This book has an autobiographical flavor, whether or not all the sex in it really happened. The first two chapters daringly describe teenage sex in a way which looks honest and faithful to the times and places of the author’s youth: a summer in the 1960s in the lush farmland of Ontario, and springtime in Ottawa, within sight of the Parliament Buildings of Canada.
The author describes A Country Girl as a sequel to an earlier book by/about the same narrator, Angela, published in 1975. The first few chapters of A Country Girl also seem to come from a time before the Feminist Sex Wars of the 1980s, when two government studies of pornography (one in Canada, one in the U.S.) and a flurry of court battles in both countries increased the anxiety of writers and readers about sex on the page, especially when it involves characters under the age of majority.
The sexual awakening of the young narrator in A Country Girl seems rare enough in currently-published erotica to be worth the price of the book. Here Angela “makes out” with William, the shy, hunky boy she meets during a summer in the country:
“We sat together hugging and kissing against the window on my side of the car under the shade of the cedar trees for three hours. How we could kiss for so long I'll never know, and I in my innocence not knowing much of anything kept on with the kissing never knowing we could do more but kissing and kissing until I was so hot and excited and love-filled that I could barely leave him.”
The next time Angela is alone with William, she finds out what happens when she persistently touches his large, hard and fascinating “thing:”
“Suddenly he groaned and kissed me. A white fluid came out all over my hand.
That's what happens when you do that to me.
Oh William. I didn't know. My hand was wet and slimy as I held him in my hands.
You're sweet. Now you know.
Yes, now I know.
He had his fingers on my crotch and fingered me there. I felt all tingly and excited. I was very wet.”
Eventually, Angela and William go further under the moonlight beside a sweet-smelling hay field:
“Oh Angela, he moans. Oh Angela, I love you. I am burning inside on fire the walls of my cunt tingling with hot fire. He pushes to the back and I feel a dull sweet ache.
Love me! Love me! I say.
I am completely his. I will do anything for him. I will give myself to him. My virginity, my maidenhood, my love, my flesh, my cunt.”
The exhilaration of young love is doomed, of course. William and Angela must part when Angela is due to return to her home in town, and they both realize that they are too young to marry.
In the next chapter, Angela is attending high school in town and dreaming of escape. Her life is dramatic as only a teenager's can be:
“My first poem was about death. . . my next poem was about a graveyard. I would cry over my hero's grave, and he would emerge and we would make love. The birds were singing.
Or else we'd meet after death.
That was the answer. I began a death cult. I would die at twenty-eight in a motor accident. He [James Dean] died at twenty-four. I'd never live to be thirty. Of course I'd never marry. I was romantic, beautiful and sexually unfulfilled. I'd never make it.
My hero rode a bike. I fancied myself on a bike. I took to wearing black and leather. Tight jeans and windbreakers. I cultivated smoking a cigarette cupped in my hand and held backward, the way he did it.”
Angela meets a boy with a motorbike, whom she has to meet secretly:
“My parents wouldn't let me go out with Rex. A little too rough for them, just right for me.
I dreamed of bikes. Big, gleaming bikes. The speed. Mounting the shining black saddle. Astride, the feel of the bike between my legs.”
Angela enjoys wild rides with Rex, but as high school graduation approaches, it becomes painfully clear to her that she and he are headed for different futures.
In the next chapter, the shapely, green-eyed and curly-haired Angela is in university and has acquired a husband, Tony. She describes herself loving the earthiness of sex in the outdoors and the freedom of going braless. The suggestive sketches (charcoal drawings?) between chapters add a lot to Angela's story, and serve to introduce each new phase of her life.
Angela is sexually adventurous, yet she seems apolitical and unaware of the various strands of leftist ideology (the liberation movements for women, “gays,” youth and the racially-oppressed) which were fomenting on college campuses in that era.
For years, Angela wonders about the sexual tastes of her big-breasted classmate, Elizabeth. She is rumored to be interested in women, but is not associated with lesbians in general. Angela tells us: “Elizabeth was intelligent, ambitious, social, and yet inclined to be alone around campus.”
One evening when Angela is alone, Elizabeth invites her over for a drink, and presses against her. Angela responds:
“I betray myself. In my eyes. I can't help it. I desire her. It's going through me like a knife. I don't know what I am doing, I am swimming with desire.”
Angela has her first sexual experience with a woman. Elizabeth is worried about whether Angela will tell Tony, and how he will react. She does, he is delighted, and for the next session, all three pile onto Elizabeth's bed together.
In due course, Angela and Tony join up with other male/female couples for swinging scenes which include woman/woman action. There is an amazing lack of jealousy in these arrangements, and Angela's sexual interest in other women never causes her or anyone she knows to question her heterosexual identity.
In one poignant chapter, Angela struggles with a crush on a colleague, Eugene, who seems to have “something in his blood, mystic, barbaric, mysterious that I understand. For I have that in me too.” Angela explains that “Tony was trying to push me into a relationship with a couple that I didn't want.” She wants to choose her own object of desire.
Eugene is married and has a child. He is not a swinger. For an agonizingly long time, Angela wonders if she could ignite a spark in him. She does, but their mutual passion further complicates their lives. The sex between them is bittersweet.
A chapter on swinging with an American couple in Florida is detailed and convincing. This time, Angela's desire for the other husband threatens to upset the general merriment and good will. So far, the book is like an episodic and disproportionately sexual novel about a woman's life-journey. Angela learns that sex outside the box of conventional commitments carries an emotional price, but it is too thrilling for her to give up.
Angela continues to be fearlessly experimental in her way, but the interested reader looks for epiphanies and psychological development in vain. Angela and Tony get divorced and she goes on to meet new men, but she shows no signs of change. There are brief references to her post-university scientific career, but the non-sexual aspects of Angela's life have no effect on the repetitive sex scenes: one blow job and fuck after another.
The last chapter, “Call Me,” looks immensely padded to achieve a certain word-count. It is about Angela's telephone-fantasy relationship with a man who calls her from time to time to exchange sex fantasies and occasionally to meet her in person, although they start out with an agreement that actual sex is taboo. They share a variety of imaginary and real-life activities: oral, anal, bondage, even golden showers.
These scenes are clearly aimed at readers who would otherwise be reading porn magazines, yet it seems unlikely that those readers would have followed Angela's life-story this far. Her relationship with her gentleman caller, like her relationship with the reader, simply goes on and on without reaching any resolution.
Some of Angela's fantasies show a world-view which looks embarrassingly naïve, not to say appallingly racist:
“What about you getting a black boyfriend? He asks.
And we'd have a threesome with a big black cock.
References to current events such as Hurricane Hugo (in summer 1989) make it clear that this chapter was written and takes place long after the era when White Anglo-Saxon Protestant perceptions of everyone else as alien life-forms accompanied widespread racial segregation.Angela's story seems to be best in its beginning, when the reader's hopes are raised and anything seems possible. This book turns out to be a discomforting mixture of ambience and emotional realism with pornographic cliches. Sex scenes can certainly be combined with literary elements such as plot, characterization and a distinct voice, all of which are present here to some extent. In this case, though, the sex just isn't integrated well enough with the life.
When I was assigned to review Broken, I quivered with anticipation. Here was a serious BDSM novel, or so I’d heard, written by a lifestyle Domina with years of experience in the scene. I expected that her book would not only get the details right, but would succeed in conveying the emotional impact of a D/s relationship—the intimacy of submission, the intensity of enduring pain in order to serve one’s master or mistress, the thrill of topping a willing slave.
Alas, I was sorely disappointed. Broken does indeed describe punishments and pain in lovingly graphic terms. However, the psychological dynamics behind these relatively extreme scenes are distorted or missing, to the point where I sometimes found the book offensive.
Jessica, the book’s protagonist, is a spoiled rich girl gradually working her way toward a Ph.D. in psychology while shopping, eating out and driving around in her Mercedes. When her father commits suicide, Jessica learns that she is suddenly penniless. In order to survive and continue with her graduate work, she is forced to drop her preferred research topic and advisor, and beg for a T.A. or R.A. position from Professor Lawrence, the creepy head of the department. The Professor refuses unless she also agrees to serve him as his collared slave. Desperate, Jessica agrees. She is savagely beaten and abused, by the Professor as well as his gorgeous subs Felicia and Sandra. The Professor requires her to submit not only to him, but also to his party guests. In addition, he finances his lavish lifestyle by renting her out to his kinky colleagues, giving her a pittance of the proceeds.
Jessica endures all this, but only because of the money. She despises her master and all the other men who use her. She cheats, arranging private engagements with her most devoted customers, delighting in the fact that she’s getting the better of her sleazy Dom. Although she does appreciate the Professor’s intelligence and connections as he works with her on her dissertation research, she can’t wait to be free of him. Her experiences in the BDSM world gradually lead her to the understanding that she is a natural dominant herself. As she begins to exercise sexual power over others, including a delightful little blonde named Dora whom she steals from the Professor, she finally experiences some pleasure and satisfaction.
Broken is competently written, but the characters are unsympathetic to the point of being repellent. Jessica is scheming, selfish and judgmental. She takes advantage of everyone, whenever she can. She has no sense of devotion or even responsibility to her master. Her servitude to Professor Lawrence does not break her, as suggested by the novel’s title. It merely hardens her.
Meanwhile, I will admit that, apart from his intelligence, the Professor offers nothing to inspire devotion in a slave. He is bald, short, dumpy and impotent. He too is selfish, and genuinely cruel, caring nothing for the welfare or happiness of his subs. Worst of all, he is disgustingly mercenary. His beautiful slaves are nothing but his meal tickets. Meanwhile, he uses the lure of money to enslave them.
For the most part, I found the “sex” scenes in Broken completely unarousing. Certainly, Jessica is never aroused. She is nothing but a body to be beaten, pierced, bound, whipped, raped. She knows this as well as her partners do. Her primary desire is to get through the scene somehow, avoiding pain as much as possible. She and her tormenters share nothing, no connection, no understanding, no sympathy.
This changes toward the end of the book, as Jessica recognizes her sadistic tendencies and acquires her own slave in Dora. At this point, some sparks fly, precisely because Dora has willingly and lovingly submitted to Jessica. Even Jessica melts a bit when confronted by such perfect devotion. Alas, at this point, the damage was done, at least for this reader. I shook my head as I watched Jessica turn into a Domme just as money-hungry and superficial as her former master.
I may be naive, but I felt that this book violated some of the core tenets of the BDSM lifestyle. Jessica’s enslavement stretches the meaning of consensuality nearly to breaking. Yes, Jessica agrees to become the Professor’s slave, but her submission is borne of desperation. Furthermore, it is not genuine. She shames the collar that she wears by cheating her master.
Not that the Professor deserves her devotion or respect, of course. In fact, he is nothing but a well-educated pimp.
I will admit that there were one or two scenes in this book that engendered a kind of queasy excitement, despite the novel’s emotional sterility. Two and a half pages devoted to needle play had me squirming and wondering whether I would, could, endure that, at my master’s hands. I had strange dreams afterwards. For Jessica though, this was not a test of submission, not a peak experience, not a pushing of limits. It was merely one more thing to be gotten through, for the sake of the money.Broken left me feeling cheated and depressed, hoping that it was not, in fact, an accurate picture of the BDSM lifestyle that so fascinates me.
Part of human life is a dead space – a dark emptiness. Revealing that terrain is one of the crucial lessons of literature and it is accomplished in detail in Danny (Volume One) by Chancery Stone. What counters that void -- in large part -- is the creative force of the erotic. Tom Jones may not clearly understand why he is always one step away from the gallows, but he faces life with a hard cock and an optimistic view; and so, he does not swing.
Mr. Stone’s title character, Danny, shows no sign of such lively, erotic ebullience. The author unfolds constantly menacing conversations embedded in a catalogue of sexual and psychological abuse. Danny lives on a farm in a place where English is more or less spoken, and life is conducted in a desultory fog of grim days. Surprisingly, in the 989 pages of Volume One, Mr. Stone never really lets Danny articulate his core feelings. The publisher, Poison Pixie, tells us that there is a second volume, and a third in the works, presumably of equivalent length. Perhaps he emerges more fully in those. I doubt I will pursue it.
Both the dialogue and prose in Volume One swan between a deadpan, quasi-journalistic style that shuns emotional nuance and a low-key lament that runs perilously close to whining. But why Danny endures as he does is never made clear except that he finds his mistreatment arousing to the point of being hypnotized by it. That does not mean he enjoys this abuse so much as he is addicted to it as a sexual fix.
Danny is an exhaustive – and exhausting -- study of incestuous depravity committed against the title character principally by his brother in endless and unrelenting detail. Danny himself arouses little sympathy, compassion, or even interest. He is a chronically sullen twink who seems enthralled by his torment even though he vaguely despises his abusers.
There seems to be a place in British porn/erotica for this sort of unremitting, fictional drubbing in which the reader is pummeled page after page into the same stupor of malignant, benumbed suffering that hangs over Danny. At times, I suppose it is born of the naïve (and nearly a-literate) concept from 20th century pop reviewers that all narrative fiction requires conflict. Danny has the illusion of struggle throughout. But in truth, there really isn’t much conflict in this novel because Danny seems helpless to put up any serious resistance whether he wants to or not.
Sometimes such passivity is used as a metaphor for the dehumanizing effects of the British class system, or a study of the basic brutishness of the human condition. One can imagine the literary doyens of the Manchester Guardian – after the Dover sole and just in time for a glass of port -- bemoaning this fictive world as a metaphor for the lingering existential malaise created by unbridled capitalism. But for the life of me, in nearly a thousand pages, I found no evidence of anything of the sort. At the other end of the spectrum, Danny is not arousing. The nasty spirit in which the abuse is delivered defeats that.
That Danny happens to be both male and gay, matters not at all. This novel is about the crudest, ugliest sexual abuse, especially of the psychological sort. That may be its intended appeal. For me, the level from which that abuse springs is so low, fetid, and unremarkably banal, that it quickly becomes genderless, if not entirely sexless, and certainly not erotic.
Danny could do with some serious editing. On the second page I encountered the following dialogue, “Don’t blame you dog.” It is addressed to a dog because he is lying on the floor thumping his tail but unwilling to further exert himself in the surrounding heat. The sentence is confusing because, correctly punctuated, it would read, “Don’t blame you, Dog,” because it is a form of direct address…to the dog. That is perhaps among the most egregious editing errors, but the wandering length of the book makes one pine for someone with a blue pencil to get the prose under minimal control. There is nothing wrong with writing a long novel, but there is no inherent virtue in garrulous length.
The problem is that Danny seems to be a book that is totally devoid of insight. In James Dickey’s Deliverance, the rustic characters show a visceral, generalized, ignorant hatred for the world beyond them, but not without some justification. The good ole boy ‘urbanites’ who invade their domain are condescending, vain, and insensitively thick as wet cornbread. Neither side understands themselves any better than the strangers they face, and that failure sparks both to behave as they do. They do not see themselves in their enemy until it is too late.Both sides in Deliverance seek the brutal thrill of penetration provided by the hunt. What is more, both factions ironically get what they thought they wanted from their atavistic weekend in the wild. Dickey’s book is a tragic-comic, violent collision of absurdly mismatched cultures. We learn from inhabiting the sexually charged, cultural void between them. Danny, on the other hand, finally seems to be nothing more than a study in sexual nastiness to the point of being oppressive. Worse still, it is prolix and undisciplined.
When I first read this book, I assumed it was a memoir, but the interview with Mattilda that the publisher enclosed with my review copy states that it’s a novel. Hmm. It reads like a memoir and shuns the conventions of a novel, such as character development and a linear progression of an idea, but it’s experimental prose, so it’s going to be one of those love-it-or-hate-it books for many readers. I’ll admit right off that I’m not a huge fan of stream-of-consciousness writing. However, my standing rule is to judge a book by what it is, not what it isn’t. So what is So Many Ways to Sleep Badly?
On one hand, you could say it’s a trip to the other side of the tracks, unless you live on the brink of poverty in San Francisco, are an anti-assimilationist queer activist, an incest survivor, and suffer from a chronic illness that makes you so fragile that you can’t even sleep. These identities give Mattilda a far different perspective on San Francisco and queer culture than you’ll read in mainstream queer media. That jolt of fresh insight is a good reminder that even within a community, not everyone has the same agenda, ambitions, or beliefs.
Ah – but we review erotica at Erotica Revealed, so what does this book have to do with erotica? Mattilda is a whore. She doesn’t mince words about it, so I won’t either. She writes honestly about her tricks, and there are a lot of them.
“… because I’m a sucker for any ridiculous song about hookers. What’s the line? Something about giving up their bodies for a thousand other men. Rue says a thousand – I think I’m up around five thousand. And five of them were fun.”
Her tricks range from the pathetic: “My cellphone rings, this guy wants to know if I have a discount for married guys with kids.” “Another trick that wants to know if I have any diseases, he doesn’t want to bring anything home to his wife.”
To the absurd: “Andrew’s from Seattle, he gives me a ride home and tries to shake my hand goodbye. Sorry honey – you just sucked my cock – I think we can kiss.”
To the rare times he enjoys it: “This trick shows up and he’s so hot, preppy boy with a shaved head and lots of freckles – and he’s grinning at me. Right away, we’re making out and it’s totally sex, soft and hard and warm and connected.”
Beyond sex for pay, Mattilda also writes about cruising for sex on Craigslist, in the park, and at Power Exchange, even though she rarely finds what she’s looking for and often vows never to return.
“I go to the Power Exchange. I know what you’re thinking: why does she break her own rules - it’ll only lead to disaster, and it does honey, it does. I can’t even describe how boring and awful it is, but I’m a writer – that’s my job.”
That passage made me laugh, and reminded me of the e-mail conversation Mattilda and I had several years ago about sex at venues such as Nob Hill Theater and Power Exchange being a form of performance art. If only it had that much creativity. She seems to seek temporary transcendence in sex. Occasionally, it happens. Usually, it doesn’t.
At the beginning of the novel, there’s hope for a relationship. Those very honest moments with Jeremy are the most erotic in the novel, probably because of the emotional vulnerability. The romantic in me wanted to see it work out, but this story is about real life, so of course it doesn’t end that way. Mattilda writes: “I thought this novel was turning into a love story, but now Jeremy’s fucking that up.” It isn’t what you’d think – Mattilda’s sex work isn’t what drives them apart. Mattilda wants someone to cuddle with. Jeremy doesn’t want to be bothered with a boyfriend because it’s too much work to put another person first.The story loses energy and direction in the last couple chapters. Mattilda throws names around with no clear definition of who the characters are or their relation to her. There is no resolution. No one learns anything. Instead, everyone clings tighter to what they are when challenged. Revelations are on a small scale, and not life-changing. As a novel, So Many Ways to Sleep Badly doesn’t really work, but as a fictionalized memoir, it does. If you have even a little curiosity about life as a gay sex worker, this novel will fascinate you. Despite the experimental style of prose, I found it interesting and funny.
In these politically correct times, it’s hard for me – as a heterosexual man – to write about spanking without coming across as a raving misogynist. Just because I condone consensual spanking does not mean I’m a woman hater. Nor does it make me one of those dimwits that tell gags like: “What do you say to a woman with two black eyes? Nothing you haven’t told her twice before.” However, the moment I mention spanking with any form of approval, I’m immediately seen as a man who likes to hit women.
Of course, the difference between spanking and abuse is like the difference between good sex and rape. One is a consensual pleasure for all involved – the other is an abhorrent crime.
In some ways it’s a comforting thought that spanking remains so taboo. It resides on the periphery of society’s acceptable behaviour and therefore it’s seen by participants as deliciously deviant behaviour. Personally, I don’t think there are many things more arousing than the idea behind the words: “We shouldn’t be doing this, but…”
Clearly Rachel Kramer Bussel agrees with my thoughts about the pleasure of spanking. Spanking is one of the repeated elements in a lot of Rachel’s fiction, it was one of the main themes in Naughty Spanking Stories from A to Z and Naughty Spanking Stories from A to Z II. Not surprisingly, spanking is also one of the main topics in her recent anthology, Spanked.
During a recent interview with Rachel (for ERWA), I asked her about her interest in the subject as a subject for fiction and she made this comment:
To me one of the greatest things about spanking, as a topic and activity, is there there’s such a vast range of motivations. You could watch, say, two men get spanked by two women. Both have their hands above their head, standing against a wall. Both women use the same black paddle. To an outsider, the scenes look the same, but maybe one is being “punished” by his mistress, and maybe the other has never been spanked before, and is curious. Or maybe he’s usually the top and they’ve decided to switch. You never know, and by telling the story in an engaging way, we can find out.
This eclectic attitude toward the diversity of motivations within spanking is fully reflected in Spanked.
The collection begins with “Spanking You.” This cleverly written short story, from the talent of ribald Rick Roberts, is a gentle introduction of a male hand against female buttocks. This is followed by the wonderful Shanna Germain’s “Perfect Bound,” a pithy little story about a female spanker and her male subordinate.
The collection includes Donna George Storey’s delicious tale, “A Rare Find,” which brings a triptych of couples together for a cheek-reddening night of fun. There is also Madlyn March’s wickedly entertaining “Reunion,” a punishing story of girl-on-girl retribution; Therese Noelle Robert’s naughty “Daddy’s Girl;” and the anthology concludes with Rachel Kramer Bussel’s stylishly dark denouement: “The Depths of Despair.”
Obviously, there are other stories – all of them equally exciting and only overlooked here because I’m too lazy to read the table of contents. But it’s sufficient to say that, as with all Rachel’s anthologies, the standard is fantastically high and every story manages to entertain, arouse and excite.
Spanked takes the time to consider a broad variety of approaches that can be used in this most pleasurable of sexual punishments. From the traditional employment of bare hands on bare bottoms through to the innovative use of a trade paperback and even a cheese paddle, Spanked repeatedly shows that even if the mechanics of spanking are predetermined – the essence of spanking is always open to imagination and individual interpretation.Rachel Kramer Bussel is a marvellous editor, anthology compiler and erotic fiction author. Spanked is one of the most entertaining compilations she has put together, including contributions from some of today’s most talented and celebrated erotic fiction writers. It goes without saying: if you have the vaguest interest in punished backsides, you need to get Spanked.