In his introduction, the editor says:
My quest to create this anthology stems from a conversation I had some years ago with Calvin Herndon, author of the bestselling Sex and Racism in America, who told me, shortly before I attempted my first erotic story:
‘When Black people are allowed to indulge the usual sins, the customary fetishes, and all the regular vices humans are permitted, then they will have achieved total sexual citizenship. Otherwise, they will remain trapped in the usual stale stereotypes and labels the world has assigned to us.’
So Cole Riley set out to collect erotic stories about (and by, as far as this reviewer can tell) people of African descent.
“All the regular vices” is a mixed bag. If the editor’s goal was to collect a diverse set of stories, he more-or-less succeeded. These stories vary in tone and subject-matter, although most are heterosexual.
Attraction between men only occurs out of sight, on the other side of a wall, in “Keeping Up with the Joneses” by Reginald Harris. In this story, a married man who claims to be squicked by the mere thought of two men in bed together is inspired to enjoy more sex with his wife by the sounds of bed-thumping from the gay neighbors in the house next door. In “Velvet,” Fiona Zedde (a brilliant world-builder) describes a bittersweet lesbian initiation.
Several of these stories are essentially “dirty jokes” (a brotha gets some from a sista, heh-heh). In “Three Kisses” by Preston Allen, Docta Love decides to seduce a well-built female dealer in a casino by offering her a large amount of money for three kisses over three nights. She insists that she is happily married with children, but she could use some help in remodeling her bathroom. The deal goes far beyond three kisses, and the reader is clearly meant to be amused, but this one was annoyed. Docta Love comes very close to the traditional stereotype of a black pimp, dripping with bling and false promises, and he persistently refers to his love-interest as a PR (Puerto Rican). Not that she deserves more respect than he does. So much for breaking out of stale stereotypes.
“Got Milk?” by Monica Elaine is an unbelievable story about a horny woman who opens the door to a strange white man while she is wearing a bathrobe and nothing else. It seems he wants to borrow some milk, but he has a white fiancée who is both suspicious and attracted to the female narrator. At some point, all three are literally sliding about in spilled milk. Huh.
Then there are stories of apparently random but plausible hook-ups such as the relationship between Aden and Yanni in “Rain” by Kweli Walker, a union of intellectual soul-mates that started with a wrong telephone number.
In the poignant “For Nita” by Jolie du Pre, a downtrodden wife gets out of her marriage and improves her life with help from her best friend Nita, a successful psychiatrist. But as in most such stories of transformation, the mentor can’t control her creature or protégée, and when the newly-empowered woman trusts her instincts and a pair of strangers to give her what she wants, Nita disapproves. The saying that you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs seems relevant here.
In “Hung by Zetta Brown, a woman called to jury duty finds ways to cope with the frustration and boredom of being sequestered for weeks with other jurors, one of whom is definitely “hung.” Of course, this term can be applied in a legal sense to a jury as a whole. This sexual joke tickled my funny bone, since it implies that satisfaction can be found in the least likely places, in the midst of ambiguity and disagreement.
One of the themes of this anthology is the influence of Fate or serendipity in bringing the right two people together, and this theme can be found in almost any erotic anthology. Then there are some themes that seem more specific to the African diaspora. One is the attractiveness of women (especially) and men who would be considered fat by current (white, mainstream) standards of beauty. Lush, fleshy curves are described with enthusiasm in these stories. As the male Master of two submissive women says in “Welcome Home” by Shakir Rashaan:
I’m a big man myself, so there’s not much that a petite girl can do for me but introduce me to her thicker girlfriend. I’m sorry, but bones do hurt.
The mutual admiration and confidence of the full-figured characters in this book are a refreshing change from the images of anorexic fashion models that are often presented in the media as ideal women, in groups that usually include token featherweight women of color.
Another theme in this collection could be defined as “Roots.” In these stories, characters discover, or rediscover, their sexuality by returning to their personal places of birth, or to the homeland of their ancestors, which seems both strange and familiar. In some cases, characters heal themselves by revisiting an old trauma. The best of these stories have a kind of magnetic power that suggests “roots” in the sense of magic, or kitchen voodoo.
In R. Gay’s “Strangers in the Water,” the female narrator brings her husband and twin sons from the United States to visit her grandmother in Haiti. The narrator, unlike her mother, feels drawn to the scene of a crucial event:
I owe my existence to the frantic coupling of two strangers in 1937 in the shallow and bloody waters of the Massacre River that separates Haiti from the Dominican Republic.
In the story that has been passed down, the grandmother mated with a fellow-refugee in the river, where soldiers on both sides were hunting them down. Jean-Marc, the temporary lover, had already been killed when the grandmother discovered that she was pregnant, but he lives on in family lore as the husband she never had. The narrator’s living husband helps her to pay homage to the past.
In “Sex and Chocolate,” the female narrator comes home from New York City to the island in the Bahamas where she grew up, a place that (like Haiti) seems closer to Africa than to the U.S. There she meets an honest homeboy who is wiser and better for her than the shallow playboy who tries to get her into bed.
In “Lights on a Cave Wall,” Kira and Imbe, a kind of generic couple, seduce each other in Cuba, in a climate described as sexy by nature:
It was the kind of heat she’d only felt in private places, places only he touched. As she sat on the fine gray sand near the mouth of the cave, she could feel the sun awakening her to memories that made her body ache.
This story borders on melodrama, but Imbe’s story of two kindred souls who seek each other through several generations fits with the slow and hypnotic sex he shares with Kira in the cave, their natural home. By the last paragraph, she is convinced that she loved him even before they “met” in their current lives.
In a sadder, parallel story, “When the River” by Leone Ross, the heroine meets “a man of integrity” in an old, romantic hotel somewhere in Europe. Rosemarie and her new friend try to resist their mutual attraction. Even though they seem to be soul-mates, he refuses to break his commitment to another woman.
The theme of a healing sexual journey gets an unusual treatment in the editor’s own road-trip story about a traveling preacher-woman and a desperate man with a gun who thinks he has nothing to lose. They only have one night together, but it is enough to change their lives.
To sum up, I found this anthology extremely mixed. The best stories in it are ht, compelling, emotionally honest and as powerful as the best literary fiction anywhere. The worst make adequate one-handed reading, but they (like the “petite girl” disdained by the “big man”) are just too thin in comparison.
“Blues is a feeling. You can write the truth with the blues. In the blues line, it always brings up on somebody you love or somebody who quits you. The blues gets to the nitty gritty with no foolishness in it.”
—Bukka White (1966)
THERE ARE only a few dream assignments which fall in the lap of a writer. When an editor asked me to pilot a collection of erotic stories based on the blues. I leaped at the glorious moment.
This is how Cole Riley’s introduction to Too Much Boogie begins. And, I have to admit, I find this somewhat daunting. Whilst I can identify with the enthusiasm that anyone feels for their personal passion, I’m not a big music fan. I enjoy some classical stuff. And I can sit through an opera or a musical without self-harming. But if someone turns on a pop radio station in my presence I will punch them in the face. And if they start to tell me about the soul-satisfying qualities, or the truthfulness of a piece of jazz, one of us will be poisoned.
Fortunately Too Much Boogie does not come with a soundtrack. And, from the moment I read Alegra Verde’s “The Things I Used to Do,” I have to admit I was hooked. The eroticism is frank and powerful. The content of the first story is written with an attention to stylish sexuality that is swift and scorching. And, as it transpires, you don’t have to have an innate understanding of jazz, or the blues or any other type of music to enjoy the content of this book. All you need is an appreciation of well-written erotica.
In D L King’s “She had to go and Lose it at the Astor” the eroticism lurks constantly beneath the surface of a misdirecting narrative. The protagonist, Minnie, presented as a model of decorum and naïveté, goes to the Astor with the intention of losing it. And it would be a hard-hearted reader who doesn’t lose it before the conclusion of this particular story. Superbly exciting writing.
Or take Lisabet Sarai’s “Red Eye.”
She arched her back, letting him bury his flesh more deeply in hers. She clenched her inner muscles around his hardness, wanting to swallow him, to make him part of her. He rammed his cock into her again and again, one hand over her mouth to stifle her cries. She writhed against him, each stroke a shuddering, prolonged delight that nudged her closer to the ultimate pleasure.
Aside from being devilishly erotic, as Sarai’s writing always is, ‘Red Eye’ is tinged with a bittersweet pathos that makes the sexual excitement all the more vivid.
Occasionally whilst going through this anthology I feared that the content suggested a Marxist reading. There seems to be a strong correlation between sex and money in several of the stories. There also seems to be heavy reliance on the objectification of the female as though she’s an accoutrement or accessory to be purchased and possessed.
But, from the little I understand of Blues music, the typical lyrics of this genre tend to suggest objectification and the commodification of sexual services in a patriarchal hegemony. Which is my way of saying that this semi-misogyny is appropriate for the theme of the stories.