary version of the movie Sherman's March, where the main character is constantly hijacked emotionally by the various women in his life. Warren Zevon's song “Poor Poor Pitiful Me” kept playing in my mind:
These young girls won't let me be.
Lord have mercy on me.
The further I read, though, the darker and more disturbing the book became. Women who had headlined in one chapter turned up as side characters in other chapters. Little by little I started to piece together the disastrous web of sex, lies and illusions that linked all these women together.
He was cheating on his wife with three women at once. All of whom worked together. One who thought he was going to leave his wife and marry her. Two who didn't know about the other two. And one chubby formerly straw-hatted young woman who knew he was fucking three other women.
He could get nothing done. His life had become nothing but a bad porno. All three of them constantly cycled in and out of his office. He would go into Jenna's office and put his cock in her mouth, then go into Amanda's and do the same. Then at lunch he would go to Brynne's, and she would get on her knees for him.
It was at times like this when a person is no longer in any doubt that he is completely and totally out of control. (Chapter 18, Brynne).
Amanda has her own chapter. Jenna didn't even rate one, unless he changed the names, which is possible. In one chapter he seems confused as to whether the woman in question is called “Brooke” or “Krista”, although in general the editing in this book is excellent.
The longer one persists in reading about these poor women, the sadder and more desperate one feels.
The author/narrator/hero is a top. He likes to spank his women, make them crawl, suffocate them, even knock them out with chloroform and fuck them while they're unconscious. There's no joy in these encounters, none of the closeness or mutual respect I look for in a D/s encounter (real or fictional). The stories reek with misogynistic self-pity, with the narrator completely focused on what he wants. And yet he seems as lost and miserable, as addicted and depressed, as any of the dozens of females who seem willing to offer him their bodies.
Perhaps the most revealing of the so-called stories is Chapter 26 – Ashley. “I used to pretend to be other people. I did this on the Internet...So this one time I was Ashley.” Ashley is a total illusion, an imaginary blonde eighteen year old with an equally fictional vicious and dishonest boyfriend named Jake. Ashley posts about the terrible things Jake does to her, but also about how she loves him. People come out of the woodwork, urging her to leave him. The narrator and his druggy friends play the tale to the hilt, writing blogs, leaving comments and posting photos, until national media contact “Ashley” wanting to interview the poor abused teen. When she suddenly disappears from view, her on-line fans and friends frantically call the police, convinced that she's been murdered by her violent lover.
The author and his cohorts find the situation endlessly amusing. In fact, the way Jake treats poor illusory Ashley mirrors not a few of the stories that supposedly discuss real women.
By the time I'd finished 37 Stories About 37 Women, I had endless sympathy for these thirty seven and the others that he probably forgot. I wanted to hate the author for his callous attitude. I couldn't quite manage that, though, because despite all the darkness, there are sparks of genius in this book. Furthermore, it's clear the author carries enough self-hate that my meager contribution would hardly affect him.
Chapter 23, Brittany, may be the shortest in the book. For a page, the author strips himself bare. All the bravado, the attitude is gone. There's nothing but need and regret.
I can't say I exactly liked 37 Stories About 37 Women. I find it a bit offensive that such a sex-negative book is being marketed as erotica. But it isn't the piece of fluff I originally expected. It's a hard book to read. Despite the flippancy of some of the tales, I suspect it may have been hard to write. I hope that it brought the author some kind of peace.
I could try to write a book about all the women I have known. Or I could try and write a book about you....
If I were still with you this book would be peaceful. It would be inspirational. It would be about coming together and moving on to the other side. It would be about overcoming mental illness, overcoming addiction. It would be about stupid ex-husbands and alcoholic millionaires.
It would be about reading in bed, seeing movies, going to The Porthole and running errands with my hand on your leg in the car. It would be about doing good deeds and knowing just how much cream to put in coffee. …
It would be about being loved and understood.
But you know I fuck up all the time, and you know I am crazy.
So I wrote this piece of fucking shit instead.
I hope you like it.