For some, power is the ultimate aphrodisiac: power to control a partner, to wring pleasure or pain from the other's body at a whim, to submerge her in shame, humiliation, even terror, yet still see her obey. For others, ecstasy can be found only in surrender, in the freedom that comes from opening the self to the lover and holding nothing back. When someone of the first type comes together with someone of the second, their complementary passions can produce a bond of awesome, dangerous strength.
Maya and Ilan have a love like this, pure and fevered, a connection that sets them apart from the world. Ilan's power is borne of knowledge. He sees Maya truly when everyone else quietly ignores her: her rilliance, her vulnerability, the physical and emotional depths of which she is capable. They meet when they are in their late teens, but Ilan has insight and sexual skills beyond his years. He teaches Maya about her capacities, tapping into her need to be mastered even as he molds her into the woman he wants her to be. Thirsty for love, Maya submits eagerly, seduced and transformed by Ilan's focused desire.
Ilan need for Maya is equally intense. He basks in the totality of her devotion. But for him, she is not enough. He needs to prove his mastery by captivating and bedding other women. When Maya discovers him in flagrante, his pain at the possibility of losing her is nearly as great as hers at the betrayal. And so they strike a bargain. Maya agrees that he can have other women - but only if she is present and included. Gratefully, Ilan responds by marrying her.
For a while, it appears that they have found a perfect, if unconventional, solution. Maya finds their kinky games with the women Ilan chooses doubly arousing. Not only is she pleasing him, she finds her own pleasure in the silky, wet flesh of their partners (deliberately selected to resemble her, with the same red hair and slight frame).
Each time Maya acquiesces to Ilan's demands, however, they become crueler and more extreme. Little by little, playful bondage and blindfolds give way to "play" with razor blades and revolvers. Maya begins to understand the darkness edging the blaze of their passion. She senses that if she does not eave Ilan, he will eventually kill her. Still, she is paralyzed, unable to imagine life without him.
The twists of plot that follow are part of the delight and anguish of reading '3'. Maya escapes from Ilan, and yet she can never escape him. I will not reveal the details here, but merely warn that the story is shocking, surprising, and deeply revealing.
Ms. Hilden writes with authority and sensitivity about the darker aspects of sex. She shows clearly how Maya and Ilan's connection, rooted in complementary perversities, becomes an obsession that literally threatens their lives.
Here is Maya speaking, after Ilan is gone:
That first night at home, I let sleep take me very early in the evening. As I become drowsy, watching the light outside the windows fail and fade, it is as if I begin subtly to feel myself disappear.
As I shimmer out, I begin almost to see you, Ilan; the dark bruise-like circles under your eyes start to resolve. I cannot help it; my heart races with a mere glance...Burning, I rise in sleep, like a body jerked upward by invisible strings -- as if in a moment I will levitate. Pleasure runs through me like a tremor, like a seizure, like faith.
This is no ordinary love; it is diabolical and all-consuming. Nor is the sex in '3' of the ordinary variety. An edginess pervades every sex scene, even the most vanilla. The characters are constantly pushing boundaries, and pleasure is always tainted: by fear, by shame, by insecurity.
I do not mean to imply that '3' is not arousing. Ilan and Maya's encounters, on their own or in their contracted threesomes, have a breathless immediacy that pulls the reader into the scene. However, the sex in '3' is always a cipher, a physical manifestation of motivations and conflicts far more tangled than the intermingling bodies. Even as my pulse raced, I was acutely aware of the ambiguities and dangers lurking below the surface.
Ms. Hilden has created a compelling and disturbing novel, one that will haunt you long after you have finished reading, as the vanished Ilan haunts Maya. Weeks after I completed the book, it still colored my thoughts. I suddenly recognized the irony in the title. No matter how many women Ilan brought home for ménages a trois, finally there remained only Ilan and Maya, only two. Or perhaps, in a seductive, frightening and yet starkly true sense, one.
I first read '3' six or seven years ago. The review above dates from that first reading. The book has been reprinted (if you can use that term for an ebook) by Constable and Robinson as part of their Modern Erotic Classics series, which includes other favorites of mine such as Neptune & Surf by Marilyn Jaye Lewis, Meeting the Master by Elissa Wald, and Remittance Girl's Beautiful Losers. I re-read the book with mixed trepidation and curiosity (and without consulting my old review first). I remembered the dark eroticism of the book, but not the plot details, and I wondered whether my reactions, after more than half a decade of reading and writing erotica, would have changed.
This time around, I found myself more aware of the undercurrent of violence that suffuses the book and less tolerant of Maya's inability to extricate herself from Ilan's influence. Although ultimately she proves strong enough to save herself, I found myself losing patience with her devotion to her cruel lover. The first time through, also, I was as fascinated and aroused by Ilan as she is, identifying him, perhaps, with my own master. However, on this reading, Ilan's seductiveness was offset by his manipulative selfishness. I saw how severely damaged he is and found it more difficult to believe in the incandescent love the two appear to share at the beginning of the book. Perhaps I have become more cynical or more jaded, less starry-eyed about the redemptive power of BDSM.
With more writing experience under my belt, I was also acutely conscious of Ms. Hilden's considerable craft. For instance, I noticed that '3' is divided into three parts, which fit together like a cleverly designed puzzle. I probably missed the foreshadowing the first time around, swept away by vicarious lust, but upon this reading I realized how deliberately each detail in the story is arranged to heighten the emotional effect. I admired the language too, Maya's distinctive voice is simultaneously crazed and literate, desperate and analytical, and (despite my annoyance with her) eminently believable. After all, there are many women who die at the hands of their abusive partners, bound to them by some twisted sense of devotion.
This new Constable and Robinson imprint sounds exciting. However, I must warn readers that the ebook I received (which I believe is as-published, not an ARC) had serious format problems. Many pages contained instances of weirdly garbled text. My theory is that the manuscript was created by scanning the original print volume and then applying Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to produce the digital version. This procedure typically produces many errors (this is where Google's CAPTCHA strings come from) which must be corrected via manual editing. Obviously these corrections did not happen, at least in some cases, with this book.
In addition, the font size changes dramatically at the start of Part 3, becoming so large that there are only four or five words per line. There did not seem to be a way to change this in the PDF version I read.
As an author myself, I feel some sympathy with Ms. Hilden. '3' is a compelling book, probably deserving the appellation of “modern erotic classic”. It is unfortunate that the publishers did not make the effort to present the novel in as clean and readable form as the original.
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.
In 1926, Sara Newsome, daughter of a black British physician and his high-society white wife, journeys to glitzy bustling Harlem to make silent films. Sara doesn't merely want to act, however; she wants to produce and direct her own movies, movies about love, life and sex aimed at a black audience. She has the gift of revealing the sensual truth even in a feigned sexual encounter. Furthermore, she's not afraid to break the rules and expose the naked flesh and raw emotion of actual couplings - working both in front of, and behind the camera. Struggling against economic and social constraints, Sara nevertheless assembles a small, dedicated band of talented black actors, writers, directors and technicians, and founds Sapphire Films in a flat upstairs from a hardware store on 125th Street. The company makes blue movies with a difference: plot, intelligence, emotion, fantasies that nevertheless speak directly to their audience.
A Darker Shade of Blue follows Sara's life and career through roaring twenties New York, with its speakeasies and rent parties, to Hollywood during the Depression, though the Second World War and into the repressive Fifties. Sara's beauty, wit, creative genius and unfettered spirit draw both men and women. Her lovers include Gil, her director, collaborator and creative rival; alcoholic playboy Benjamin Austen, whose cynical humor hides his deeper feelings; and the charismatic, ambitious and radical Paul Robeson. She faces challenges from bigoted politicians and empty-headed studio executives, as well as from the people she cares for. She is lionized and abandoned, achieves notoriety as well as some genuine artistic regard, but is eventually ousted by the directors of the studio she founded, and left to begin again.
This book is a genuine historical novel, but does not completely fit my definition of erotica. Although it includes multiple graphic sex scenes between Sara and her various partners, as well as a few matings in front of the camera, sex is not a primary motivator of the narrative. In fact, the sex could be removed or at least muted to the PG-13 level without impacting the story significantly.
This is not necessarily a complaint. The tale of Sara's odyssey from porn extra to cultural icon is engrossing in its own right. Furthermore, the sex is not gratuitous; it does help develop Sara's character and those of her companions. It's also generally enjoyable, hot and sweet, slightly naughty without dark edges.
I suppose that ultimately, the category to which one assigns a book does not matter. The real test is whether the work leaves you satisfied or disappointed. Although I enjoyed A Darker Shade of Blue, while I was reading it, in retrospect I was aware of its weaknesses.
It's obvious that Ms. Campion engaged in significant amounts of research in preparation for writing this book. She dwells on historical details such as the advances in movie-making technology and the social structure of 1920's Harlem. Somehow, though, she did not manage to bring history alive, at least not for me. (This is, of course, an extremely difficult feat to accomplish.) Her New Yorkers feel more like tourists than denizens. The book spans nearly five decades, but I didn't have a strong sense of the changes those decades brought - changes in mood and world-view. Every now and again, an anachronism was jarring enough to completely pull me out of the scene. For example, I'm fairly sure that no woman in the twenties would gush over a man's "abs" and "pecs".
My other disappointment relates to the character of Sara, and is more idiosyncratic. She is a believable character, an admirable character - but ultimately, despite all her carnal encounters, she struck me as cold. The book covers much of her life, and during that life she experiences many lovers, but little love. She feels affection, respect, lust even jealousy. However, there is no great love in her life, no relationship that even begins to mean more to her than her ambitions and artistic vision. I'm undoubtedly being influenced by the conventions of the romance genre. However, without that romantic spark, I felt that her life, full as it was of adventure, innovation, and achievement, was somehow empty.
I must admit that I loved the ending of the book. It's the early seventies, the era of anti-war protests and black power. Sara and Gil are invited to address a Film Studies class at Columbia University, to discuss their early silent work. They screen one of Sara's first films, one which broke taboos by showing Sara and Gil actually making love. The scene has as much impact on this audience of hip young people as it did when it was first released, shattering their presumptions and exciting their senses. The reader remembers the chapter, early on, when this scene was created, and smiles with the sense of completion.
A Darker Shade of Blue is an original and quite ambitious novel that explores little known corners of black American history. While it is not without flaws, it is different enough to be worth reading.
Accidental Slave opens in a dungeon. A dom named Gary ferociously whips a bound and gagged submissive while ruminating on his anger towards his boss Elizabeth. He transfers that rage to his flogging, continuing to lash at the slave even after she executes the gesture they've agreed upon as a signal for him to stop. He even calls the poor woman Elizabeth.
I'll be honest. I nearly stopped reading right there. The scene set all my red lights flashing. If I had not committed myself to reviewing the book, I probably would have tossed it out, assuming (incorrectly) that this was an example of the kind of crude non-consensual smut that gets some people off.
As it turns out, that would have been a huge mistake. In fact, Claire Thompson's novel revolves around the sort of ethical, tender and romantic D/s relationship that pushes all my buttons. The individual introduced in this first scene is the villain in Ms. Thompson's saga. Passed up for a promotion to vice-president when his company decides to hire the eminently qualified Elizabeth Martin, Gary Dobbins plans a devious revenge on the woman he sees as his nemesis. Accompanying her to a company-sponsored charity function, he spikes her drink with a date rape drug and leads her to a BDSM club, where he offers her for sale at a slave auction. Handsome, wealthy dominant Cole Pearson purchases twenty-four hours of play with the gorgeous brunette, only to have her pass out on him when he gets her home.
From this point, the book focuses mostly on the relationship between Elizabeth and Cole. They are irresistibly attracted to one another, but Cole wants more than just sex or even love. He seeks a true D/s partnership with a woman who is as serious and committed to exploring the boundaries of power exchange as he is. His first marriage fell apart because he couldn't be honest about his real needs. He is determined that this is not going to happen again.
Ambitious, intelligent, and work-obsessed, Elizabeth initially seems like an unlikely submissive. However, Cole sparks her curiosity with his talk, and his demonstrations of the seductive nature of erotic power. Gradually Cole leads her deeper into submission, to the point where she agrees to spend two weeks (her long delayed vacation time) in 24/7 slave training. This is a make-or-break experiment for both protagonists. Although Cole has the typical confidence of a dom, he really doesn't know if Elizabeth is capable of the sort of surrender he requires.
The book includes a subplot in which the evil Gary attempts to blackmail and disgrace Elizabeth, while she and Cole struggle to unmask his deceptions. For the most part, however, Ms. Thompson is concerned with the growing attraction and trust between Elizabeth and Cole. Elizabeth's work is a serious obstacle to their deepening bond. She uses it as a shield to keep Cole from getting too close, as an excuse for lateness and even disobedience. Cole's patience is tested again and again, but unlike Gary he understands that anger has no place when punishing a slave.
Accidental Slave is smoothly written and professionally edited. And of course it involves my personal favorite erotic scenario: initiation of a new submissive by a caring yet authoritative dominant. By the time I reached the chapters detailing Elizabeth's training (which are relatively hard-core BDSM, not merely a few bonds and spanks), the book was pushing my buttons and influencing my dreams.
Somehow, however, I found the end of the book less satisfying. As the two-week training period nears its end, Elizabeth's resistance has melted away. She has been transformed into the willing and skillful slave of whom Cole has dreamed. The two look forward to an idyllic future together. In short, the book concludes with a happily-ever-after (except for Gary, who is subjected to a particularly appropriate revenge).
In trying to analyze why this conclusion felt like a let-down, I came up with two theories. First, it was too easy. Elizabeth is not going to abandon her work, and there are bound to be conflicts with her relationship, committed as she is. Second, although the book includes many climaxes with a lower case 'c', there is no real Climax, no single transcendent interaction that pushes the D/s connection to a higher level. A collaring, a branding, some ritual in which Cole seriously took possession of Elizabeth, would have helped. After the emotional intensity of the earlier parts of the book, the ending was surprisingly bland.
I debated for a long time how to rate this book. (I really wish that Erotica Revealed didn't have these ratings, to be honest.) Starting the book with the villain's scene was, I think, a mistake on Ms. Thompson's part. Readers with tastes similar to mine will be turned off and not continue. Ending the book with a ho-hum HEA also detracts from what, overall, is an arousing and competently written BDSM tale. However, I ultimately recognized that very few erotic books manage to engage my personal fantasies the way Accidental Slave managed to do for much of its length. For this accomplishment, the book deserves a thumbs-up.
Ella Husted feels like she's burning up. Her skin is crawling with energy, she's so hot she can scarcely bear to put on clothes, and she's so horny that even her succubus roommate Kate is keeping her distance. In the bar she and Kate own together, men and women flock to her like ants to honey. She's raw sex, pheromones saturating the air, carnal power whipping through the environment like lightning. Her heart's beating so fast it is literally close to exploding.
Enter Dominic Sebastian, ancient, influential and (of course) breathtakingly gorgeous vampire, with his young (merely one hundred years old) surfer-boy lieutenant Rick. They've been charged with protecting the unwitting woman from hurting herself or others, and with educating her regarding her true nature. The first step in their mission requires an intense, three-way orgy in order to drain some of her sexual energy as well as her excess blood.
Dominic tries to ignore the evidence that Ella is his predestined soul-mate – the fact that they cannot read one another's thoughts, even though both are telepaths. For a vampire to bond with a human is rare and fraught with problems, even if that human is not a Benefactor as Ella appears to be – a genetically-determined natural donor who can satisfy a vampire's need for blood, indeed, who must provide some of her overly-abundant blood in order to survive. Benefactors appear normal until some vampire induces physiological changes by feeding upon them. Dominic and Rick must determine who induced Ella and why. Meanwhile they face the even more difficult task of persuading Ella to accept her powers and undergo the training necessary to use them safely. Ella is stubborn and a bit bitchy, an orphan and a pragmatist who does not believe in the supernatural, despite her own ability to read minds. She's also a woman with an overactive libido who loves sex but who runs at the hint of any emotions more enduring than pure lust.
As you can probably determine from the synopsis above, Intoxication is erotic romance, not erotica – indeed, an instance of the hopelessly overpopulated subgenre of vampire erotic romance. Nevertheless, the book has some original twists and overall provides an entertaining reading experience on the way to its predictable happy ending.
Ms. De Paulo's vampires are born, not made. They are not undead, but more like a different species or a genetic aberration. They have organized themselves into an elaborate hierarchy and maintain databases of other unusual sub-species such as succubi and Benefactors. Over the course of the book, we meet vampire senators, judges, enforcers, and obnoxious teenagers. They're not monsters at all, even the deliciously seductive female villain – at least not any more than a human might be.
Ella is a somewhat inconsistent but vivid character. She's totally shameless and delights in being a slut - “porno Ella” as she calls herself. Her history and her powers turn out to be a good deal more complicated than Dominic realizes, and she grows into her new role as she learns more about her heritage.
The sex scenes in Intoxication are graphic and arousing, though not particularly extreme or original. I liked the difference in emotional tone between scenes driven by paranormal sexual energy (including the initial ménage), and scenes where there is a deeper connection between Ella and her partner. Pervert that I am, I would have welcomed more multi-partner and lesbian action, but as the book goes on, Ella (in typical romance fashion) cleaves ever closer to Dominic, the man for whom she is destined and to whom she is psychically bound.
The writing is not particularly exceptional but on the other hand it doesn't get in the way of enjoying the story. I wish I could say the same about the editing; there are frequent problems with extra, missing or erroneous words which should have been caught in the copy editing stage. Ms. De Paulo introduces welcome flashes of humor that convinced me she was well-aware of the over-saturated quality of her chosen sub-genre. My favorite was a scene in Ella's kitchen, where Kate reveals her succubus nature and Dominic and Rick try to get Ella to believe they're blood-drinkers. As the reality sinks in, Ella grabs a bottle of garlic salt and starts sprinkling it all over the table and the counters. I laughed out loud.
The lurid cover for Intoxication, featuring a fanged hulk with radioactively-glowing green eyes and massive man-titties, may also make you laugh. However, I have to admit that my dire expectations for Intoxication were not realized. Ms. De Paulo's entry into the crowded field of vampire romances is actually quite a lot of fun, reminding me a bit of Richelle Mead, but with much more explicit sex. If you like the genre, you're looking for entertainment rather than enlightenment, and you're not allergic to romance, give it a try.
"Happy families are all alike," according to Leo Tolstoy. After reading Afternoon Pleasures, one might begin to wonder whether this is true of happy couples as well.
In this volume, Shane Allison has gathered seventeen explicit tales of gay sexual encounters, the preponderance involving men in long term relationships. True to its subtitle, the book serves up tale after cum-drenched tale about men enjoying each other's bodies. Quite a few of the authors interpret the book's title literally, writing of lust-filled, stolen afternoons in hotel rooms, trailers, log cabins, movie theaters or in one case, a museum.
This anthology includes some noteworthy stories. Unfortunately, in my opinion, it lacks variety. At least three quarters of the tales explore essentially the same scenario: a committed gay couple keeping the spark alive by inviting others into their sexual play, or by introducing new toys or activities, or by swapping roles. The style tends to be rather similar from one story to the next as well. With two exceptions, all the tales use a first person POV. Big, hairy bears predominate. The sexual descriptions almost universally involve copious amounts of bodily fluids. I found it difficult to keep the stories separate in my mind because of these commonalities.
One of my favorite tales in the collection was "Public Displays of Affection" by Logan Zachary, humorous fantasy that nevertheless manages to be very hot. Couple Quentin and Casey are both employed by the same museum and have trouble keeping their hands off each other during working hours. The situation comes to a head, so to speak, when they take delivery of a dozen anatomically correct male mannequins intended for a costume exhibit. The well-hung dummies turn out to be ideal play partners. Things reach an unexpected crisis when the museum's most important donor unexpectedly shows up to inspect the new exhibition.
Kyle Lukoff's "Something Different" was another story that kept my attention. A sub discarded by his first master decides to try being dominant for a change. The beautiful FTM transsexual he encounters in the BDSM club is more change than he'd bargained for, but both participants in the scene find a connection beyond the physical pleasure.
Although it is based on a similar premise to many other tales in the book, I particularly enjoyed "One Afternoon in the Bible Belt" by Jeff Mann, because of its skillful use of language and dynamic characterization. The narrator's a burly bear, a hot-headed good 'ole Southern boy, but his partner is a lean, self-contained Yankee. The eager young submissive they make into their "boy" for the afternoon is equally distinct.
Pepper Espinoza's "Tokens" also deserves mention, not only for its vivid characters (I loved Jake, the laid-back Mediterranean bad boy who hides his corporate lover's shoes in order to keep the man in his bed), but also because it deals with the beginning of a serious relationship as opposed to one of long standing.
Overall, though, the stories in Afternoon Pleasures are forgettable, at least partly because they are so much alike. I suspect that this may reflect the editor's preferences. It makes sense that he would accept stories that he personally found arousing. It's possible that his target audience (gay couples) would agree with his choices, of course.
If you decide to read Afternoon Pleasures, by the way, do not miss Shane Allison's deeply personal introduction, "Sex is a Cock-Ring Clad Angel." It's romantic, heartfelt and sexy all at the same time. Reading it, I have some sense of what Mr. Allison was trying to accomplish in this collection, and an uncomfortable feeling that maybe I'm looking at the book through too literary a lens.
If you're looking for commitment, happy endings, and lots of hot dick and ass, this may indeed be the book for you.
I love BDSM fiction - both to read and to write. Some of you perusing this review, I'm sure, will nod your heads in agreement, possibly even more enthusiastic than I am about the genre. BDSM is sufficiently complex, however, that the same book might affect us in totally different ways.
The acronym itself signals the disparate, overlapping components of "kink." Bondage and discipline. Dominance and submission. Sadism and masochism. For some people, physical constraint and pain provide the turn on. For others, the excitement hinges on the power differential, the experience of taking control, or relinquishing it. Some readers prefer cruel, untouchable dominants and submissives reduced to the status of objects. Others focus on the ritualistic connection between the partners in the D/s dance. BDSM may involve humiliation, fear, disgust, shame, and sexual deprivation, as well as pleasure, sexual satisfaction, pride, and devotion.
Given this broad spectrum, both physical and psychological, Amber's Attraction by Annabeth Carew will very likely appeal to some readers of the genre. Unfortunately, I am not one of them.
Amber, Ms. Carew's heroine, is an aspiring actress in her twenties, distinguished mostly by her full-bosomed blonde beauty and her naughty sexual imagination. Amber attends an audition for a role as hostess for a high-profile television game show called Infinite Fun, directed by enigmatic maverick Garrett Ellison and funded by millionaire tycoon Roland Hadley. Her first meeting with Ellison excites and disturbs her. She realizes that her trepidation is justified when, on the call-back interview, he requires her to masturbate in front of the camera (and the crew). Still she doesn't refuse her screen test, even when it involves wrestling her gorgeous co-hostess Karina in a pool of lime jello. Despite her uncertainty, the chance to exhibit herself in lewd and embarrassing ways excites her tremendously. After the screen test, however, she comes to her senses and seeks out the commanding Garrett to object. He takes control, physically and psychologically, forcing her to admit to her unseemly desires and claiming her as his slave.
Amber's contract with the studio requires her not only to participate in the game show, but also to act in more private scenes for the benefit of Roland Hadley's investors and their friends. With Karina and Damon Cavill, the charming and charismatic host of Infinite Fun, Amber participates in a wide range of outrageous sexual scenarios, each more bizarre and humiliating than the last. In the books climactic scene, Karina and Amber are dosed with a potent experimental drug that supposedly turns women into nymphomaniacs and then gang banged by an entire Australian soccer team, including the coaches. The directors of this orgy, Garrett and Roland, simply watch.
You may think from the synopsis above that I object to the over-the-top sex scenes in Amber's Attraction. In fact, that's not true at all. Ms. Carew shows considerable originality in her carefully orchestrated sexual extravaganzas. Although the lime jello struck me as rather disgusting, (because of the jello, not the girl-on-girl sex!) some of the others definitely appealed. My favorite requires Amber to take the role of a prize pet pig,complete with a pink rubber mask and curly tail appended to a butt plug. She is rudely examined by the "judges" before wallowing in a pool of mud (spa quality!) and then being fucked by her doting "farmer" (Damon) while the horrified "farmer's wife" (Karina) whips her. Another outstanding scene, entitled "Three Ring Circus", casts Amber as a trapeze artist who has sold out to a rival circus. A pair of thuggish, tattooed strong men join Damon and Karina in exacting a painful, penetrating "revenge."
It's all lusty and exciting, with plenty of ropes, chains, whips, belts, dildoes, butt-plugs and gags, not to mention rampant erections, swollen nipples, soaked pussies, and stretched rear holes. No, the sex in Amber's Attraction isn't the problem. What bothered me was the characters and their relationships.
Amber is, quite frankly, shallow and stupid. She appears incapable of doing anything aside from looking gorgeous, shopping, going to spas, and having orgasms. Garrett treats her horribly (more on this later) but she doesn't have the self respect to walk away, even when she believes that she's in physical danger. It's obvious to everyone but Amber that the "experimental aphrodisiac" is a fake, a set-up to allow Amber to shed her last inhibitions and release her inner slut. Even after working with Garrett for weeks, she's not intelligent enough to understand how his devious mind works and to see through his machinations.
The Natural Submissive, who needs the Dom in order to learn about her True Self, is an archetype in BDSM literature. Female readers, especially, tend to identify with this sort of character, imagining themselves in her place. Maybe some readers will have that reaction to Amber. I couldn't - even though I've personally experienced something like the BDSM initiation to which she is subjected. She's just too wishy washy. She walks into a room, determined to stand up for her rights, only to turn to weakly protesting mush at a look from Garrett.
Meanwhile, I found Garrett truly despicable. He is arrogant and inconsiderate, showing no respect for his slave and only marginal concern for her comfort or safety. Amber apparently enjoys being humiliated, and Garrett is only too happy to oblige. He "smirks," "sneers," "jeers" and "mocks" his way through the book, ridiculing her poor attempts to understand what's going on, rarely showing the slightest interest in her feelings or well-being. He's the kind of Dom that makes some people equate BDSM with abuse.
His most grievous sin, in my eyes, is lying to her. The trick with the fake drug is simply cruel - partially because he knows she's not smart enough to figure it out. For me, the sine qua non of a BDSM relationship is trust. Garrett Ellison is not to be trusted.
There's also an element of dubious consent in this book. Certainly, there's no negotiation and no safewords. Amber never really decides to become Garrett's slave. She's totally consumed with lust for him; he proclaims that when she swallows his cum, she'll be his, and she believes him. Basically, she becomes his whore, forced to sexually satisfy Roland's disgusting cronies, making money for Garrett and Roland by acting in their porn shoots. The fact that Amber at some level seems to enjoy this doesn't necessarily make it all right - at least not in my eyes.
Of course, as I noted in my introduction, not everyone will react the way I did. Some readers find this sort of interaction arousing. They believe that the role of a Dom is to reduce the sub to nothing, to strip away every hope, every comfort. Amber's Attraction may be exactly what they're looking for.
Before concluding I want to mention the writing. Although Amber's Attraction is definitely not romance, the style borrows heavily from that genre, with plenty of purple-tinted prose. For someone who writes such extreme, diverse and unrelenting sex scenes, Ms. Carew seems to have a curious aversion to using the word "cunt" or even "pussy." (I couldn't find either one in the entire 111 pages.)
Here's a particularly egregious paragraph from page 27:
He put her out of her torment with one long, strong thrust, sinking into her hot depths without a word. Amber screamed into the black leather, overwhelmed by the sensation of the log of solid flesh stretching her tight sheath. Her sex muscles clung to his thickness while every nerve ending in her femininity sparked with delight. As he began to ram his cock backwards and forwards, Amber became almost delirious with excitement, experiencing an unparalleled intensity of sexual pleasure. Her entire being was transported by the power of his possession and she lost all sense of time and space.
Fortunately the imaginative sex tended to distract me from the writing through much of the book, though I did notice Amber on page 70 “sucking and slurping at the oasis of his loins as if she was dying of thirst.”
I'm really sorry that I didn't react more positively to this book. I wanted to. I wanted Amber to wake up and show some spine. I wanted Garrett to display a bit of sympathy, to offer her that sense of being cherished that, for a sub, makes every pain and trial worth enduring. It never happened.Other readers might not care. But I did.
What happens when you begin an erotic novel with a fascinating and provocative premise, and then invite some of the most prominent authors in the genre to serially contribute individual chapters? The result could be inspired chaos, a kaleidoscope of erotic visions and fractal views of the main characters through the lens of each writer's unique style. Alternatively, the novel could end up as an incoherent and annoying muddle. Unfortunately, American Casanova is more the latter than the former, though it does offer occasional flashes of brilliance.
Maxim Jakubowski sets the stage and introduces the protagonist in the intriguing first chapter. Giacomo Casanova, burdened by the decrepitude of old age and the bitterness of lost loves, drifts into deathly sleep in Venice in 1798 and awakens in 2005. Reveling in his renewed vigor and youth, he immediately resumes his old ways by seducing an apparently innocent Italian girl who works at the local cafe. Christiana mentors him in the strange and outrageous ways of the modern world, as well as regaling him with the pleasures of her flesh. She accompanies him to a mysterious private party where the sexual excess of the guests shocks even his debauched sensibilities. It is here, at this lascivious ball, that Casanova first glimpses the intoxicating woman he calls Athena, leashed and collared, clearly a slave, yet with a beauty and presence that pierces even his jaded heart. As Athena disappears, he vows to find her and make her his own, thus beginning the quest that will drive (albeit in fits and starts) the novel to its conclusion.
The first few chapters unwind themselves in a reasonably consistent and satisfying fashion. Christiana helps Casanova discover the source of his invitation to the ball, the enigmatic Power Company. When he makes his way to their headquarters to confront them, he is drugged and abducted. He wakes on an enormous ship, a sort of floating dungeon, where he is forced to watch Athena being abused and debauched, even as he himself provides perverse entertainment for the ship's passengers. Christiana reveals herself to be no innocent, but a lustful slut who tops and bottoms with equal zest.
The ship docks in Key West, where Casanova escapes and nearly drowns. By the time he makes land, he finds that Athena (or O, as she turns out to be named) is being auctioned to a vicious punk rocker, Toby Faith. Along with D, one of the slaves from the dungeon ship, and with the help of a local cowboy, Casanova pursues Faith's caravan, driven by his need to possess O.
At this point, the narrative begins to fall apart, careening wildly from Key West to New Orleans to Seattle to San Francisco and finally to New York. Each subsequent chapter introduces new minor characters, who pop in and out of the story, changing roles and tugging the flow of the tale out of its main channel and into weird, distracting eddies.
Mark Timlin's chapter begins the dissolution by starting to tell the story from O's point of view. Before too long, there is also a thread narrated from D's perspective. We lose the pleasure of seeing the modern world and its sexual extremes through the eyes of Casanova, a cultured gentleman from another era as well as a sexual predator, and with that loss, much of the grace and intrigue of the tale.
Mitzi Szereto violates the perfect image of O by turning her into an idiot. She sends O on a benighted quest for enlightenment, seeking a God that she identifies with Kurt Cobain among bemused drug addicts and religious fanatics in Seattle. Then Michael Hemmingson's chapter layers on the wretchedness, filth and degradation in his characteristic neo-Beat style.
The plot thickens to the consistency of sludge as new chapters introduce yet another secret society, The Order, which exists to liberate and rehabilitate slaves from the clutches of the Power Company. D, Christiana, and various other characters reveal themselves to be double, or perhaps even triple agents, in this worldwide battle for flesh and souls. Casanova (who has by this time become almost passive, suffering lust and torment as he again and again catches up with O only to lose her) realizes that he has been brought back to life by the Power Company for some obscure purpose. This intriguing concept, alas, is never elucidated, although we discover by the end of the novel that O is also a revenant, the famous submissive of Roissy who has been brought to life in the new millennium after an untimely death in the 1950's.
Maxim Jakubowski makes a valiant attempt to tie up loose ends in the final chapter, which includes dark echoes typical of his writing. The final scene returns to Venice, with satisfying unity that is sorely lacking in much of the book.
As a single narrative, American Casanova lacks coherence and focus. On the other hand, from such an assemblage of erotic luminaries I would expect some beautiful, disturbing or evocative writing, and I was not wholly disappointed. Thomas S. Roche delivers an arresting chapter in which an aroused and conflicted Casanova chastises O and wins her devotion. John Grant's chapter includes one of the most intense sex scenes in the book, a coupling between Casanova and Croy, the in-your-face black DJ/chauffeur/body guard who works for the Order. And Sage Vivant's chapter, early in the book, provides a deliciously ambiguous encounter between Casanova and a woman who might, or might not, be a resurrected ex-lover from his own time.
I was ultimately disappointed by American Casanova. I can't help but wonder about the motivations of some of the authors as they fashioned their chapters. Building on someone else's plot twists and characters must be quite difficult, but I know from past reading experience that these writers could have done better. I had the sense that some contributors were playing a game in which each tried to outdo predecessors in offering ever wilder and more outrageous characters, events and interpretations. Certainly, in many cases, there seemed to be little consideration paid to the narrative as a whole.
Although the cover glosses the book as "An erotic novel directed by Maxim Jakubowski", it's clear that he exercised very little direction over his contributors. The result is a novel that I suspect is quite different from what Maxim imagined, based on the glimpses provided by his initial and final chapters. That novel, I think, I would have greatly enjoyed.
Lately, it seems that I have gotten a reputation as a fan of femdom erotica. I have reviewed several femdom titles and I’m in process of reading another for an upcoming review. I receive unsolicited emails from femdom authors, begging me to look at their work.
Though I’m always intrigued by power exchange, I must admit that the staple elements of fetishistic femdom usually do not excite me. Many of the books I’ve read in this genre blur the line between domination and abuse to the point where I’m frankly uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong. Anyone who has read my own stories will know that I don’t shy away from heavy BDSM scenes. I don’t mind pain, as long as it is illuminated and transformed by desire. But in much of the femdom I’ve encountered, that desire is missing. The powerful women are merely cruel. They despise the men they dominate. Safe, sane, consensual – these concepts don’t seem to exist. Perhaps this is exactly what thrills those who enjoy this sub-genre, but physical and psychological abuse unleavened by any shred of responsibility or concern falls outside my personal definition of erotic.
The Ancestors of Star by William Gaius identifies itself as focused on “female domination”. However, the mood and tone of this novel differs markedly from most other femdom titles that I’ve read. The Ancestors of Star is the extended tale of a young man coming to know and to worship a powerful older woman. He is in some sense her slave, but a willing, even a joyous slave, who receives the most acute pleasure and satisfaction from serving his beloved mistress.
Tim Hyatt takes a year off from college to work in the clinic at a remote American Indian reservation. His motives are hardly altruistic; strapped for cash to go to medical school, he is hoping that the experience among the Lagalero tribe may earn him a scholarship and help him climb into the social stratum of his Chicago high society girlfriend Natalie.
The clinic was founded and is managed by Elaine Yellow Star, a tough, intelligent native RN who has a well-known weakness for handsome younger men. Working for Star is a true education for the immature, macho city boy. He learns firsthand about the bleak and brutal lives of the folk on the reservation. He begins to appreciate the spiritual bonds that unite and elevate the Lagalero community. He overcomes his original distaste for cunnilingus in order to become an enthusiastic servitor between Star’s thighs. He becomes willing to forgo his own release in order to give her pleasure. Gradually he acquires a sense of personal responsibility, and the maturity to recognize and claim what he really wants – the long-term love and respect of his demanding boss.
The Ancestors of Star includes some steamy sex scenes. Furthermore, its core conflicts deal with sexual pleasure, trust and commitment in the context of a relationship that is not exactly vanilla. In both these senses, the book can stake its claim to being an erotic work. However, the novel is far more than a book about sex. Mr. Gaius paints vivid pictures of the blasted New Mexico countryside around the reservation: stark beauty and terrible isolation. His characters, too, are vivid – not just Star, but more minor characters as well: Metal Head, the Vietnam-vet-turned-shaman; Matt Hunter, the tribal cop; Lucy White Eyes, crystal meth addict and shaman’s apprentice; Dr. Frank Willis, the honorary Navajo who is Star’s former lover. Then there’s Natalie, whose disastrous visit to the reservation demonstrates to Tim how much he has changed. Shallow, prissy, ultra-chic Natalie is almost a caricature, but her interactions with Star, the woman she senses is her rival, keep her believable and human.
I was virtually left out of the conversation, but after a few minutes, a light dawned in my thick male head. Star had somehow read Natalie’s suspicions and was cleverly disarming them. How did women do it? They read one another’s innermost thoughts, and carried on battles and alliances and betrayals, right in front of unsuspecting men, who thought the conversation was only about schools and clothing.
Soon, they had moved on to weddings, and Star told of the high point of the Lagalero wedding ceremony, which used a special pot made with two spouts. If one person tried to drink from it, he or she would get soaked. But both partners could drink from it with ease. After the drink was taken, and they had eaten cornbread from the same basket, the two were considered married.
Although the literal subjects of the conversation didn’t interest me, I listened carefully, not knowing what I might be called to account for later. In my head, I tried to translate the innocuous conversation of women:
Natalie: “My parents want us to have a big, traditional wedding, in the church. Me, I’d just as soon get married at City Hall.” Translation: ‘I’ve fought off other women before. I can fight you off, too.’
Star: “If I had gotten married, it would have been a traditional Lagalero wedding.” Translation: ‘Tim knew nothing of real sex before I got to him.’
Natalie: “That would be nice, to keep up the old traditions.” Translation: ‘I finally seduced Tim into going down on me. Once I got him to do that, he’s mine, and you can’t have him.’
Star: “Just as well, I was born on the rez, and I expect to die here and be put with my ancestors.” Translation: ‘Well, guess who taught him that, Sister! Not only does he go down on me nearly every day, he cleans my room and does my laundry and gives me back rubs. He even shaves my legs.’
Natalie bent the conversation back to the privileges and duties of a doctor’s wife. It began to dawn on me that this was Natalie’s real ambition. She was going to be a doctor’s wife. If I happened to play the part of the doctor, that would be nice. But it could be anyone, really, so long as he had ‘M.D.’ after his name.
Mr. Gaius writes with grace and insight. His prose reveals character and situation, without getting in the way. The Ancestors of Star is a long book, more than 300 pages, but I never found myself bored. This is despite the fact that the novel does not have a traditional plot arc from an initial state up to a crisis and then down to a resolution.
Instead, the novel is episodic, offering a series of mini-crises: Star’s rejection of Tim after he asserts his macho side; Tim’s near-death experience among ancient, treacherous ruins; a traditional hunt for prong horn sheep set against the background of rivalry for Star’s affection; a drug buy gone bad that leaves two young natives dead.
At one point it occurred to me that Mr. Gaius had perhaps adopted Native American narrative conventions, which do not follow the same rules as our own. Toward the end of the novel, however, I understood. The Ancestors of Star is a classic quest tale. The callow young protagonist sets out on his journey to self-knowledge and emotional fulfillment. He undertakes trials and overcomes obstacles on the way to achieving the goal that, at the outset, he does not even understand. Star is both his guide and his greatest challenge. By the end of the novel, he has become a sort of hero, glorified by his willingness to submit himself to Star’s desires and needs, as well as by his sincere commitment to her culture and her people.
I greatly enjoyed reading The Ancestors of Star. It’s a serious book, with more depth than one normally expects from erotica. At the same time, I did find it sexy, far more so than most of the other femdom works I’ve read. Tim is uplifted by his servitude to Star, and the reader is, too. The theme of sexual pleasure as a healing and ennobling force is hardly original, but that does not make it any less satisfying.
I've often observed, both in my stories and in real life, that the most erotic moments derive from complementary fantasies. Exhibitionist and voyeur. Sheik and harem girl. Strict schoolmarm and naughty schoolboy. And of course, Dom and sub. You want to do something. Your partner wants to see/feel/taste/touch you as you do it. Each participant is aware of the other's desires. That awareness sets up an erotic circuit, each person's excitement amplifying the other's arousal.
Anneke Jacob's remarkable novel As She's Told presents an extreme case of this sort of reciprocity. Her heroine, Maia, craves complete submission. She wants to be owned—the life of a slave with no choice at all. She has harbored these desires since childhood, struggling to make her way in the world, pretending to be a "normal" person, but knowing that only this total relinquishment of her will can make her feel whole and safe.
Anders is Maia's complement, a dominant who finds the games and play parties of the BDSM scene silly and frustrating. He wants complete control over a woman—the freedom to do anything at all to his slave, to require any service, to experiment with any sort of pain or bondage that appeals to him. He wants a woman to be his belonging, his chattel,"his own thing". When the story opens, though, he has almost given up hope of ever satisfying his deep-seated desire for total control.
Anders first encounters Maia in a BDSM chat room, where she asks, in response to a discussion about negotiation: "but doesn't that spoil it?" and later adds: "I mean if a sub chooses that means control. Contradiction in terms." Anders hardly dares to believe that he might have finally found his counterpart, but when they meet in person at a "munch", mutual understanding and mutual attraction are both immediate.
The early chapters, when Maia and Anders first realize that their dreams may have come true, left me breathless. Despite their lightning attraction, Anders forces them to go slowly. Step by step, he leads Maia into a new world of unquestioning obedience. All does not go smoothly. Although she is desperate to please, Maia is also sloppy, irresponsible and occasionally rebellious. In addition, she is unrelentingly horny, and Anders rarely allows her any release for her sexual tension.
In each chapter, Anders introduces new torments or requires new adjustments. A waist chain is replaced by a tight corset, then labial piercings, then a chastity belt, then a bit and bridle and leather mitts that turn Maia into a dumb animal. In the early stages, he regularly checks with his would-be slave to make sure that she has not changed her mind. By the time they have been together for a year, however, she is truly his, and he stops asking her to describe her feelings or give him feedback.
Anders is a perfectionist, a construction contractor with a passion for detail. As She's Told is almost obsessive in its descriptions of the equipment he designs to decorate, test and torture his slave. The book includes all the familiar trappings from the BDSM canon: the slave suspended and whipped; the slave plugged with dildos and vibrators but not allowed to come; the slave used as furniture; the slave eating out of a dog bowl; the slave harnessed to a cart and forced to trot and gallop. (Ms. Jacobs also dreams up some more unusual and imaginative kinks, but I won't spoil the impact by describing them here.)
We've seen all these notions before, in Carrie's Story, in the Beauty Trilogy, in The Story of O. The difference is that in As She's Told, these are not treated as fantasy. Ms. Jacob is convincingly realistic in her depictions of what Anders does and how Maia feels. At some level, this book is still a fantasy, a thought experiment exploring how an extreme Master/slave relationship might develop, but the tone demands that the reader take the whole process seriously.
In fact, parts of this book are sufficiently extreme that they may be difficult for some readers. I found that I could not read more than a few chapters at a sitting because, despite my long-time fascination with BDSM, they made me uncomfortable.
This is not (despite some horrified reviews on Amazon.com) a story of abuse. Anders does not negotiate, but he cares for his slave and makes sure that she will not be seriously injured. When he offers his brother, cousin and several women friends free use of Maia's body, he makes sure that they use condoms, even for oral sex. He is giving Maia what she wants, and she is suitably grateful. Still, I wouldn't want Anders for my Master. He's too interested in stripping away Maia's pretensions of being human. He delights in turning her into an animal or even an inanimate object. Toward the end of the novel, Maia spends eight weeks without the use of her hands, sleeping in a stall, forbidden to speak, and worst of all, banished from her Master's bed. I can scarcely imagine this—it sounds too horrible to be endured (far worse than being forbidden to or unable to come). But then, I'm not Maia. Ms. Jacobs managed to make me believe that Maia could and would endure it, in order to please Anders.
As She's Told is not without its faults. It is a long book without much plot. Each chapter pushes new limits, but there's no climax and very little conflict. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, for Maia to rebel or for someone to be hurt or killed, for some revelation or resolution, but in fact nothing much happens. We're led to believe that this relationship will continue, satisfying both of the participants, as they live out their complementary fantasies together. I think that this is Ms. Jacob's point, to suggest that such a relationship could actually exist and that it could be healthy and mutually fulfilling.
I don't know whether I am completely convinced. People change. Maia is very young (she graduates from college in the course of the book) and Anders not much older. Furthermore, it seems that there must be an objective limit to the escalation Anders practices on Maia. My Master and I have debated the question of escalation, the continued pushing of limits. Clearly there must be some point when you can't push any further without doing serious physical harm. What happens then? Do the participants get bored or jaded? Or is it the case that a truly imaginative dominant will never run out of things to do with his slave?
The very fact that I'm thinking about these issues, though, is a tribute to Ms. Jacob's skill. As She's Told is a rare item, a serious novel about BDSM relationships that does not sacrifice realism for titillation. I found it exciting, disturbing and challenging. I just bought a copy for my Master.
Editor’s note: As She’s Told was the winner of the 2008 National Leather Association-International Pauline Reage Novel Award.
These days romance rules the publishing world. Romance is the fastest growing segment of the industry. Every day, it seems, a new romance e-publisher opens calls for submissions, hoping to cash in on the romance bonanza. I just read (I'm writing this review in May) that Amazon.com has announced their very own romance imprint.
The romance genre has diversified and matured, admitting explicit sex, kink, GLBT characters, ménage and more. It has become far less stereotyped and constrained than it was even a decade ago. However, one firm requirement remains, written more or less in stone. All romance must have a happy ending. The protagonists must overcome the obstacles that separate them and have at least some prospect of a delightful future in each other's arms.
Of course, in the real world, relationships aren't necessarily like that. Furthermore, erotic intensity isn't necessarily linked to that sort of happy connection. Freaky Fountain's outstanding volume Bad Romance explores love affairs that would make the average romance author throw up her hands and run away screaming.
The contributors to this collection aren't afraid to explore the darkest aspects of desire. They break taboos left and right. The book includes incest (both consensual and non-consensual), rape, physical abuse, humiliation, drugs, cutting and castration, as well as more conventional BDSM scenarios. It's not for the faint of heart. I do not believe that the authors were aiming at shock for its own sake, though. As suggested by the sub-title, these stories actually do focus on the relationships between the characters. The relationships may be painful, twisted, frustrating, even deadly, yet they still fulfill some need. The characters know they should walk away, but they don't. Lust, and sometimes love, overwhelms reason and they find a kind of release in spite of all the darkness.
Practically every story in the collection is exceptional in both conception and execution. Jeanette Grey opens the book with the amazing “Bleeding Red,” the story of a painter and his former model, how they devour and destroy each other but cannot let go:
There's the sound of glass on the pavement, the ground littered with tiny shards. I can still see them on the back of my eyelids as they close, and then instead of ice, there's heat. Groaning into a kiss I know will only hurt me, I stare into blackness and taste hot skin. I feel tongue and teeth, and I bite down on his bottom lip, exulting at the tang of copper salt.
More subtle, but equally devastating, is Chris Guthries “Three Days in Summer.” It begins with a woman begging for a man's attention and ends with her discarding him. Over the course of the story, the power shifts, as the woman satisfies her yearning to be abused and the man becomes dependent on her submission.
“Maleficent” by Lydia Nyx is probably the most depraved tale in the collection and yet one of the most arousing, in spite of its violence and copious bodily fluids of every sort. The story is a compelling reversal of the vampire-meets-soulmate trope so popular in normal romance. Homicide detective Darius is seduced by an infinitely cruel and kinky dancer in a club. In Jordan's presence, under his tutelage, Darius discovers how savage and perverted he can be. The bloody finale is horrible yet compellingly erotic.
Jordan dropped to his knees in front of him. A dull blue light shone down from somewhere up above – blue, like they were under water, drowning. The light gleamed on Jordan's hair and filled his freakish eyes...The light glinted on the silver rings Jordan wore – a skull, a cross, a jagged winged dragon. He watched Jordan's tongue slide around the head of his cock, the tip hard and pointed under the ridge, the flat caressing the rest, then all of it sliding past his lips, into the molten recess of his mouth. All sensations were amplified almost to the point of pain.
Not every story in Bad Romance reeks of this sort of drama and evil. Some, like Anya Wassenberg's “The Affair” and S.L. Johnson's “Love Letters” focus on the banal but very real pain of attraction in the face of incompatibility – the way we sometimes seek out exactly the wrong person. “Sam and Jessie” by Ben Murray is a funny tale of two lovers who fight constantly despite their mutual affection and lust, each striving for the upper hand. It remains humorous even when the real nature of their relationship is revealed. Maxine Marsh's “Coma” portrays a “relationship” between a bereaved doctor and a woman who is immobilized but retains some level of consciousness – a truly extreme case of being unable to communicate with one's lover. Ryder Collins' “Her Heart is a Screen Door, Too” is a strange, almost poetic description of a woman who is always victimized yet remains open to love:
These are the things that Homegirl remembers from that night; these are not the only things that happened and some of them may not have even happened because Homegirl's been so drunk she's hallucinated from the drink like Toulouse-motherfucking-Latrec at least twice before that night. So it's possible that some of it's all made up.
It's possible, but I know it's not made up.
One feature of this anthology that I particularly enjoyed were the “afterwards.” Each story is followed by the author's bio, plus some comments on the genesis of the stories. I found some of these almost as fascinating as the tales themselves.Bad Romance will not be to everyone's tastes. It will offend some readers, not only because of the extreme scenarios it portrays but also because it most definitely does not qualify as “sex-positive” erotica. I'm not really comfortable myself writing the sort of violent, dystopic tales featured in this collection. Actually, I feel a bit guilty that I enjoyed the book so much. But I couldn't help it. Bad Romance is both outrageously hot and a literary treat.
“These are not nice stories,” begins Greta Christina's introduction to her collection Bending. She warns the reader to expect borderline and even total lack of consent, sexual manipulation, degradation, violation, humiliation, “a lot of fucked up shit.” Of course, one isn't completely surprised by this, given the book's deliberately provocative sub-title. Furthermore, I agree with the author's assessment. Some of the activities chronicled here are extreme even for a kink connoisseur like me. Perhaps the most notable example is a scene in the novella, which gives the collection its title, where a woman is fucked in the ass while her Domme repeatedly forces her head into the toilet water. Then there's “Christian Domestic Discipline,” in which playful mutual exploration of spanking as punishment for a wife's “sins” turns into fanatic cruelty. Or “Craig's List,” where a woman advertises for a man to literally abuse her, and finds someone who more than meets her specifications. Or the more subtly disturbing “What She's Not Telling Him:”
Their arrangement is, in theory, completely consensual. Safewords, and limits, and all the usual stuff.
What she's not telling him is that, the moment he orders her in for a punishment, all of that disappears. The moment he tells her that she must be punished – no, even before that, the moment he gets the gleam in his eye that prophecies a punishment – her submission takes over her mind, and her safeword and limits and understanding that she has consented to this are obliterated. What she's not telling him is that, for her, the game of sadistic master and obedient slavegirl is real, and is becoming more real with every passing week.
The thing is, her partner begins to change. He starts as the model dominant, asking for feedback, checking her status, remaining aware of her as a person and a partner in kink. The harder he finds he can push without her resorting to her safeword, though, the more sadistic he becomes. As he administers ever more painful punishments and demands more degrading and disgusting indignities, she becomes her own fantasy: an object with no will, no rights, no recourse. As is characteristic of many of these tales, Ms. Christina allows the reader to decide what happens next.
This book overflows with physical perversity: a woman who gets her kicks opening her pussy for audiences to admire (“Open”); an ex-nun who pays to be chastised in order to expiate her guilt, only to find she feels even more culpable than before (“Penitence as a Perpetual Motion Machine”); a couple of escapees from a religious cult who recreate the savage beatings they received for “purification” (“Deprogramming”); intense breast torture (“Breasts”); being forced into porn (“Dixie's Girl-Toy Gets Spanked for the First Time”; brutal and anonymous butt-fucking in a filthy men's bathroom (“The Rest Stop”). However, the true action in these stories happens in the mind. These stories aren't really about physical sex – they're about obsession, fetishes, psychological games, terrible fantasies, all the secret and shameful notions that run through our minds no matter how safe and sane, rational and independent and centered and mature and careful we pretend to be.
These are wank tales - Greta Christina comes right out and says so – and her attention is on the psychological impact, because that's what turns her on. It's obvious, given their recurring themes, that many of these stories represent personal fantasies. Indeed, this author is a good deal more honest than most in proudly admitting this.
Consider the opening of “This Week:”
Here's what it is this week. A girl, a college student, is being spanked by her college professor. She's young, nineteen or twenty, young enough to be in college, but old enough to have some sexual knowledge. He's older, of course, probably in his forties, dressed casually but with dignity, a trim beard with a hint of gray. She is dress, not in the schoolgir outfit of porn cliché, but in regular modern clothing that merely implies the schoolgirl look: a short skirt with a flare, a simple blouse, white panties. The white panties are important. She is bent over his lap with her skirt pulled up and her panties pulled down, and he is spanking her with his hand.
We have the setup here for this week's masturbatory scenario. Not particularly creative or unusual, but then, fantasies often are not. From here, though, the story takes a different track than the standard, because interspersed with the spankings and the scoldings, the red ass cheeks and the tears, Ms. Christina shows us what both the girl and her professor are thinking and feeling, and that's where the main erotic charge lies.
He's not an idiot. He's an adult, a middle-aged man of the world, and he can see what she wants. He wants it too; she's a lovely girl, she makes him feel powerful and wise, and the thought of bending her over his lap makes his dick twitch. At the same time, he's not an idiot. He knows how much trouble he could get into if he's guessing wrong, or for that matter if he's guessing right.
The tension between lust and responsibility – the awareness of one's own depravity and the fact that this doesn't diminish the fascinated desire – this is the payoff, not the spanking or the fucking or the abuse by itself.
Nowhere is this clearer than in the wonderful story “The Shame Photos.” There's no sex in this tale at all, just a conversation between a porn photographer and a businesswoman at a bar, during which he encourages her to elaborate on her fantasies of sexual shame. That's the key element that excites her, the element she says is lacking in the photos of his that she's seen online. Gradually it becomes clear that she will become his model, that she will let him create the shame photos she describes, that she can't help doing this because this is the essence of who she is and what turns her on. The story ends with him ordering her to go get a hotel room. The fact that she's about to obey him is the most shameful thing of all, and yet, it's just the beginning.
Ms. Christina leaves us to imagine the rest on our own.
Bending is organized into several sections, grouping together tales that the author felt were similar, under the following headings: Bad Ideas; Force, Power and Messed-Up Consent; Unicorns and Rainbows (which contains a single bizarre, hilarious story about a jilted unicorn fucking a rainbow); Religion; Sweet Stuff; and the novella “Bending.” I feel that the book would have been improved by mixing things up and providing more contrast. Some of the tales are seriously dark (as you are warned at the start). It would have provided some relief to alternate these with lighter or more emotionally fulfilling stories (like the delicious “A Live One,” about a surprisingly real encounter between a peep show performer and a customer). Also, some of the categorizations seemed strained. “The Rest Stop,” for example, the only gay story in the collection, is thrown into the religion section, simply because the characters know each other from church.
The novella, though, is in a category by itself.
Dallas, the main character, has a very specific fetish. She dreams of being bent over. What happens next can vary: punishment, fucking, simply being forced to immobility in this vulnerable position. All she really cares about is the sensation of bending, the knowledge of accessibility, the uncertainty about what will come next. She acts this out on her own; she struggles to find sexual partners who will indulge her; she has insatiable craving to be nothing but an ass in the air.
Enter Betsy, an imaginative and horny dominant who fulfills her needs as no one has ever done, and gets a huge kick out of the process. They're perfect together, until Betsy notices Dallas is still restless, and asks her what she wants.
Unfinished. That was it. It dawned on her on the bus ride home. She felt unfinished. Hungry still. Like she'd had a huge meal, with chicken and potatoes and two slices of pie, and was still staring at the pie thinking that a third slice might be nice. And for all her sex-positive, slut-positive, I-am-woman-watch-me-fuck attitude, she still thought her hosts would think she was greedy if she asked for that third piece of pie. And not without reason. Some of her hosts had thought she was greedy for wanting the first one.
Unfazed, Betsy arranges for them to take two weeks off from their jobs, and promises to bring Dallas to the point where even she has had enough. Betsy fulfills her promise, but the psychological results are not what either of them expect.
Bending is just amazing, a brilliant exploration of the inexplicable, irresistible, labile nature of sexual obsession. The earlier stories in this collection impressed me, but this final offering dazzled me with its insight even as it made me squirm (yes, me!) with its filthiness. I wanted to applaud.
The book concludes with an extensive kink resource guide: websites, hotlines and books. This useful material, along with the cautionary introduction, frame the fiction in between, emphasizing the distinction between what happens between your ears and what happens in the real world.
Bending will not please everyone. It might shock some of the readers of Erotica Revealed, and even if you're not shocked, you might not find the stories arousing. Indeed, my kink buttons are a bit different from Greta Christina's. I've never found shame to be a turn-on. Nevertheless, I highly recommend this book for its clever language and deep understanding of what makes us perverts tick. Bravo.
In the wonderful introduction to Best Bondage Erotica 2013, Graydancer promises truth – truth that can be embarrassing or uncomfortable as well as thrilling, truth that transcends the overt activities of bondage and discipline celebrated in this collection. I gave a mental nod, understanding the point exactly. I know, from personal experience, how deliberately choosing restraint can shatter fears and defenses, deliver new insights, rearrange reality. I was eager to dive into the book, anticipating more than just the clever and creative kink Ms. Bussel reliably delivers in her anthologies.
Best Bondage Erotica 2013 partially fulfills Graydancer's promise. Some of the tales touched me deeply. Some of the others left me feeling a bit cheated, focused as they were more on the actions of bondage and submission than on the emotional impact.
Of course, after the introduction, I had, perhaps, unrealistic expectations.
I particularly appreciated Valerie Alexander's “The Moons of Mars,” about a non-traditional relationship between a charismatic gay astronomy professor and his female assistant, who is hopelessly in love with him. Their strange accommodation partially fulfills the fantasies of each, and in the process binds them more closely to one another than most lovers.
I also loved“Public Spectacle” by D.L. King, an exquisite vignette that provides an inner snapshot of a female dominant using her slave in public, highlighting the love and trust that illumine the humiliation and pain.
I can sense the people around us. I know they can feel the transformation too. They have seen the plain Jane you wouldn't look twice at on the street transformed into an object of desire. As her submission deepens, she will become even more desirable, and I will become even more desirous of her.
Evan Mora's “You Can Look...” is another deliciously depraved F/f tale in which the most important bonds are the ones that connect the dominant and submissive protagonists.
“Tying the Knot” by Tiffany Reisz, in which a dominant fiancé is summoned on the eve of the wedding to remind his frantic and nervous betrothed what's really important, uses humor to expose the way submission can be a mechanism for coping.
War is a terrible truth. Three of the twenty two stories in the collection have military themes. All deal, in different ways, with the healing power of BDSM. In “This is Me Holding You,” by Annabeth Leong, a female soldier struggles with guilt, fear and incipient despair as she prepares to return to duty. Andrea Dale's moving tale “Steadfast” features a heroine trying to reawaken the desire for dominance in her wounded, Iraq-veteran husband. Louise Blaydon explores the out-of-time quality of BDSM encounters with her story “Interlude for the Troops,” in which an Army captain seeks the solace of surrender with one of his comrades.
Peter says nothing, but then,Tom doesn't expect him to. They both know that. His hands are bound at the small of his back with a length of rope that rasps at the skin, and the position thrusts his shoulder blades up and out painfully, like thwarted stubs of wings. The floor of Tom's little medic's hut is hard and unyielding under his knees and yet, somehow, these are comforting pains, compassionate hardships. Tom controls them, after all. It is out of Peter's hands.
The original bondage in Giselle Renarde's “Tree Hugger” involves bungee cords and a huge, rough-barked tree trunk. Ms. Renarde's vivid descriptions pulled me into the story, even as the sensations bring her protagonist into a new kind of communion with nature, and her lover.
“Passion Party Purgatory” by Logan Zachary stands in a category of its own. This totally filthy, over-the-top fantasy (that's a compliment!) features a sadistic and highly inventive host (Charles) who “entertains” the husbands of his wife's friends in his basement recreation room while the women are upstairs enjoying a Tupperware-type sex-toy party. Is there truth here? I suppose the fact that the Charles' straight-as-an-arrow victims discover that they're aroused by bondage, pain and homoerotic activity might count as a revelation. Anyway, the story definitely made me sweat.
The editor's own story “Foot and Mouth” concludes the collection. Rachel Kramer Bussel paints a chilling but arousing portrait of deep masochism and its perverse satisfactions.
It's not the wealth of lovers he's had before me on whom he's honed his Dominant skills, either. It's that he wants each time to be better than the last. He wants it to matter. He wants me to feel it not just on the tender surface of my skin but inside, deep down, all the way, where it counts. When he takes out his knife and traces it along the swell of my breast, he wants me to wonder, even for a split second, if he'll be careless – or, worse, careful – and break the skin. He wants me to wonder, when he tells me he's bringing guests while I'm all trussed up, if he really is, and how many. He wants me to be uncertain whether he'd actually try to get his gigantic fingers insight my tight but eager ass without lube.
Ms. Bussel's truth is uncomfortable indeed – both literally and figuratively – and yet in it's own way transcendent. I couldn't identify with the particular physical torments her Dom inflicts, but I definitely recognized the emotions.Overall, Best Bondage Erotica 2013 offers BDSM aficionados a wealth of kinky fun – with sufficient instances of deeper insight to satisfy even a picky reader like me.
Fantastic has several meanings. In the context of Cecilia Tan's new anthology, the word refers to fiction which has elements of the supernatural or the futuristic. At the same time, “fantastic” also serves as a superlative, a synonym to “wonderful,” “exceptional” or (in today's parlance) “awesome.” I have no hesitation in using the word in its second sense to describe this collection. Cecilia Tan and Circlet have winnowed down a set of more than five hundred submissions to present eighteen of the best erotic science fiction and fantasy stories that I, at least, have read in a long time.
This anthology is noteworthy both for its originality and its diversity. The tales range from Arinn Dembo's exquisitely lyrical “Monsoon” to Thomas Roche's hilarious satire, “The Night the New Hog Croaked, Or the Lascivious Dr. Blonde: A Romance”. Kal Cobalt's “The Lift” is pure cyberpunk, set in a world in which the lines between human and machine have become tragically blurred. “The Caretaker,” by Fauna Sara, offers a deliciously traditional fantasy world inhabited by unicorns and their virgins. “The Bridge,” Connie Wilkins' contribution, gives us a war-scarred veteran who encounters the mythical Green Man, while Catherine Lundoff's “Twilight” presents a sassy, modern half-vampire who meets her match in the sexy descendant of a legendary vampire slayer.
Several of the stories contemplate the distance, or lack thereof, between man and animal. In Robert Knippenberg's “And What Rough Beasts,” a faddish treatment that allows humans to become part animal results in the gradual disappearance of homo sapiens. Jason Rubis' enigmatic and disturbing “Circe House” considers transformation from human to animal, from male to female and back, as a sort of extreme fetish.
Any contemporary volume of erotica is likely to include some BDSM, and this collection is no exception. However, in the hands of these Circlet authors, the themes of surrender as a gateway to freedom; pain as a precursor to pleasure, become newly exciting. Corbie Petulengro's “The Harrowing” concerns an evil sorceress who exacts a ransom of sexual servitude from a brave female warrior, teaching her young slave how to accept her craving for submission and suffering. “Marked,” by Cody Nelson, one of my favorite stories in a book full of candidates, presents an odd plague that confers heightened sensuality and sensitivity upon its sufferers while at the same time condemning them to horrible pain if they touch each other.
“Zach forcefully unclenched his teeth and slowed his shallow breathing. He rubbed his aching cock against the mattress and felt its steady throbbing. He moved his hips rhythically under Brendan's hand. He let the pain wash through him, felt its circuit flow from point of contact to point of contact, butt to belly to breast to arm to hand. He felt the electric pricks and tingles and bites. And he relaxed his mind and invited the pain in.
Something changed then. The pain didn't go away and didn't abate, not one bit. But it was no longer something to be feared and shunned. It was searing and gorgeous and wonderful, and Zack found his body racked with laughing sobs at the joy of it.”
In the end, Zack is cured – only to realize that he still wants the lust and the pain that he has left behind.
There are many more wonderful stories in this volume. “Music from My Bones,” by Anya Levin, explores a different kind of submission, in which a woman allows her body to be played as an instrument in a performance of sexual ecstasy. Jean Roberta's “Smoke” entertains the notion that Lucifer was a woman, with all the attendant implications. “Nocturnal Emissions,” by Joe Nobel, is a delightfully sensual chronicle of an elderly Christian priest in the sixteenth century who comes face to face with the old gods and his own suppressed carnal desires.
“The Gantlet,” by B. Lynch Black, offers a parable about the dangers of too much control, set in a classic sci-fi dystopia. Renee M. Charles' “Opening the Veins of Jade” gives us oriental magic and feminine power. Argus Marks' “Copperhead Renaissance” is a creepily erotic picture of mutual addiction. “Venus Rising,” by Diane Kepler, takes us into the familiar territory of android sex toys, but adds an ironic twist. Last, but hardly least, Carolyn and Steve Vakesh offer the clever, funny “Capture, Courting and Copulation: Contemporary Human Mating Rituals and the Etiology of Human Aggression”, part of the dissertation research of a young dragon sociobiologist. (“We are educated, politically correct dragons. We do not eat humans anymore.”)
Normally when I review anthologies, I don't mention every story. Usually there are at least one or two that are better left in the dark. Often I want to allow the readers to discover some of the tales on their own. In the case of this collection, every author deserves a mention, for all of the tales are exceptional for their craft as well as their creativity.
Best Fantastic Erotica is, indeed, fantastic. I'm hardly surprised, since every Circlet anthology that I have read or reviewed deserves the superlative. For Cecilia Tan, every Circlet Press book is a personal labor of love. It shows.
I’ve been reviewing erotica for more than six years. During that period, I’ve probably read and passed judgment on at least fifty titles. (I’ll know exactly one of these days, when I finally find the time to update the publishing history page on my web site!) I wouldn’t be surprised if a quarter of these titles began with “Best”. Sometimes I wonder whether anthology editors or publishers just lack originality. Wouldn’t “Worst Bisexual Alien Leather Erotica” attract more attention?
Seriously, though, when I open another “Best” collection, I tend to do so with a barely suppressed sigh. Rarely, in my experience, do erotica anthologies deserve the superlative. Most commonly, erotica collections will have a few stories that are stellar, a few that are appalling, with the remainder being predictable and workman-like but unmemorable.
Richard Labonté’s collection more or less fits this pattern.
On the positive side, the stories in this anthology are surprisingly diverse given the narrow theme. Bondage includes rope, leather, silk, latex, hand-cuffs and even live snakes (more on this below). The essence of bondage is constraint, whether self-imposed or inflicted by another. The authors in this collection explore the broad limits of this definition. There are several tales – Larry Townsend’s giddy “My Eighteenth Birthday” and Simon Sheppard’s uncharacteristically light “The Man Who Tied Himself Up”– in which the main characters accomplish some amazing feats of self-restraint. Then there’s Doug Harrison’s sweet and satisfying tale, “The Harness”, which demonstrates that bondage isn’t just for bottoms.
My favorite tale in this collection is Shanna Germain’s “And Serpent Becomes Rod”. (I notice that Ms. Germain has received top kudos in several of my recent reviews.) The protagonist in this story, a wealthy submissive so jaded that he has become impotent, treks through the jungle to the summit of a volcano in order to meet the shaman-master whom he hopes will cure him. The shaman lives in a shack lit by hundreds of candles and inhabited by dozens of snakes. The snakes bind the man while the master takes him and makes him new.
When he stepped back, I tried to follow. The snakes held me there with a raised head, the slip of a tail along the curve of my balls. Everything drew up tight. Still. I bowed my head as much as I could without losing my breath. I waited for the man that I knew would save me.
...Something flickered at the crack of my ass. Snake tongue? Man tongue? I moaned, low in my throat.
The story is vivid, intensely physical, and unrelentingly arousing. What impressed me, though (other than the creative notion of using snakes as bonds) was the clear connection between sex and spirit. This acknowledgment that bondage might mean something, might be something beyond a mechanism of arousal, is missing in most of the tales in this collection.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Hot, anonymous sex is great, and gay fiction especially seems to like to celebrate it, as illustrated by Bill Brent’s enjoyable contribution, “Keeping It Under Wraps”:
We catch our breath, staring at each other and grinning like idiots. Soon we will leave this couch and become separated by ever-growing number of men, miles, days, years — but right now we’re just two blissed out guys, happy to be together in this room, no longer horny.
Bondage can be dangerous, though. It’s not the sort of thing one wants to undertake at the hands of a stranger. Bondage can also be a route to enlightenment, but few of the authors in this collection seem to view it this way.
A disturbing number of tales in the collection feature non-consensual sex and bondage. Perhaps the most extreme is “Marking Territory” by Sean Meriwether, about a petty criminal being pissed on, beat up and sodomized as punishment for double-crossing the boss. It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone would find this arousing — not because of the acts themselves (hey, I’ve fantasized about golden showers) but because of the absolute cruelty with which these acts are inflicted. Then there’s “The Taking of Brian Krowell”, which details a carefully planned rape. I have to admit that even though this story by Shane Allison left me queasy and uncomfortable, I was also aware that its remarkable portrait of a man driven to violence by frustrated lust made it one of the better stories in the collection.
His dick tensed in my mouth, beyond my tenacious lips, cum surging through his black body, willing or not... I left him stained with his cum, my cum, my spit, his jelly. Done. His never was my now.
TruDeviant’s “Number Twenty-Four” offers a similar scenario, a neglected and abused fag obsessed with a baseball player. In this tale the rape, though vivid and visceral, full of sweat-soaked uniforms and locker room odors, is nevertheless only fantasy. Does that change things?
At some level, all fiction is fantasy, though in some cases this is more obvious than others. Certainly the sex slave in the temple of the Owl Goddess in David Holly’s slightly ridiculous “A Gift to the Rising Dog Star” is pretty transparent, as is the world-weary dirty old man in “Norceuil’s Garden” (Andrew Warburton). In many cases, the fantasy aspect of these tales subordinates the story. There’s no real plot. The characters exist only to act out the author’s fetish. I might find a story arousing, but afterwards, when the tale releases me, I’m empty.
Some of the stories in this collection are well-written. A few show noteworthy originality. All in all, though, this anthology does not, in my opinion, completely merit its title. “Gay Bondage”? Certainly. “Erotica”? In some cases. But “Best” would be better reserved for a collection that more consistently challenges the mind and stirs the heart, as well as exciting the senses.
Anyone who is at all familiar with Singapore, in reality or reputation, will find the concept of Singaporean erotica rather difficult to believe. Who could be publishing erotica in prudish, politically restrictive, cleanliness-obsessed Singapore, where one can be fined for chewing gum or not flushing the toilet, where I once saw a movie ("Cave Girl" with a young, nubile Daryl Hannah) so severely censored that characters showed up in the credits that I'd never seen on the screen? In fact, the publishers of Best of Singapore Erotica received special permission from government censors to produce and sell this book, with the stipulation that it had to be sealed in cellophane to protect those who might be offended or corrupted by its salacious content. It was with considerable curiosity that I tore off the wrapper and began to sample what the authoritarian city-state had to offer in the way of sexy writing.
What I discovered was a collection of stories, essays and poems that help clarify why Singapore has a sex-hostile reputation. Legal restrictions on homosexuality and other "deviant" sexual acts are only the beginning. The obstacles to satisfying sex in the city-state appear to be many and formidable: ferocious upward mobility and a punishing work ethic; shortage of affordable housing, which leads to young adults living with their parents in situations with little privacy; traditional values that favor security over romance; and finally, a complex, multi-racial class hierarchy with social distances that are near-impossible to bridge.
In spite of, perhaps even because of, all these barriers, some of the authors represented in this volume do succeed in creating arousing and emotionally involving tales that I would classify as erotica. One of my favorites is Ricky Low's "Clean Sex," in which a successful young Chinese businessman falls in love with an Indonesian housemaid, only to lose her when she's accused of stealing the expensive presents he has bought for her. Another highlight is "Naked Screw" by Alison Lester, which portrays an initially confrontational but ultimately sensual encounter between a free-spirited ex-pat who likes to walk around her apartment without clothing, and a traditional South Asian laborer who claims that her nakedness offends him. Meihan Boey's "A Dummy's Guide to Losing Your Virginity," in which she chronicles her methodical approach to finding and bedding her first lover, is a clever comic gem:
"Feel free to fit us both into any convenient category of human behavior. Rest assured, I will not complain. Complaining, I find, is the refuge of the weak and unimaginative who have neither the courage to put up with shit nor the wherewithal to get out of it."
"And Then She Came," by Jonathan Lim, is a creepy yet unquestionably sexy story of a helpless student "not sober enough to be superstitious," who attracts the attention of a voracious female ghost. Aaron Ang's "A Perfect Exit" is a sweet, sentimental and finally surprising story of geriatric lust. I also enjoyed "Self-Portrait with Three Monkeys," by Chris Mooney-Singh, although it is more a character study than a story, the heroine a middle-aged career woman who consoles herself for her loveless couplings with an orgy of art. Another notable contribution is Weston Sun Wensheng's "An MRT Chronicle," a wry commentary on the trials of being young and horny in a society that offers no privacy at all.
Some of the other stories in this collection, however, made me suspect that the authors had not had much opportunity to sample currently available erotic literature. Some entries like Robert Yeo's "What We Did Last Summer," Gerrie Lim's "Walking the Dog," and Emilio Malvar's "Expeditions in the Twilight Zone," are dispassionate essays about sexual topics that are moderately intriguing but hardly engage the senses or emotions. Other tales like "Do You Have a Toothbrush?" by Lee Lien Mingmei, Rachel Loh's "Body Drafts," and Felix Chong's "Dancer from the Dance," are little more than descriptions of sexual encounters, with little if any plot. I suppose that in Singapore, the impact of simply having sex might be enough to make a story seem worthwhile, but for a reader who has been spoiled by the likes of M.Christian, Alison Tyler and Marilyn Jaye Lewis, just sex is not sufficient. Finally, there is Richard Lord's "The Phoenix Tattoos," which has the makings of an incredibly intriguing story, but which simply ends without resolution, intensely frustrating, for this reader at least.
Best of Singapore Erotica also includes a handful of poems. Most are, in my opinion, undistinguished, however Jonathan Lim's Speedo Dream is an exception, a sleek, streamlined homoerotic meditation:
i could not breathe
air whispered thinly around me
whispered sins that sounded like heaven
i longed to lick the salt off that skin
coat the smoothness with mine
All in all, Best of Singapore Erotica is uneven, but worth reading, not only for sensual thrills but also for cultural education. Although some contributions seem amateurish, the editors deserve respect for making an attempt to foster the development of erotic writing against considerable odds.
I noted that the book is available online from Amazon.com. I can't help but wonder if it arrives securely wrapped in cellophane.
What do women want? Freud’s perennial question recurs again and again in my wanderings as a reviewer through the thickets of contemporary and classic erotica. Violet Blue’s latest anthology of erotic fiction by women, and presumably for women, offers a possibly surprising answer. Women want the thrill of an anonymous encounter, the sensual high of breaking taboos, the peak experiences of pleasure or pain without the complications of a long-term relationship. Almost all the stories in this excellent volume fall into the category of sublime quickies with near strangers. One might almost call the anthology “erotic non-romance.”
Violet Blue sets the tone with her compelling introduction, “For All the Johnnys.” She begins by telling us that introductions are boring, but then treats us to a smoldering and possibly true account of sharing a lap-dancer with her fuck buddy and maybe-lover, Hacker Boy. “I never saw Johnny again,” she writes, “but I wish I could read this entire book to her.” The tale reeks of alcohol and come, garnished with tattoos and desperation, but it is sexy as hell.
Jacqueline Applebee’s “Penalty Fare” offers a furtive blowjob in the cramped bathroom of a train, an exchange for a deliberately lost ticket. Jordana Winters’ “Peekaboo” gives us a plain Jane who discovers at a sex club how much fun it can be just to watch. Saskia Walker’s lovely “Winter Heat” offers a bit of sweetness as a woman reminisces about her first orgasm, but still, it’s at the hands of a young man chance met at a bus stop. EllaRegina’s prize-winning story, “The Lonely Onanista” is an original account of a woman who lives inside the Washington Square Arch and screws any passerby who knows how to find her.
One of my favorite stories in the collection, probably because it taps into my own fantasies, is Xan West’s “Please.” The narrator meets an intriguing guy in a bar, and he fucks her, body and mind, in the bathroom.
“Here are the rules. I do what I want to you. You don’t touch me without permission. If you want me to stop, you say ‘stop.’ That is the only word that will stop me, but if I hear it, I will stop immediately. I won’t do anything to harm you, but I may want to hurt you a little, and I definitely want to fuck you. Are you game?”
Imagine hearing these words from a stranger, and then discovering, at this stranger’s hands, the purest pleasure, the truest release, that you’ve ever known. In a sense, this story distills the essence of what Violet Blue is trying to present – the intoxicating notion that the ultimate sexual experience waits for you, just around the corner, in the most unexpected places, with people that you haven’t met but who are destined to fulfill your dreams.
Of course, there are some stories in Best Women's Erotica 2008 that don’t exactly fit this mold. In “Strangers in the Water,” R. Gay’s narrator returns with her uncomprehending American husband to her native Haiti, to the river where her grandmother conceived her mother in a furtive tryst with a fugitive. Alison Tyler’s “Matthew, Mark, Luke and John” is a high-spirited romp that will make you want to return to college. Donna George Storey takes us back to the Japan of her novel, Amorous Woman, in the elegantly sensual story “Wet.” “You Can Do Mine,” by Cerise Noire, gives us a couple who have been living together for a while, pushing their limits. And then there’s A.D.R. Forte’s deftly-written tale, “Mercy,” about three co-workers whose pair-wise relationships meld into a scorchingly original ménage.
“Picture the cast of characters: Rhys — dark hair just a little too long at the neck, tie loosened slightly because it’s hot here at the hotel bar, pretty-boy mouth set in that unintentional but totally fuckable pout so at odds with his seriousness; Kyle — half a head taller than every man in the room, blue eyes, wearing the power suit to end all power suits; charisma and control in different ways.
And me, staring at both of them over my glass of cabernet, my mind so deep in the gutter I’m afraid I’ll need scuba gear to find it and drag it out again.”
Finally – well, not finally, because I haven’t covered every one of the excellent stories of the book since I want to allow you to discover some by yourself – still, I have to mention the strange and poetic “Lost at Sea,” by Peony. This story is hazy and potent, like a dream; I read it three times and I still wasn’t sure that I understood it all:
“You. A synapse fires inside my head. Somewhere near the surface I can see a faint glow fractured by surface ripples. I must be a long way under. We shouldn’t have. We did. It’s done and cannot be undone. We’re on the other side of that which had grown so large between us, the lust that devoured us, swelled fat from the absurdity of it.”
In a way, this tale echoes the exhilaration and desperation of Violet Blue’s introduction. This is what lust can do, these stories say: strip you naked, rip you open, leave you with scars that you will finger longingly in the future, when your lover of the moment is long gone – remembering.
Using the superlative “best” in an anthology title sets the bar high. Picking up this volume, a reader has the right to expect every story to be exceptional – in concept, in craft and in emotional impact. Some of the tales in Best Women's Erotica 2012 definitely deliver on this promise. Others, however, do not.
The collection begins with the sensual and original “Drought,” by Olivia Glass. A woman driving through the parched hills north of San Francisco while fantasizing about her lover is brought to a halt by traffic jam. She pulls over, abandons her car and climbs to the summit, where the physical world, as well as the inner world of desire, take on a new perspective.
The blades prick through the thin fabric of her shirt. The breeze whispers to her, across her. She slides her skirt up her legs and settles it around her hips. The wind teases her, gently. Her left hand drifts across her breasts, slowly stroking her erect nipple.
She has never been so awake or alive; her nerves are naked wires, her skin the wet pavement during a lightning storm. Her mind frees itself, expands. She feels as if a fault line along her breastbone has come apart, and now she is open to the air, her lungs expanding like slick balloons into the dusty ozone, her heart throbbing.
“Drought” is both gorgeously written and deliciously hot, a perfect pick to lead off a collection of “bests.”
“Tweetup,” by Louise Lush, comes next, a light-hearted, clever tale about the latest variety of cyber relationships.
He smiled. “I like your tweets.”
I laughed. “Now there's a twenty-first century compliment!”
The heroine encounters an on-line admirer and despite her real-world shyness, finds herself living up to the racy identity she's adopted in her forays into the Twittersphere. The story, though simple, satisfies with its good-natured, unpretentious lustiness.
K.D. Grace comes next, with her outrageous voyeuristic fantasy “Eddie's All Night Diner.” Ms. Grace's heroine gets her kicks sitting panty-less on her bench at Eddie's, watching the other customers flirt and more:
What starts as the old I'll-let-you-taste-mine-if-you-let-me-taste-yours ploy rapidly evolves into oral sex on a fork, tongues darting, lips smacking and teeth just barely grazing the flash of stainless steel as they devour sweet tart creaminess. A generous dollop of meringue topples slo-mo off his fork down into his colleague's generous cleavage.
One night a stranger invites himself into her booth and subtly dares her to become an actor instead of a spectator – with his enthusiastic participation. Not since the sixties movie “Tom Jones” has food been made so sexy!
Next in the book is the astounding “Pleasure's Apprentice” by Remittance Girl. In measured, polite, almost distant prose, the author introduces ex-college student Rebecca, who's found work in a traditional company that repairs and sells silver artifacts. Working under the tutelage of taciturn, authoritarian Mr. Pierce, Rebecca learns to polish spoons and make tea for the sales staff. It turns out that her gruff, forceful supervisor has other things to teach her as well:
It seemed to Rebecca that he held her like that for an eternity, but it couldn't have been more than a few seconds. She had the sensation that somehow, she'd just stepped off a ledge and into thin air. It lingered until, with her ass pressed tight against his hips, she felt the slow and strangely frightening press of his cock as it came alive. With his free hand, he covered her breast easily. At first the pressure was warm, gentle, but it grew into something demanding and raw. He squeezed until she squirmed, and, when she did, his other hand pushed down the front of her skirt, massive fingers wedging into the space between her legs and cupping her roughly.
“Pleasure's Apprentice” captures the gradual build-up of sexual tension better than anything I've read in years, as well as offering a fresh take on the nature of dominance and submission.
These first four stories raised my expectations for more of the same. Most of the other tales in the collection don't come up to the same standard, though. They are, for the most part, quite competent stories (although two tales which I won't name exhibited an alarming lack of control over POV, and one had me quite confused by just whose voice we were hearing). They include plenty of sex, including voyeurism, BDSM, ménage, and even a bit of gay eroticism. I enjoyed many of them. But they were far from the best erotica I've read, even the best I've read this year.
Two exceptions are Amelia Thornton's “Dolly” and Zahra Stardust's “Lolita.”
The former is a stunning first person narrative by a submissive whose “Daddy” has given her a real live doll to “play” with. The tale is shocking, even cruel, but I found its evocation of interlocking fetishes incredibly compelling.
The latter has the luscious, hazy sensuality of an opium dream. Like “Dolly,” it explores the eroticism of complementary fantasies, in this case those of a young woman and a much older man.
Now Lolita is sitting on a couch opposite a man in a hostel in Tehran. He is watching her eat watermelon that is wet and heavy as a swollen clit. The juice is leaking down her chin and she is spiting out the seeds, but they are landing on her top, already carelessly stained with juice, or on her bottom lip.
He is watching her curl those lips into a half smile to the side of her mouth, which is a bleached pink, and how somehow this makes her cheeks glow. He watches her undress him with her eyes, lazily exotic in a way that is impossibly beautiful.
Probably I am judging this collection too harshly. Many of the stories I haven't called out as appropriate to the title are nevertheless worth reading. The book includes tales from many of my favorite authors - Elizabeth Coldwell, Kay Jaybee, Tsaurah Litzky, Sommer Marsden, Jacqueline Applebee – as well as entertaining contributions from authors new to me, such as Chaparrita and Valerie Alexander. If you buy this book in the hope of reading some engaging, sexy stories to be consumed and then forgotten, you will get your money's worth.
If, on the other hand, you take the title literally, and open the book seeking erotica that truly stands out from the crowd, erotica that is extraordinary, you might, like me, be a bit disappointed.
What makes an erotic story memorable? You know the stories I mean, the ones that stick with you long after the book is closed (or your ereader is turned off). The stories that you recall days or weeks later with a frisson of arousal or a glint of joy, even when you can't quite summon the title or the author's name. What is it about those haunting, persistent tales?
For me, it takes something special. An original and surprising premise. Unusually intense, believably evoked emotion. An atmospheric environment that mirrors and amplifies the nature of the characters or the events. Or particularly creative and skilled use of language, the sort of consummate craft that triggers delight, admiration and envy, quite independent of the story content.
It's not the sex. Let's face it, even in real life, the thrills of physical stimulation and release, no matter how exquisite or overpowering, fade quickly from memory. What stays are the psychological, affective and spiritual aspects of the experience – the sense of connection or of transgression – the bittersweet knowledge that pleasure is always fleeting – the terrifying flare of understanding as you discover truths you'd always hidden, even from yourself. The stories that manage to capture these complexities and consequences of sex are the ones I'm most likely to appreciate when I read them, and to recall later.
The latest volume in the Best Women's Erotica series includes a few of those stories.
Please don't misunderstand me. Every tale in this collection is well-written and at least moderately hot. If you're looking for two or three hours of stimulation, I recommend this book highly. Both Ms. Blue and Cleis Press are known for producing high quality anthologies. (The explicitly labeled “Uncorrected Proof” I received had far fewer errors than many of the published ebooks I've had inflicted on me lately.) But for the most part, I found these stories to be mere diversions, tales of fantasies fulfilled that may well get you off, but which won't hang around tickling your imagination later.
Which tales will I remember from this book? Certainly I'd have to include Lucy Debussy's unusual “Mary Lou,” which features a woman masquerading as a man and working as a stoker on a steamer. I found the gender-bending premise as well as the unabashed sensualism of this story delightful, even if it strained the bounds of plausibility a bit.
Then there's “Her Forest, Her Rules,” by Laila Blake. The heroine in this tale is a member of a club that enacts fantasy scenarios each weekend, rather like the Society for Creative Anachronism. In the midst of the forest, where her group normally plays, Amy – or Amariel, as she calls herself, when acting her chosen part as an elf-woman – is taken captive by a guy with a sword, a man she's never seen before. Their banter and their connection are just delicious, a reminder that role-playing frequently reveals much about our true selves. The setting, tone and characters of this tale are all enchanting.
Another favorite was Sommer Marsden's “Gentleman's Valet,” a BDSM tale involving a married or at least long-associated couple. Looked at in one sense, there's nothing very remarkable about this story. I've read dozens of scenes with the same elements – paddles, alligator clips, and a viciously hard fuck. What distinguishes it, in my mind, is the portrayal of the dominant's emotions. D/s stories frequently focus on the sub – her fears, her paradoxical desires, her satisfaction. Ms. Marsden's story reminds the reader that doms are in it for their own satisfaction as well as for that of their subs – and that the sweetest experience a Dom can offer his submissive is the knowledge that she has pleased him.
In the gorgeous writing category, my top pick goes to Rose de Fer's “Nyotaimori.” I'm quite certain I've read at least one story with same premise: a woman bound upon a table and used as a presentation platter for food – in this case, sushi. (It's possible that I'm thinking of this exact tale, although it's not listed in the credits for previously published work.) However, this author brings the scene to life with painstaking and mouth-watering sensory detail.
My eyes betray nothing but gratitude for his offering as he places the tiny soft egg against my lips. With only the slightest movement I part them just enough to taste the salty juice with the tip of my tongue. It is heavenly. I close my eyes as I slowly draw the egg inside my mouth, bursting it with my teeth. It's only one little taste, one tiny bit of flavor, but it makes me sigh with pleasure. It mingles with the delicious scents all around me. The fish, the ginger, wasabi and soy sauce, his wife's perfume.... I feel myself growing even damper against the flask of sake, and I clench my inner muscles to intensify the sensation.
Reading this story, I was reminded of my first taste of sushi, after a lover had described it to me as “an orgasm of the palate.” I also loved the pan-sexual quality of this tale, the way eroticism seeps into every sensation and desire expands to encompass every act and every gender.
Speaking of gender, I want to mention Nikki Adams' story “Chrysalis,” which chronicles an encounter between a high-achieving, domineering, lesbian lawyer and a sexy, feminine, pre-op transsexual. I found this story intriguing, although a bit overwritten. One doesn't encounter trans characters very often in Cleis' female-focused collections. The story is memorable because of its differences, not to mention the way the experience shatters the main character's self-confidence.
Finally, I loved Alison Tyler's “Close Shave.” Ms. Tyler's tales are always a guilty pleasure for me. More than any other story in the book, this one – where a cheeky girl wanders into a barber shop and demands that the studly young barber shave her pussy – pushed my personal buttons. Having recently reviewed Ms. Tyler's erotic memoir Dark Secret Love, I saw new depths in this barely-disguised fantasy, echoes of actual events and real people who made a difference in her life.
Rereading this review, I see that I've mentioned six standout stories. Out of a total of seventeen, I guess that's actually pretty impressive. Every anthology has stronger and weaker contributions. Every reader will resonate with different tales, depending on her own preferences and kinks. Not every story in this collection will stay around to haunt you. But I'd be surprised if you didn't find at least one or two that will.
This slim volume of short stories is subtitled “Stories of Tainted Desire.” The description is apt. Ms. Hipple's evocative prose-poems summon the sharp pain of regret, the ache for opportunities lost, the searing fire of anger and the ice of a lover's disdain. There is beauty, passion, even sweetness in these tales, but they are a far cry from the light-hearted romps so common in contemporary erotic story collections. Ms. Hipple writes from the heart -- from personal experience, I suspect. She does not shy away from darkness: cruelty, drunken self-pity, the seductive lure of suicide when one is desperate and lonely.
Bittersweet includes twenty-two brief stories. Many are no longer than two pages. In fact, few are stories in the classical sense; they offer no plot arc and no character development, though they often chronicle changes in the narrator over time. The pieces in this volume are meditations, fantasies, extended flashbacks, vivid erotic scenarios that exist solely to evoke emotion. In “Blood on Snow,” a woman descends ever deeper into submission, until at long last her lover fulfills his promise to shed her blood. “Let It Be Uncomplicated” offers a snapshot of a marriage in which sex has become a constant reproach due to the woman's inability to conceive. “I Promise I Won't Break You,” with more of a plot than most, shows how abandonment can lead to despair and then beyond, to a hardness that even the lover's return cannot shatter. In “Waiting in the Rain,” a woman spends the day fantasizing about her husband's arrival, only to have him reject her, while in “Seems Like...” a husband reprises the decades with his beloved as he gazes on her corpse.
Some stories are told from a male perspective, some from a female. The two I liked best both have F/F themes. “White Musk” illustrates the evocative power of the sense of smell. A middle-aged wife and mother, shopping for Christmas presents, catches a whiff of the perfume favored by the woman she loved in her youth and is submerged in memory. In “Mar,” a woman who lives alone by the ocean is visited by lyrical and mysterious dreams of a gorgeous female sea-creature.
Ms. Hipple's prose is sensual in the truest sense, steeped in descriptions of sight and smell, sound, texture and taste. She skillfully captures the connection between environment and emotion. Sun, wind, mist and rain mold and reflect the characters' moods. Her sex scenes are more poetic than graphic, though you'll find no euphemisms here. The flesh is filtered, always, through the prism of emotion.
On the negative side, the stories in this collection are distressingly similar in their style. Every one is narrated in the first person, often in the present tense, with the object of passion a frequently unnamed third party pronoun. The most begin with some description of the weather or the season, setting the emotional tone. As I note above, Ms. Hipple does this quite well. However, it becomes monotonous after a while. Even though the stories explore a range of situations and emotions, I found it difficult to separate them in my mind. Another initially effective device that is overused is the reprise of the title in the last paragraph of the story. After three or four tales, this starts to seem amateurish.
The book would also benefit from more extensive editing. I noticed quite a few misused words, some of which are clearly typographic errors (“chain” rather than “chair”) but others clear confusions (“travesties” instead of “trials” or “tortures”). An effective editor could also have curbed Ms. Hipple's over-fondness for run-on sentences, three or four independent clauses joined by “and”. I read an Advanced Reader's Copy of the book that perhaps was further edited before release. I do hope so; if this were my book, I would be a bit embarrassed by these mistakes.If I had encountered one of the stories in this book in the context of a typical erotica anthology, I would have been excited and impressed. Ms. Hipple explores themes and emotions not often addressed in popular erotica, with an original, sensual style. However, reading twenty-two of these stories, all in the same vein and using the same style, one after the other, tends to diminish their impact.
In her introduction, Alison Tyler informs us that Bound for Trouble is the tenth bondage-themed anthology she has edited for Cleis. It's hardly surprising that this collection sparkles with kinky energy and glows with heat. Ms. Tyler definitely knows what she's doing. At this point in my editing and reviewing career, I'm fairly difficult to impress, but I believe Bound for Trouble will delight anyone who finds D/s content arousing.
What's so great about this book? Diversity for one thing. Almost every story attacks the theme from a different direction. There are M/f, F/m and F/f tales in almost equal proportion and even one M/m contribution. Some authors write about long-established couples, some about casual playmates, some about just-met strangers. Meanwhile, the bondage mechanisms explored range from classic ropes to robots to symbolic chains made out of paper.
Ms. Tyler's own story, “Sitting Pretty,” keeps the reader guessing. For the first few pages, you have no idea about the identity or even the gender of the narrator. Only at the end do you begin to understand who he is and what he wants. This tale is both beautifully crafted and deliciously transgressive. Who would have imagined that allowing one's hair to be cut could be an act of submission?
“Magic Boots” by Amy Dillon offers one of the most insightful takes on fetishism that I've encountered in a long time. To arouse and entertain her foot-worshiping husband, the narrator secretly buys a pair of expensive, outrageous high-heeled boots they've both admired. As she wears the boots around the house before revealing them to her spouse, trying to break them in, she discovers her own perceptions and desires changing.
Complementary fantasies play a key role in several of the tales. In Benjamin Eliot's exquisite “Unwinding Alice,” the female of the title enjoys being tightly bound and locked in a closet for hours. Her husband confines her in order to please her; he finds the notion far scarier than she does. Meanwhile, he lives for the sight of the rope marks her trials leave behind. Their kinks are distinctly different, but interlocking, providing satisfaction and peace to both.
She flings her arms above her head, and I see the lines on her skin flow north with the motion. She's striped and crossed and dotted with the evidence of my control and I groan. Because seeing that evidence robs me of my current control. I'm powerless against the unwound Alice. I'm humbled by her strength.
The healing potential of dominance and submission is another common theme. Annabeth Leong's “Paper Chains,” Theresa Noelle Roberts' “Ropenosis,” K.Lynn's “Business Wear,” all feature submissives wound tight by worldly responsibilities or hidden fears. Paradoxically, bondage sets them free.
Sommer Marsden's brilliant story “What She Has” struck me as one of the most realistic in the collection. The subtleties she portrays in the relationship between the submissive narrator and her Master, the ebb and flow of envy, anger, fear and love, amazed me. How can love and cruelty be so closely intertwined?
In contrast, Giselle Renarde's delicious fable “It's Not a Scrunchie” is pure play, a man's wildest fantasy made manifest in the person of a voluptuous, uninhibited gal who just happens to like tying guys up.
The mood in Bound for Trouble is lighter than in some of Ms. Tyler's anthologies (her Love at First Sting comes to mind as an example of darker, more ambiguous BDSM), but these authors don't spare the rope or the rod. Nearly all of the stories are entertaining. And a few will linger in your mind, long after you've closed the cover or turned off your e-reader.