Despite its odd and slightly lurid title, Discrete Needs by David C. Morrow is an authentic work of modern fiction of which the erotic is the key component. The unseen protagonist is the shooter from the famous clock tower at the University of Texas campus in Austin. He is the man who in 1967 blasted randomly away, killing and wounding a number of people. Mr. Morrow posits that one of those trapped in the crossfire is Stellara, the central figure of Discrete Needs who is driven to hide under a shrub in the sweltering Texas heat. She is not physically wounded, but she is emotionally catapulted into an exploration of what she calls her “higher being” by the shooting.
To his great credit, Mr. Morrow does not present the shooting as an epiphanal moment of recognition for Stellara, but rather as a catalyst that slowly reorders her understanding of the world around her. The author and I are of an age, and it is refreshing to read someone who understands that the period from 1962 to 1969 was one of rational becoming for most of us rather than one of suddenly reversing some quasi-spiritual course. The gurus came later and mostly they were there for the celebrities who paid them to arrive.
Stellara’s experience of the tower shooting seems one of those random spurs that life digs into our softer parts. They cause you, without fully realizing it, to wonder who you are; who it suits that you are that person; what you are doing; and why you are continuing to do it. Having lived through the early sixties in the Midwest, I have a strong sense of empathy with the principal character as one of the males doing the gazing. Kansas was much duller than Texas, but we also avoided Texas’ boundless supply of crack-brained assassins.
Stellara is not Holden Caufield, ‘rebel without a thought’ from the 50s. She is not angry, but discomfited and dissatisfied with the disconnection between the certitude of middle- American life and the facts of it. The frame that brought her to young adulthood does not fit her perception of reality, and for her, especially after the shooting, that frame is incomplete.
Like the hero of Dick Farina’s, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, she searches out a new perspective through her senses, partly through sex and partly through drugs that range from tobacco and booze to caffeine and on to pot with a goodly measure of LSD. She is not, we must understand, another feckless junkie escaping into the drugs. She is using them. She is building a larger understanding, as many did in the 60s, by both an interior exploration of ourselves, as well as re-examining the world around us that we had taken for granted. That included other people.
That meant that you took other people on their own terms -- just as they chose to give themselves to you -- rather than the usual pigeonholing information. Questions such as name, age, occupation, affiliations, cultural origins, belief systems etc. gave way to the more authentic discovery of who the other person was at the moment you encountered them. Meeting people in the raw could be a disturbing revelation and that is what Stellara discovers about herself and others.
What Stellara is leaving is the poofy, frilly, manufactured femininity that was (and still is), at once designed to be attractive to the standard stud male, and a bulwark against being truly revealed as a person. I remember these simpering, eye-batting, fluffy girls from my own time at Milburn Junior High School. They were utterly unknowable, much less attainable, and I fancy as nourishing as dry toast if you somehow got closer to them. They were the sort of person Janis Joplin was constitutionally unable to be, a fact which drove her over the Texas border to wail on our inner minds.
Though the book revolves around the University of Texas, a nominally sound school at the time, Mr. Morrow presents us with no authentic students. In that he has missed one of the two key resources that undergirded the Movement in the 1960s. First, people may have rebelled against the established intellectual order of the Eisenhower Era, but they were passionate about learning. Most people spoke and read foreign languages, traveled extensively on the cuff or by thumb, and read as voraciously as they partied. Mr. Morrow’s characters do not. They are the sullen kids at the back who don’t do the reading. And like most dullards, they tend toward teenage suburban inertia.
Secondly, his characters possess no clear-headed, reasoned sense of politics. I grant that it is hard to write seriously about the 60s – especially now – without falling into harangue, but that is the burden of history for the author. The War, the Draft and many other points of American life made that impossible if you were attuned to the Movement, which some of Mr. Morrow’s characters claim to be. Instead they declaim, in a druggy form of paranoia, about the Establishment in general. The most ardent apologists finally come – through self-parody -- to make light of the women’s movement, perhaps the most lasting and powerful result of the 1960s. It is not so much that they espouse an alternate point of view. They are disappointed by the world because they do not give it any serious attention. Stellara is the exception though her consciousness never rises very far.
It is not that Stellara wants to be more than such a person, she simply is more, and she cannot escape the larger self within her. Having been raised to seek the approval of bullish (very square) males and hide her more substantive self, she finds she cannot. She denies politics in general and so cannot see that private acts can have political significance; Like it or not, her ultimate erotic choices give her a political voice.
All of that would be fine if Discrete Needs did not suffer from a lack of editing – or from the error of self-editing which cannot work with a complex novel such as this one. I am perfectly content to put up with the author’s regional caprice in the face of standard English, but at times his writing seems to lose control and go mushy. Someone needed to be asking, “What’s the point here?” and holding a blue pencil at the time.
Worse still are random passages that seem incoherent. I submit the following:
“I want to get you as off.”
Who is speaking to whom about what is completely unknown. It has no relevance to the passages before or after, and the first sentence is not in any form of intelligible English.
A recent New Yorker cartoon depicted a middle-aged woman noticing a large sign saying, “Meet the Author” taped askew in the window of a seedy adult bookstore. The joke is, of course, who would want to meet (much less shake hands with) the author of an adult book? Until we clean up the editing and utter (if not willful?) stylistic sloppiness of erotica, there will be no just claim for more respectful treatment, Anais Ninn or not.Discrete Needs is a serious novel, worthy of serious critical attention even if making a close reading is infuriating at times for the reasons cited above. Mr. Morrow knows his period, handles it well and he has a great deal of very creative insight into what that time has to give us now. I hope he keeps writing.
After reading Hurts So Good, I’m thrilled to report that it’s still possible to find an erotica anthology with more than one or two good stories. Lately, I’ve begun to wonder.
It used to be anthologies were strictly segregated by sexuality. Not anymore. The pansexual offerings may partially explain why this anthology was so appealing to me. But what made Hurts So Good stand out was the consistent literary quality of the contributions.
Before I finished reading the second paragraph of the lead story, I turned down the corner of the page, indicating that I planned to reread it. In “The Sound of One Hand Clapping” by Nikki Magennis, a woman finds clarity in bondage and a spanking. Exquisitely crafted, this is easily one of the best short stories I’ve read this year.
“Turnaround” by A.D.R. Forte did something few short erotic stories has ever done, and that’s truly surprise me. A schoolteacher is accidentally rung by another woman’s cell phone. She knows she shouldn’t listen in, but the D/s scene between her idol and her idol’s husband is too compelling to hang up on, especially when she hears her name. She fills in the scene from what she’s hearing. Hot? Oh, yes. As I was reading, I was gritting my teeth for a cliché twist ending, but A.D.R. Forte took it in a different direction that made me grin.
Xan West is a name I’m seeing more often and always with a story that speaks to me. According to his bio – yes, someone does read those – he’s a BDSM and sex educator with a love for boots. It shows. In “First Time Since,” a Sir pushes himself back out into the world after his boy has left him. This story is rough leathersex served up with a bittersweet tang. That’s probably why I liked it so much. Too many Sirs are portrayed as automatons, or worse, jerks that have conned someone into bowing down to them. The emotional vulnerability of this Sir gave “First Time Since” depth that’s missing from far too many BDSM stories.
“Toying With Lily” is one of Mike Kimera’s signature pieces. A Rauxa Prize winner for erotic fiction, he unfortunately announced recently that he was withdrawing from writing. When you read this story of a man stealing time away from his overly scheduled life to be with a married woman, you’ll understand what a shame it would be if this were the last of his stories to be published. Mike’s characters are always flawed, but almost beyond judgment, as they are so very human.
There are a few other stories in Hurts So Good that I feel I must mention briefly. Stephen Elliot’s “My Mainstream Girlfriend” is, I believe, a chapter from his novel My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up. It was the first book I reviewed for Erotica Revealed back in May 2007. This chapter reminded me why I loved that novel so much. “Provocation” by Jay Lawrence is a delightful discipline and humiliation piece. “Flick Chicks” by Allison Wonderland was a fun spanking piece.So many stories in Hurts So Good were pleasant surprises that it renewed my faith in erotica anthologies. Maybe I’m jaded, or my taste runs to the harsh side of dark, but few of these stories were intense BDSM scenes. That isn’t a bad thing. It makes these stories accessible to people who are squicked by hardcore, and I’d like to see this book in the hands of as many erotica fans as possible, because it shows what erotica can aspire to.
Eva Cavell likes to go to the movies. And, when she goes to the movies, she allows desperate strangers to fondle her in the dark.
I once encountered a woman like this at the cinema. I complained to the manager. I said, “Manager, there’s a woman in this cinema who allows desperate strangers to fondle her in the dark.”
The Manager said, “Are you making a formal complaint?”
I said, “Of course I am. She keeps changing seats and I can’t find where she’s gone.”
Sinning in the cinema is not all of the story in Messalina, Devourer of Men, but it introduces us to Eva and a few of the main issues she brings to the novel. She lacks confidence, she feels she’s a few pounds overweight, and she’s conscious of a class-culture that subjugates her because of her race. Either Eva is thinking we’re all the same size and colour in a darkened movie theatre, or she’s come across a much more satisfying way of being entertained whilst watching the latest Hollywood blockbuster.
Without wishing to sound mean, if there had been someone like Eva in the cinema when I went to see an epic showing of those Lord of the Ring movies, there’s a strong likelihood I might have stayed awake through the damned things. Instead, I watched the first one up to the point where the characters started walking somewhere, and woke up when all the Hobbits were in bed together looking eerily excited and pleased with themselves in a scene that was more camp than a row of pink tents.
I’ll say now, this is a well-written and entertaining story. Zetta Brown can tell a compelling tale and she makes her characters rich, real and risqué. Eva’s journey from being the beloved bane of The DeLuxe Theatre is strong in detail and always filled with sensuous, sexual developments. Zetta Brown writes exciting erotic scenes but she’s not afraid to inject the fantastical fulfilment of passion with a healthy dose of realism.
At the movie house, whilst enjoying a Thursday afternoon matinee performance, Eva encounters the smooth and irresistible Jared Delaney. From there we enter the territory of an unconventional romance. Jared and Eva begin to discover themselves (and each other) and slowly learn that what they want from life is not necessarily those things they have spent their years chasing.
But Zetta Brown’s eye for credible detail stretches beyond incredible naughtiness in the back row. When Jared and Eva become an item they bring with them their baggage from her job and his previous relationships. Their relationship is passionate and intense from the first moment, but this doesn’t mean that Zetta Brown doesn’t force Jared to go through the ritual of meeting Eva’s parents. Nor does it mean that Eva gets to escape the trauma of having to work on a campus populated by spoilt, rich brats and ivory-tower superiors. And this tapestry of background detail makes the story richer and more believable.
Messalina, Devourer of Men is fun from beginning to end. The characters in this story are deliciously realistic and, even though the situations sometimes border on the fantastical, they are always grounded in Eva’s pragmatic reactions and responses. Faults are discovered, and either addressed, dealt with or accepted.
It should come as no surprise that this story completes itself in relation to the cinema where Eva has been spending her Thursday afternoons. At the beginning of the story she has been watching contrived stories of happiness and excitement whilst struggling to find a place for her own unfulfilled sexuality. At the climax of the novel, Eva has contrived her own story and finally found the place where her needs can be satisfied. As to whether or not she’s written her own “Happy Ever After” – that’s something you’ll need to find out from reading the book.All that I’m going to say is, if you get a kick out of passionate character interplay, breath-taking realism and well-written prose, then you should find Messalina, Devourer of Men to be a hugely entertaining and enjoyable read.
This slim volume of twenty sexual scenarios is not quite a collection of full-bodied stories, but it has its own charm. The author explains that she is the “collector” of the title, and that she collects other people’s stories about sexual adventures:
Hungrily, I listen to the erotic acrobatics of total strangers and commit them to paper, usually whilst in a café or coffee house.
The author (whose pen name looks like three initials) suggests that she blends in with the middle-class “shopping population” of an English town, and that her interest in other people’s sex lives is matched by their willingness to tell her about them.
The author claims that she also does hands-on research by picking up strangers for experimental encounters. She explains her method:
This usually entails a trip away from my residence in Oxford to London, where I take a short lease on a flat, adopt a more suitable persona (I should have been on the stage), and explore areas of potential inspiration.
The combination of pseudonymous coyness and scavenger-hunt references to specific routes and locations (“the bus from Five Mile Drive to St. Giles in Oxford,” “a small conservatory attached to a coffee shop near Carfax,” “the oriental coffee shop at Waterloo Station”) will look familiar to anyone who reads the “true confessions” stories in certain sex magazines. Who is Kay Jaybee (or K.J.B.) really? If one looks for a glamorous yet chameleon-like woman holding a notebook and a pen in any of the places mentioned, could one be written into her next book?
Aside from a few rough-trade characters such as Kit the bleached-blonde American whore, the stars of these anecdotes seem likely to be as inconspicuous in public as the author. Their stories reveal a range of appetites. In her epilogue, the author claims:
The gambit [gamut?] of sexual experience within the bounds of this small country, indeed, within the bounds of the English Home Counties alone, is wide indeed.
Unfortunately, these sketches don’t capture a range of different voices, and the vocabulary drips with cliché. Here a young woman, “Jay,” is described being led into a lesbian scene in a nightclub:
Pressed against the mirrored wall, arms placed high behind her spiky red hair, a fantastically curvaceous girl had her eyes tightly closed. Kneeling before her, an eager petite woman was licking between her spread legs, soft fingers teasing the skin above sheer silk hold-ups. Jay took in the round exposed globes squeezed out seductively above the willing captive’s startlingly bright green basque. She didn’t need telling what to do. Jay’s tongue was quickly lapping at the right nipple like a hungry cat, while her escort greedily attacked the left.
It would be interesting to learn more about “Jay” and the woman who lured her into this scene. It would also be interesting to read about sex in a relationship which has existed for longer than a few hours, but the purpose of these vignettes is to turn the reader on, and the author does not deviate from her purpose. She explains that in some cases, her interview subjects only consented to reveal the details of their sex lives after she promised them strict anonymity. To keep her promise, the author supposedly had to eliminate all information which could identify them.
The stories in this collection cover a spectrum of situations, genders and activities. The relatively vanilla scenes are not separated from those based on popular fetishes (especially voyeurism and exhibitionism, which seem inherent in this collection) or percussion scenes involving various implements (a belt, a cane, a riding crop, a whip). Males and females mix and mate and impersonate each other in adjoining stories. This kind of promiscuity looks particularly English to me, and it suggests an upper-class tradition of specialized tastes under a façade of heterosexual respectability.
Objects used in the scenes include “sweets” (a lollypop used as a dildo, licorice boot laces for bondage, tingling powder licked onto skin). Then there is the lady who advertises her services in the back of a car magazine, and who is described stretched over the bonnet of an upscale vehicle, getting beaten and fucked while pressed into its smooth metal surface. In one notable experiment (called “Treasures”), the author introduces a male friend to her collection of sex toys, and he shows his submissive side.
Most of the Dominant/submissive stories are male-dominant. In a scene in an actual castle, a young man responds to his female friend’s request by playing the role of a torturer:
Paul, keeping the flame as close as possible to her cunt, began to blow softly against her vulnerable flesh. Heather leapt within her bonds as, for a fraction of a second, his soft breath brushed the flame onto her skin.
In another story, a young man in a nightclub picks up a bit of “rough trade,” a laborer whose van is parked outside:
He undid the back doors of the box van and almost threw me in. He really was as massively strong as I had fantasized. Not fat, but big and hard and toned. My mouth almost watered at what was about to happen.
The van-driver takes over:
He roughly pulled me closer and dragged my t-shirt over my head, leaving my bare chest to shiver against the van’s dank atmosphere. Then, forcing me to my knees, he offered his shaft to my mouth. I took it without hesitation. It almost filled my throat, forcing me to choke a little as I accommodated its width and length.
Without words, the van-driver does various other things to his willing victim until he is sore. Then the Alpha Male gently offers to “sort out” his playmate, and gives him relief.
This book can be read in short segments of time, and the sexual descriptions are playful and clear. The cover art is discreet. The author concludes:
The reader is left with the sense that the story collection is unfinished and interactive, a good spur to the activities it is clearly intended to inspire. This reviewer would like to read something more filling, so to speak, but this book is what it is, and it does what it does. Enjoy.
I shall leave you now, and head off to continue my search. The fantasies of the British public are just waiting for me to find them. I’ll head to Scotland first I think, then maybe Devon and Cornwall, possibly Wales. . . I’ll see you there. . .
The Roman Slave is a 395 page historical erotic novel set in 161 B.C., the era of the Roman Republic. I particularly mention the number of pages because, to be honest, I struggled to get through them. I tend to read in bed, and alas, I fell asleep more than once with my eReader open during my perusal of this book.
The problem was not a lack of plot. The Roman Slave starts with the focus on a hot-headed, ambitious tribune, Messalla, who has been exiled to the hinterland of Macedonia as a punishment for raping a noblewoman. Messalla, with the help of his battle-scarred centurion Procinus, devises a scheme to attack and plunder a remote but wealthy village during a wedding festival. He reasons that the gold he can supply to Rome's coffers, plus the many slaves he will capture and sell, will both make his fortune and restore his reputation.
The story then shifts to the peaceful village of Therapnae, where the reader meets Lavinia, the tomboyish eighteen year old who is the intended bride as well as a future queen, and her family of Spartan warriors. (I could not quite figure out what Spartans were doing in Macedonia, but I let that pass.) Lavinia receives training in both pugilistic and erotic arts in preparation for her nuptials. On the eve of the wedding, Messalla and his men swoop down on the unprepared village, capturing Lavinia, her heroic grandfather and village headman, Leonidas, plus her grandmother, her mother and brother and a host of other unfortunates. The captives are divided and reach Rome by separate routes, but eventually all are reunited in the Imperial City. Leonidas and Lavinia literally beat some sense into Messalla's head. He is nursed back to health by a Spartan sex trainer, with whom he falls in love. He sees the error of his ways and makes amends to the noble Spartans he had enslaved. Everyone lives happily ever after.
Between our initial introduction to Messalla and his ultimate conversion into one of the good guys, Alexandros introduces characters with an abandon worthy of Tolstoy: slaves, merchants, cooks, centurions, gladiators, consuls, street punks, sausage vendors, wives, mothers, sisters, cousins, and aunts. All right, I don't recall anyone being explicitly identified as an aunt, but I could not begin to keep track of all these people. For the most part they were one-dimensional cut-outs with few individual attributes, although sometimes they have their own plots and plans which the reader is expected to follow.
The most prominent character trait, shared by almost all the characters in The Roman Slave, is inexhaustible horniness. Women and men couple, often with multiple partners, at the drop of a tunic. In fact, many characters habitually walk the streets of Rome naked. Public orgies are routine. Women have pleasure slaves to keep them satisfied, but don't disdain the erotic attentions of other women as well. Hardly a page goes by without a phallus finding its way into a cunnus, or some other convenient orifice. Jealousy hardly exists, as husbands and wives both recognize the primacy of lust.
Sounds like fun, doesn't it? Unfortunately, the author's treatment of sex is so superficial that I found it tedious. He dwells only at the physical level--which body parts are being inserted where, who is covered with come, who is climaxing and how many times. He seems to view sex as something of an athletic performance, or a contest, one in which his main characters Leonidas (who has the physique of a giant and a cock as thick as a normal man's forearm) and Lavinia (who is graced with a clitoris three inches long) are always the victors.
Here's an example, more or less randomly chosen (from page 212):
“This is Leonidas, and this girl here is Lavinia. Lavinia, remove your tunica and get on that table there. I want to see what you can do.”
Valinus stripped off his knight’s tunic, more comfortable than the toga he wore earlier, saying, “Let’s start, as I have a long day ahead. Leonidas, I want you to go with Livia and choose some women. I really want to have a firsthand look at your erotic skills, so don’t hold back.”
Livia had already begun to undo Leonidas’ subligaculum. She gasped when she saw his cock, which sprang erect and well above his waist.
“Look, Master Valinus,” she said, indicating Leonidas. “It is so much like my husband’s, but much bigger.”
“Quickly, Livia, time is money for me,” said Valinus, as he climbed on the wide table where Lavinia already waited for him, lying on her back with her legs held high up and spread out.
Valinus reversed himself on her and buried his face between her legs, licking all around her clitoris and pushing his fingers deep inside her cunnus, while she reached up and swallowed his cock to the root. Gratianus and the Egyptian girl joined them soon on the table, excited by the loveliness of Lavinia. Gratianus knelt near them, using the tip of his tongue to probe her anus, while the Egyptian girl sucked him to an erection . Once he was hard, he positioned himself before Lavinia, driving his cock deep into her ass, even as Valinus continued to suck on her clitoris like a ripe fruit.
In the meantime, Leonidas picked out six women from the group Livia showed him and had them all climb on another wide table along with him. Taking three of them, he first stacked them one on top of the other. Kneeling, he began to stimulate their cunni alternately with his fingers and tongue, while Livia and the other three women swarmed under him. As he knelt, their tongues attacked his immense cock and roamed all around his huge testicles. Livia knelt behind him and buried her face between his cheeks, to tongue his anus. Soon, Leonidas made another stack of three women and repeated the same process. In a short time, he was on his knees before the first stack, driving his cock in and out of their cunni alternately, while his fingers continued to stimulate the women on the other stack. Although he couldn’t see, as Livia had climbed on his shoulders and wrapped her legs about his broad shoulders, he never missed his mark and continued thrusting alternately into the three women, before moving to the next stack, where he repeated the process.
Valinus, who had already ejaculated two times into Lavinia’s mouth by then, had stepped down to watch Leonidas at work with the seven women. He had never seen anything like it before and he watched him with mouth open, as did everyone in the room, except Lavinia and the six men who were pleasuring her. She fixed herself on Gratianus who lay back on the table, her sphincter tightly gripping his cock at the base while one man knelt over her and drove his member alternately in and out of her cunnus. Another slave knelt near her and sucked her elongated clitoris. Two others knelt on either side of her face, with a third kneeling over her chest and with a perfect rhythm, she turned her head from side to side or up and down in front, swallowing one or the other cocks.
I suppose that some people might find the scene above (and the dozens more very much like it that this novel offers) to be exciting. I have the notion that Mr. Alexandros was aroused when he wrote this, mostly because he repeated the overall pattern so many times. However, when he was penning this scene, he probably identified with one (or more) of the characters. He imagined their thoughts and their feelings. None of the inner life of any of the characters is actually expressed in the text. We don't know what they're feeling, even on the level of the senses, let alone emotionally. Perhaps the mere suggestion of such uninhibitedly lustful activity is enough to turn on some people. For me, piles of bodies are simply boring.
There are other problems with The Roman Slave. It takes more than a few Latin words and disparaging references to Cato's puritanical morality to establish a sense of place and culture. Like Mr. Alexandros, I've always been fascinated by classical Greece and Rome, but I don't feel that this book conveys the reader to a believable world of the past, as effective historical fiction should do. Blog entries by the author suggest that Lavinia's home, the lascivious city of Mithir, was located in Phrygia (central Turkey) but he never follows up on that cultural note in this book. In particular, he misses the opportunity to focus on the Phrygian tradition of worshiping the Mother Goddess, Cybele, though this would have fit very well within the confines of the story.
The Roman Slave does have some points in its favor. It is definitely sex-positive and has a feminist bent. Everyone participates willingly in the randy activities throughout the book. Everyone comes, many times. Women's sexual satisfaction is viewed as essential for health and harmony, and it is the women in Alexandros' Rome who keep the men as pleasure slaves. I'd love to have a more nuanced view of these women's experiences. Unfortunately, even Lavinia, the most fully realized female character, is rather shallow.
Secondly, I was relieved to find that this book was not another tired fantasy in which the slaves are bound, beaten and otherwise abused for the reader's titillation. Anyone who is at all familiar with my work will know that I love a well-written BDSM tale. However, the slaves-in-chains scenario has been so overworked that it is rare to find someone who can give it a fresh twist. Mr. Alexandros does not try. Aside from some incest (at least, I think the protagonists were brother and sister - it was hard to keep track!), there's little kinkiness in this book (By my definition. I suppose that not everyone would call orgies vanilla.)
In short, I applaud Mr. Alexandros' energy in penning this substantial work. I only wish that it offered the substance that its length requires.