Sometimes I hate being a reviewer. I'd rather just be a reader, with no goal other than self-entertainment and occasional enlightenment. Instead, I'm engaged in ongoing evaluation every time I open a book or a PDF file. It doesn't matter whether I plan to review the book or not. The critical mindset becomes a habit. These days I can't just read; I have to judge.
When I was still innocent--many years ago, before I began writing reviews--I might well have loved Threesomes. I've always been attracted to the notion of ménage (even before I had the chance to participate in one). I especially like group sex where everyone gets it on with everyone else regardless of gender or ostensible orientation. Threesomes indulges my polymorphously perverse tendencies by serving up pretty much every combination imaginable: gay men who are still not opposed to having sex with a woman, straight women drawn into lesbian embraces or bonds, straight men willing-- no, eager--to bend over and offer their butts to their queer companions in the mini-orgy. Even"straight" male-female interactions take on new spice in the context of additional participants.
I give Ms. Perkins, the editor of this collection, two thumbs up for the variety of its stories. I wish that I could say the same for the quality of the writing.
Of the dozen stories in this anthology, only three stand out for me as both original and well-written. "Center Part" by Hobart Glass offers an intriguing three-way lesbian encounter in which one of the participants is in some sense imaginary. Natalie is seriously in lust with her gorgeous hairdresser Hillary, but still holding a torch for the mysterious Safi who was Natalie's first woman lover. Safi returned to her native Africa and then disappeared, leaving a huge hole in Natalie's life. Hillary manages to conjure Safi to join in Natalie's sexual healing. The result is arousing and erotic in the truest sense of the word, as rich with the ache of desire as with its fulfillment.
Cynthia Genty's contribution "Just Friends" is fascinating because of the complex relationships between its characters. "Back when Matt and I were trying to be lovers, he used to talk dirty to me on the phone," Ms. Gentry's tale begins. Matt and the narrator have a powerful sexual connection, but personality and circumstances become obstacles too serious to overcome. They decide to be just friends, but when they meet for a seemingly casual drink, the narrator discovers that Matt still recalls her fantasies and is eager to fulfill them. There's no happily ever after, though--at least not for her and Matt.
The third gem in this anthology is Kilt Kilpatrick's hilarious "Later, Day Saints":
I know, I know, this is the part where I go straight to hell. But can you honestly blame me? Are you trying to tell me you wouldn't have done the same thing in my place? Bitch, you are such a liar!
So listen, there I am, minding my business in the Swinging Bachelorette Pad. I should have been working on my term paper, but I was still collating my data and letting the outline marinate a while. Get off my case already, that's my process, and you have to respect that, right?
I was giggling already, but my amusement turned to awe as I watched how the narrator systematically seduces and corrupts the two (extremely cute) Mormon missionaries who show up at her door. Actually, this is not the first story I've read based on this premise. (The other was equally good, but the main character was different enough that this seemed original.) The sexual shenanigans that ensue are playful but intense, cleverly skirting the edge of parody without stepping over.
Moving from the special to the adequate, Em Brown's "And Damian Makes Four" and Brit M.'s "Two Men and a Lady Prequel" are competently composed stroke fiction, replete with sexual activities but with little plot or point. Readers whose main interest is arousal will probably enjoy them.
The remaining stories in the collection are hackneyed, badly written, or both. As a policy, I don't mention the names of stories that I rate negatively. I'm an author myself, and I know how much that would hurt. Suffice it to say that the other offerings in Threesomes ranged from the implausible and incoherent fantasy scenarios buried in purple prose, to painfully amateurish efforts that read like offerings on a free "true confessions" website. (Sorry but I don't consider references to a woman's "rack" and "jugs" to be at all erotic.) In one case, I debated whether the story was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, a clever imitation of some vintage tale from the days of the alt.sex newsgroups. I decided, alas, that this was not the case.
Group sex is a potent fantasy, and this book tries to tap into that erotic potential. It succeeds only occasionally. One might ask whether a few noteworthy tales might be enough to save a book. However, I've read some anthologies lately in which almost every story was exceptional. Those books set the bar pretty high.As I said, unless you're snarky by nature, it's no fun being a reviewer. Readers less particular than I might get off on Threesomes, but I can't really recommend it.