Obsession by Shakir Rashaan is one of those books you wait for if you are an erotica reviewer. The sex is hot and kinky with variants for all sorts of appetites and imaginations from the playful to the gruesome. But better still is the fact that the author has taken us out of the grinding bourgeois redundancy of most erotica plots. His book is not about middle class ennui or angst. It’s about “the flying underbelly’ -- as Amiri Baraka put it in Dutchman -- of Atlanta life.
Atlanta is a city of diverse communities that negotiate a separate peace with each other. Not surprisingly, the city reflects the deep racial divisions that pervade the state of Georgia, and an extreme disparity of wealth and poverty is inescapable to the visitor. The very poor live in restive proximity to the most blatant conspicuous consumption. The streets of the city of Atlanta are deserted of pedestrians after dark, and the feel of the place is like an uneasy truce.
“Obsession” presents that world well. It’s hard to say precisely who is obsessed with what in this book as almost every character – kinky or vanilla -- has one or another absorbing compulsion. They are the denizens of the interior BDSM world of Atlanta, a city that seems bent on presenting itself as Scarlet O’Hara in a thong. Thus Obsession is a pleasant relief from all that glossy coffee table hype. What’s more it is a truly grizzly detective novel of the old school before crime fiction was coerced into a long series of cozy Miss Marple clones.
To me the author most invokes the “alls-fair-in-love-and-crime” cheerful detachment of Phillip Marlowe created by the immortal mind of Raymond Chandler. His characters are fair-minded, but often brutal when necessary to make a point. They are urban and hard, but accept the dynamics and limitations of other people. They are the best of what it is to be street smart.
Most of them are black and most of those characters are into kink of one sort or another. The author is scrupulously and effortlessly careful to circumscribe the kink world from the series of psychotic murders that drive the plot of the novel. Here too, the author shows himself an able player. He writes convincingly about cops and police procedure through the voice of the novel, an ex-cop turned PI who has a passion for domination. The hero is also a caring, likable guy who is highly evolved in his perception of others as well as himself.
The best thing about the book is that it sorts out the various rule systems to which the hero has to conform, those being the law, the street, the cop world, and the inner hierarchy of the BDSM community. Far from being inhibited by all these interlocking matrices, the hero seems to thrive on working through them. As such, he is an urban American Renaissance man.
This novel is really an inspired act of invention in the field of erotica. The author captures both the view of the inner world of BDSM and the viewpoint of those who fear it, or simply don’t know what to make of it, on the outside. The writing is competent and consistent, and the plot details scrupulously researched and detailed. Rashaan knows the world he is writing about at all its levels, and he tells a good story in the process. If you miss the hard ass crime fiction for which Americans were once famous, you cannot go wrong with Obsession.
Author of the lauded Neptune & Surf, founder of the Erotica Authors Association, and poplar anthology editor Marilyn Jaye Lewis offers another wonderful erotic tale in her latest novel Freak Parade.
Singer/songwriter Eugenia Sharpe calls herself a one hit wonder, but it was a full album of songs that took her to the height of fame. Then, she quit. She thought she did it for love, but when she finds her record producer boyfriend’s photo album of his sexual conquests while he’s out of town, she realizes she’s been fooling herself. In an incredibly refreshing turn (I’ve read too many books where the first thing the woman does is take a bubble bath) Eugenia goes to stay with her lesbian best friend/ former lover Wanda and enjoys a night of passionate, hot fuck-buddy sex with Wanda.
I read a lot of erotica. I write a bit too. Call me jaded, but it takes a bit to get my attention these days. Marilyn Jaye Lewis had me at that scene. I’m not sure if it was the realistic details, or the way Genie finally focused on her lover’s pleasure that did it for me, but who wants to deconstruct the mechanics of a scene when it turns you on?
Genie’s been a recluse for five years and doesn’t handle the real world well. Since she squandered away her earnings from her album, and Darryl (the cheating bf) owns everything, moving out isn’t so simple. Wanda offers Genie a job in her thrift store and a couch for as long as she needs it. She obsesses over being recognized and having to explain why she’s a lowly store clerk now, which isn’t exactly endearing. She seems almost incapable of taking care of herself. However, as most erotica novels are journeys of self-discovery, it’s pretty clear that her task is to become a functioning adult.
Moving back to the poorer part of Manhattan takes Genie back to her creative roots, which Darryl sneeringly calls the freak parade. It also surrounds her with old friends and lovers. Some of those people are good support, others are a lesson waiting to be learned. Genie might not identify as bisexual, but she has no gender hang-ups, so as she moves through her old haunts there are plenty of sexual escapades with men and women. She even gets off listening to her gay roommate dominate a closeted movie star. Not all of her experiences are positive, but they force her to grow up more.
Genie meets a Puerto Rican man named Eddie on the dance floor of a small club and is immediately enamored, but then he disappears. A week later, he calls and explains that he went out to buy flowers for her, and she was gone when he got back with them. They start an affair that wakes her muse. For the first time in years, she’s writing songs again, but even though she’s falling in love with Eddie, and the sex is great, there are problems. When they go out together, Genie’s eyes are opened to the real disparity between her poor but white world and his. His pride makes it hard for him to accept that she might be rich again after she records her new album. They can’t truly be together in New York. Either he’s treated like a criminal, or everyone speaks Spanish around her and leaves her out of the conversation. When he gets a job offer in Pennsylvania, she sees it as their chance to be together.There were some things that bothered me about this story, but they’re little nits. Genie’s friend Wanda, who was so important in the first few chapters, faded to the background. Genie’s self-absorption didn’t improve one bit in that regard from the opening chapter to the end. If she needed someone, she was all over them. If she didn’t… meh. But that’s how I saw the character. I also would have liked to have seen Genie’s realization of the disparity between white and non-white privilege lead to something other than fleeing the city to get away from it. (And how does a girl grow up in rural Kentucky without being aware of the unwritten racial rules?) Maybe it was asking for too much from Eugenia Sharpe. I know that this story is going to appeal to many readers, and the strong, macho, dominant Puerto Rican lover Eddie is going to make the closeted (and not so closeted) submissive girls of the world swoon with lust. The rest of you are going to love it because it’s everything you could want in erotic literature.
I've reviewed dozens of erotic books in the last decade, but never one with such an in-your-face title as Simon Sheppard's new short story collection, Sodomy! What a title to have screaming from your bookshelves, in red upper-case letters, complete with exclamation point. Better not leave it out when your more sensitive or squeamish friends come by, not unless you want them to know the whole truth about your kinky-slut, polymorphous-perverse alter-ego!
Given the title, plus my previous experience reading some of Simon Sheppard's tales, I was expecting something quite different from what I found within the covers. I was anticipating brutal butt-fucks, anonymous hook-ups, live-on-the-edge extreme couplings, sweat and spunk, maybe even shit and blood – a raw picture of rough gay sex through the eyes of a veteran. By contrast, the stories in Sodomy! turned out to be, in many cases, almost quiet – graceful, clever, literate, emotionally evocative narrations in which even casual encounters turn out to touch some chord beyond the physical. Don't misunderstand – there's plenty of butt-fucking in this collection, not to mention cock-sucking, spanking, and other sexual delights. Overall, though, the mood of these stories is more contemplative than shocking. A more appropriate (but I suspect far less marketable) title might be borrowed from the Victorian era classic: The Romance of Lust.
Perhaps the clearest example is “The Hula-hula Girl.” An aspiring writer turned dock worker in nineteen forties San Francisco picks up a young sailor in an all-night diner. On his way to Hawaii, Karl the Navy boy has a tattoo of a hula girl on his chest.
Maybe the smart thing would be to ask him to put on his clothes and get out. I figure I can handle him, whatever comes up. But the hula-hula girl just won't shut up. Come lie on the beach at Waikiki, she purrs, all colored ink and firm young flesh, and let the warm waves wash over your body.
It's not clear that Karl is exactly gay, but he's more than willing to have his cock sucked when he's shipping out on the morrow. The nameless narrator informs us that he's never considered a tattoo – too permanent, he says. Why tempt fate? Yet two months later, a month after the Pearl Harbor attack has apparently dragged Karl down to a watery grave, he's standing in front of his mirror with his own hula-girl tattoo and getting ready to enlist.
The romance genre is about everlasting love. In contrast, Sheppard's stories focus on impermanence, transient relationships that flare bright and then subside (or literally die). Still, the sense of romance is there, the feeling that one can be moved and changed by the experience of shared lust.
“Days” offers another, less dark instance of this theme. The narrator (many though not all of the stories in Sodomy! use first-person point-of-view) meets a young, innocent-seeming lad named Howard outside the Castro Theater. “Not a very sexy name, huh?” Howard comments, completely aware of his appeal, “perfectly imperfect” in the eyes of the narrator. An intense, kinky scene ensues.
I'm really rather good at spanking, if I do say so myself, and I tried to do my level best with you. It was so lovely to watch your fleshy ass move with the blows, like little tidal ripples of sex...I kind of hate it when people use religious metaphors for SM – it both seems rather pretentious and gives the game away – but this was becoming a spiritual experience, no doubt about it. At least for me.
They see each other a few more times and then the relationship comes to an “indecisive close.” No forever after, not even close. Yet the tiny perfect moments in those sexual encounters, the instants of simultaneous joy and complementary fantasy, remain real and somehow important.
Several of the tales take stereotypic porn scenarios and turn them on their heads. When you hear the title, “Two Bikers in a Room at the Motel 6,” you think you know what the story will be about. You wouldn't guess that one guy would be a married, straight Harley rider who just happens to like taking it in the ass, and the other a well-groomed gay college professor on a fancy Suzuki. “Brutes” is a hot yet heart-warming tale about a fat guy with a wrestler fetish, who discovers that the blond, muscle-bound star he idolizes just happens to be partial to heavy-set men. “About Gordon” is told by an experienced older man (Hal) who meets a sexy, geeky-looking young guy on the Internet (Gordon). The reader expects that Hal will show Gordon the ropes, but the reality is quite the opposite.
The story that came closest to my expectations was “Barebacking,” which concerns itself with the possibly fatal attraction of unprotected sex. The tale is raw, dangerous, and seductive, but even here there's hesitation, second thoughts. Sheppard leaves the reader to decide whether the narrator will continue his pleasurable but risky activities or not.
As Sheppard notes in his insightful introduction, many of the stories in this book are about writers. Two notable tales, “Lorca” and “Marcos y Che,” effectively alternate scenes from “real life” with excerpts from stories a character is in the midst of writing. The sharp, funny initial story in the collection, “A Retired Writer in the Sun” involves a gay graduate student named Quilty, interviewing an aged, legendary author of gay porn called the Witch of Capri for the purposes of his dissertation. As the Witch “sipped his gin and tonic and looked off to the horizon, where an improbably lovely sunset, freighted with metaphor, colored the afternoon”, he pontificates on the “lamentable” current state of erotic writing and mourns that fact that everyone wants “narrative consistency”. When the Witch becomes director of a smutty scene between Quilty and the serving boy Paulo, Quilty starts to understand the differences between life and literature.
I don't want to cover every story in the book – better to allow you to discover these jewels on your own – but I must mention “Three Places in New England” because of its structural perfection. Three places – Boston, New Haven, Montpelier. Three men, two of them strangers, one the committed partner of the narrator. In a mere nine pages, Sheppard constructs a masterful exposition on the difference between lust and love, managing to suggest, to me at least, that love may be at a disadvantage. Narrative consistency is only the beginning.
With this collection, Simon Sheppard demonstrates that literate porn is not an oxymoron. The stories in this volume offer a good deal of humor, some of it self-deprecating, but ultimately I think Sheppard is serious when he says, in “A Retired Writer...”
Personally, I think that Simon Sheppard is far too pessimistic here. His tales, by hints and indirections, do succeed in capturing some of lust's strange magic. Sodomy! might have surprised me, but it did not disappoint.
“I'd bet that many of us who write dirty stories do it, at least in part, in an attempt to master lust. Not to overcome it, but to make it, through thought and word, our servant. To capture desire, quintessential desire. And in this we are damn well bound to lose.”
It has been said that a three-legged stool and a three-person relationship are both unstable—likely to rock, shift and change position. And a relationship of two men and a woman or two women and a man is hard to classify as heterosexual, gay, lesbian or kinky, since it can be all of the above. At best, a threesome or ménage involves three distinct one-to-one relationships. At worst, the three come to realize that a former couple has been divided for no good reason. Or an interloper, like a robber bridegroom, has seduced a formerly-faithful spouse, leaving her/his mate outraged or heartbroken. Whether threesomes result in bliss or heartache, they are fascinating to read about. You never know where everyone will be when the mattress cools.
Threesomes are the theme of this anthology, edited by Selena Kitt and published by her company, eXcessica. However, there is nothing self-indulgent about these stories. All of them pay equal attention to each major character, and all the stories work on some level. Some have the complexity of real life, and some are classic sex fantasies.
My favorite in the bunch is “Crossroads” by Elliott Mabeuse, about extramarital temptation as a spiritual trap. The narrator is a collector of rare old blues records, and the story title refers to the legend that bluesman Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil for musical talent at a crossroads before being killed by a jealous husband in the 1930s. The current-day narrator, James, can’t resist Ellen, co-owner of an antique store who shares his love of vintage blues, although her husband is an acquisitive and possessive type. The haunted atmosphere of the antique shop is almost tangible.
Several of these stories are about hauntings or reincarnation: past desire that is strong enough to draw lovers together over and over. “Break Neck Hill” by Jack Osprey is set on an isolated stretch of icy road in New England, where an attractive woman real estate agent is stranded in her car at night until she is both menaced and rescued by a pair of bikers who offer to keep her company. The suspense never ends until the reader discovers that the three have a very old, unbreakable bond.
“Dream Lovers” by Dakota Trace is an erotic romance about time-travel on native land in Ontario. A pair of sisters, Orenda the seer and Onatah the healer, see their village burned to the ground by the English in 1816, but they are both destined to reappear in 2010. A pair of male cousins, Ragtow and Jack, are Onatah’s lovers, and they must mate with her in the twenty-first century to save their people in some undefined way. The connection of the three-way consummation with the resurrection of the Iroquois Confederacy is not clear enough to satisfy a fan of historical fantasy, but the sexual-initiation scenes are well-paced and hypnotically described.
Several of these stories offer more familiar fantasy ground. In “Wife Sandwich” by Giselle Renard, a high school girl has an affair with an older, married man, and serves as the catalyst that enables his busy-executive wife to relax and learn to enjoy sex. Presumably, the reunited couple won’t need the younger girl after they have left the girl’s house together, arm in arm.
Another story about the healing power of a threesome is "I’ll Be Your Superman" by the editor, Selena Kitt. Like D.H. Lawrence’s 1928 erotic novel Lady Chatterley`s Lover, this story is about a disabled man and his able-bodied wife, and her need for more robust sex than he can give her. Unlike Lawrence’s novel of adultery, however, Kitt’s story is about three loving, generous people who find a way to satisfy each other. The references to the late Christopher Reeves, the real-life Hollywood star who played the role of Superman before becoming disabled, make this story especially poignant.
In “Jackie’s Boys” by Bekki Lynn, a married woman enjoys her husband and his twin brother—who was her boyfriend first. The lack of jealousy in this story seems almost miraculous to me, but it is a woman’s fantasy about earthy, domestic life in the country, featuring all the male attention a woman could want.
“He Started It!” by Willsin Rowe is a messier story about a family ménage. In this one, Nicole is a 36-year-old divorcee who is visited by her ex-husband’s nephew and his friend who is still grieving for his late mother. The volatility of the feelings of two young men, one of whom has a crush on the other, and a mature woman who has been sex-starved for years, is convincingly shown. Somehow it all works in the present, but there is no guarantee that peace will prevail.
The musical theme that begins with “Crossroads” continues in “I Am Nobody’s” by Emma Hillman, a wry and droll tale of the emotionally confusing role of the girlfriend of a musician who seems to dump her onto his male bandmate because he wants to be rid of her. She bounces from one rocker to the other until everyone’s real motivations come out.
In “A Beautiful Friendship” by Will Belegon, a young man in a band is awed and somewhat intimidated by both his kick-ass girlfriend (a martial-arts instructor) and his “older woman” crush, his former supervisor who is a young widow with a child. The sexual attraction between both strong women seems almost inevitable once the narrator discovers it. Best of all, both of them want to share the stud-muffin between them.
Body-art is featured in “The Chocolatier” by Saskia Walker and “Painted into a Corner” by Darcy Sweet, two stories in which a woman is coaxed out of her clothes to be literally turned into a work of art for the delight of the artist and a witness.
“Threesome” by J.M. Snyder is about a male hustler who lures a gay-male couple into an encounter in the men’s room of a bar. In the hands of some writers, this tale could have reeked of booze, piss, sweat, jism, grit and the soullessness of an anonymous pickup, but in Snyder`s hands it turns out to be almost sweet. The scene is exciting for everyone involved; the two lovers become more intimate, and the hustler does a brisk business.
The theme of this collection allows for a variety of flavours, activities and outcomes. Menage seems likely to be popular for a long time to come.