“Mrs. Robinson” fantasies (referring to the older woman, Mrs. Robinson, who seduces a young man, a recent college graduate, in that iconic movie of the 1960s, The Graduate) deserve their own niche. What heterosexual teenage boy, bursting with hormones, has never been intrigued by a female friend of his parents? And where is such a young man supposed to acquire sexual experience – from an equally green girl of his own age?
This novel is a fantasy that could appeal to many a man who remembers his youth. It is also a realistic “what-if” story. What if the boy’s seemingly hopeless crush were mutual? What if the older woman took him under her wing (so to speak), apparently with his parents’ blessing? What would be her motivation? And how would the relationship play out?
This first-person novel tells the story of the narrator’s education, formal and informal, after he leaves home to attend Stanford University in California while living with “Aunt RoseAnn,” a sexy divorced Latina who is his mother’s best friend. The whole saga has the old-fashioned, autobiographical flavor of a realistic nineteenth-century novel. It is an erotic bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story.
When eighteen-year-old Barry arrives at RoseAnn’s apartment in 1983, he is impressed to see that she has outfitted a room for him. To his great embarrassment, he comes as soon as she hugs him. To his amazement, she is flattered. He confesses that he has fantasized about her for years.
Do you really think I haven’t known that? It’s been in your eyes since you were thirteen. Now you’re a full-grown man, virile and handsome. You carry yourself like a man years older than your calendar age, but I wonder, how much experience have you had with women?
A few girlfriends.
RoseAnn’s work is cut out for her, and she outlines his new role: he will be her houseboy, cooking and cleaning for her, but she will make sure he doesn’t neglect his studies. And she will introduce him to sexual self-control by teasing and frustrating him until she decides that he deserves release.
RoseAnn explains that she loves being dominant, but she doesn’t want to be addressed by any title. Barry learns that she loves oral sex (performed on her by an eager suitor) and that he has a natural talent for it. RoseAnn is honest about her age, 37, which is “just a number” to Barry.
RoseAnn is one of the most likeable Dommes in erotic fiction. She knows what she wants and keeps no secrets. She has known Barry for most of his life, and knows him better than he knows himself.
RoseAnn explains that she left her husband because he took her for granted and hit her, assuming she would accept this treatment. However, she has always been more than a sex object or a housekeeper. She is an engineer with skills that are in great demand in the development of cellular telephones. She is well able to afford her own expensive apartment and an independent life.
This story is told by Barry, who is so hooked on RoseAnn that he is unable to understand everything she tells him. A mature reader can grasp the essence of her instructions immediately. RoseAnn admits to being selfish enough to exploit the sexual eagerness of a young man, but she is also generous enough to give him an education which is likely to benefit him for the rest of his life. Without defining herself as a feminist, RoseAnn makes it clear that she will never again tolerate a man who exploits her and neglects her needs because he is lazy, selfish and ignorant. She is determined to train Barry well while he is still very susceptible to her training methods.
Barry thinks he has everything he could possibly want, but he is still attracted to female classmates. He is especially attracted to Gloria, sassy red-haired daughter of a Nobel Prize winner in Barry’s chosen field of study. Gloria flirts with Barry from their first meeting. What’s a boy to do?
Barry struggles to honor his commitments and make it clear to others that he is “taken.” He tells RoseAnn he wants to marry her.
RoseAnn’s training methods go beyond housework in the nude, cunt-worship and sexual deprivation to include bondage and whipping. As painful and cathartic as the percussion play is, RoseAnn’s cruel-to-be-kind response to Barry’s dream of a shared future hurts worse. Barry discovers the depth of his emotions as well as his own resilience.Lessons at the Edge is exceptionally well-plotted, and its solid structure raises it above the level of a masturbation fantasy aimed at teen boys. Every colourful detail is there for a reason which is eventually revealed. And for readers who are still hungry for more on the last page, there is the promise of a sequel.
Pandora is an American living in Prague with her husband Ty, who has returned to the Czech Republic after the upheavals there to build a business and reclaim a sense of his homeland from the corrupt regime. Running her own lingerie shop, “Pandora’s Box,” was part of the deal for moving, and Pandora finds she’s in love with the “music box” of a city.
There eroticism of Pandora begins from the start – Pandora enthusiastically enjoys sucking her husband, and delights in swallowing him (he drinks Pineapple Juice every day, and has a sweet taste) – but she notices that he’s more in tune with the video he’s watching than with her ministrations. His pillow-bed confession that he has – in the past – enjoyed having sex with two women at once and sometimes fantasizes about doing so with her leaves Pandora a little flustered at first, but the conversation moves on, and she considers forgetting it.
Then Cerise enters her store, and Pandora begins to realize that she has more of a fantasy life than she knew. Cerise is overtly sexual – a private dancer who can cross the lines for the right clients – and stirs something in Pandora for the first time. Before long, the hint of where this is going bears fruit, and then it’s Pandora whispering to her husband of a fantasy or two.
While the background story – Ty trying to achieve permits for his business deals and real estate venture, Pandora running her lingerie shop, and Pandora’s friendship with Cerise – plays out, we follow Pandora and Ty on a journey of sexual experimentation and fantasies realized that progress through any number of partners, combinations, and scenes. The sex is erotic and liquid and well written, though there’s not much beyond mild kink and those who prefer their sex to scorch with toys or submission or dominance won’t find that in Pandora. Pandora’s taste for swallowing is a recurrent theme – and her ability in this area leads her to a wonderfully triumphant moment near the book’s conclusion.
The narrative is enjoyable – I particularly found the sexually omnivorous and carefree Cerise to be a character who sometimes stole the show from Pandora and Ty. Cerise’s ending felt a little rushed and forced, but other than that, there were few moments in the story structure that gave me pause. Likewise, the eroticism is well done – though there are occasional times where terms grew a bit too clinical for my personal taste.
All said, Pandora is enjoyable erotica – at just shy of 200 pages, you’ll feel like you’re zooming through the book – and if it doesn’t do anything exceptionally unique, that isn’t to say it’s flawed in any way. It’s erotic but manages to be gentle to its characters (and reader) even when there are threesomes, foursomes, or moresomes in play. Pandora would be a perfect book to pass to someone dipping their toes into erotica for the first time, and, as Christmas approaches, a good gift for someone in that scenario – there’s enough titillation and frank prose to give a sense of the genre, but nothing so shocking as to startle someone not used to the style and content it generally holds. That might mean that people who’ve read a lot of erotica will find Pandora plays it a little safe, but I enjoyed the softer touch. And it was certainly a welcome change to find women who were taking what they wanted, and not being consistently and constantly submissive. Pandora works with Ty to explore her sexuality – and, most of the time – takes charge of her own path.
Let me be clear at the outset. Sugar In My Bowl is not a collection of erotica. Although the book includes a few short stories, most of the twenty-nine contributions are essays concerning various aspects of sex. There's also a wonderful theatrical piece (a “triologue”) that reads more like poetry (“Skin, Just Skin,” by Eve Ensler), a pseudo-scientific parody on the influence of sex toys and guides, complete with footnotes (“Best Sex Ever: A Systematic Guide with Meta-Analysis” by Jessica Winter), and a hilarious sequence of drawings about having a clone of oneself, with a cock (“Cock of My Dreams: A Graphic Fantasy” by Marisa Acochella Marchetto). The pieces range from wistful to hysterical, lyrical to analytical, as each author does her best to fulfill the editor's instruction to write about the “best sex you've ever had.”
Despite the subtitle, the contributors to this volume are a highly selected subset of “real women,” mostly writers, often feminists. The roll includes such luminaries as Fay Weldon, Susie Bright, Susan Cheever, Eve Ensler, and Ms. Jong herself. As a result, their offerings tend to be literate, articulate and insightful. Their individual approaches to their “assignment” vary greatly.
In “My Best Friend's Boyfriend,” Fay Weldon, at 79, describes losing her virginity at the age of eighteen and discovering, after a childhood of ignorance and prudishness, how much she loved sex. She notes that in 1949, there was no contraception, no abortion. Sex could destroy your life. As a result, she comments, sex was a dangerous thing, far more interesting and erotic than it is now.
Liz Smith writes about her first time, too, in “Going All the Way.” She evokes the sexist, racist, anti-intellectual attitudes of nineteen thirties Texas, describing one luminous night with her first cousin that was never repeated.
Some of the contributors paint searingly erotic pictures of relationships where passion mingles with darker things: anger, fear, addiction, doubt. “The One Who Breaks My Heart” by Rosemary Daniell chronicles her multi-decade affair with a troubled man who was unquestionably her soul mate, despite his faults. In “Do I Own You Now?” Daphne Merkin describes a summer in her youth, where she was supposed to be working at a prestigious writers' colony but instead was sneaking off to New York City to be with her moody, possessive lover. It couldn't last, of course, that kind of is-this-love-or-is-this-hate entanglement, but I swear it makes my brain smoke just to consider it all these years later.
Many of the women consider their own sexual selves in the context of their parents. Julie Klam, daughter of sexually permissive nudists, titles her piece “Let's Not Talk About Sex.” Now a mother herself, she begs to be relieved of the need to tell her daughter about the facts of life. She writes:
If evil governments are really looking to torture prisoners, they should forget about waterboarding and just have them sit in a room beside their parents having loud sex. I'd talk!
In her more meditative essay, entitled “Somewhere I Have Never Traveled, Gladly,” Meghan O'Rourke discusses the influence of her parents' sexual history on her own. At the age of seventeen, her mother eloped with her twenty two year old Latin teacher from her Catholic school (Meghan's father). Interspersing this romantic yet shocking tale with her own sexual awakening, Ms. O'Rourke contemplates the similarities and differences across the generations.
Perhaps the most pointed generational contrast comes from Molly Jong-Fast, the editor's daughter. Her essay, “They Had Sex So I Didn't Have To,” marvels at the fact that she's married, with three kids and a sexually-conservative, non-experimental life style, despite being the child of the woman notorious for having invented the zipless fuck.
Almost every piece in this book has something to offer. My two favorites, I think, were the very different essays by Jean Hanff Korelitz (“Prude”) and Susan Cheever (“Sex with Strangers”). In some sense these two authors are at opposite poles of the sexual spectrum.
Ms. Korelitz writes about her life-long discomfort talking about sex. Despite being a prude, after having her “serious” novels rejected again and again, she spends her two weeks at a writers' workshop penning a graphic erotic novel. When she publishes it under a pseudonym, this somehow breaks the barrier. She goes on to multiple successful novels, but she can't forget the shameful fact that her first publishing credit was a dirty book.
While I can't begin to identify with her attitudes toward the erotic, I found her insights into the experience of authorship surprisingly congruent with my own. Writing fiction has always been something of an out-of-body experience for me, and it isn't at all unusual for me to read a sentence from one of my published novels and not have the slightest memory of having composed it. That's exactly how I feel, when I reread my work – except that I'm not embarrassed by its content.
Ms. Cheever's essay captures the thrill and occasional transcendence of sex with strangers. One night stands can be spiritual in another way: they can be sex without expectations. They are a leap of faith because you never know quite where they will lead. I know exactly what she's talking about. In her case, a one-night stand turned into a multi-decade, married relationship.
Sugar In My Bowl includes many other notable contributions. While most are not physically arousing (there are a few exceptions), you'll find much to stimulate your intellect and emotions – and occasionally your funny bone. I recommend the book highly.
I live in Los Angeles, where earthquakes are, while not common, part of the experience. Some people take them in stride, but others are - forgive me - shaken to their cores when they realize that terra firma isn't always so firma. Language is like that. We think we understand the ideas words represent. But language is fluid. Lingua firma it ain't.
This is something you're going to have to wrap your head around when you read Take Me There. Gender is an even more fluid concept, seemingly shifting even within some of these stories, unless you give up on the idea of gender all together and just roll with it. Because if you waste every moment while reading this book trying to deduce who has what genitals and how to categorize the characters, you'll miss some damn fine stories.
While all that should matter is the story, not the writer, glancing down the list of contributors and trusting Tristan's vision put me in a confident mood before I even read the first story in this anthology. Maybe someone wants to read erotica where trans and genderqueer people are treated like disposable sex toys, useful only as fetish objects and without any human depth or feeling, but not me. On the other hand, if I want hours of lectures about gender politics... hmmm, I've never wanted that. Talk about a mood killer. The great thing about this anthology is that it deftly avoids either of those extremes and gets down to very human stories of desire.
From Skian McGuire's “The Boy the Beast Wants”:
Aren’t they [other lovers] enough? They ought to be. But the problem is, I care about them. I could never bring myself to do to them any of the things I see myself doing in my mind’s eye to the boy that my Beast has invented.
As Skian's narrator pours out this fantasy of the perfect boy, it hits really close to home.
“Femme Fatigue” by Anna Watson was all kinds of wonderful, one of those stories where you nod in recognition at passages. It was so hard to pick just one to show how brilliant it is.
How can a femme walk out in the world and have people know she’s queer when she looks to most people like she’s just a regular straight girl? It’s like I have a storehouse of queer energy somewhere in my belly, and it runs out—it runs out all the time. Mitch does what he can, but he’s got so many of his own complicated feelings about queer and straight and man and woman—things aren’t as straightforward with him as they were before he transitioned (although, as it turned out, they weren’t even straightforward then, we just didn’t exactly know it). Per queered me.
Many of the stories in this anthology are about claiming sexual identify, but for me, Anna Watson put it best.
“Hold Up” by Ivan Coyote speaks to the desire to skip conversation and get right down to sex:
I know I can be a complicated creature. I know this. I know it cannot be easy for a trick to figure out my body on the fly, and I understand that often the kind of tiresome questions and trepidation and fear that a femme feels when feeling me up for the first time is born from a desire to not trample where she shouldn’t, and to step lightly through possibly painful territory, but that doesn’t make it any hotter for me to discuss do’s and don’ts in the dark, when I would rather be fucking or fisting or tangling tongues or pulling each other’s hair and deciding by willpower and whim just who is going to suck whose what, and when and exactly how.
Luckily for the narrator, such a lover does exist.That's only a small taste of the wonderful stories that fill the pages of this anthology. With contributions by Gina de Vries, Rahne Alexander, Ivan Coyote, Helen Boyd, Giselle Renarde, Dean Scarborough, Evan Swafford, Jaques La Fargue, Kiki DeLovely, Kate Bornstein, Toni Amato, Sandra McDonald, Andrea Zanin, S. Bear Bergman, Anna Watson, Julia Serano, Rachel K Zall, Alicia E. Goranson, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Michael Hernandez, Shawna Virago, Sinclair Sexsmith, Arden Hill, Zev, Tobi Hill-Meyer, Penelope Mansfield, Skian McGuire, Laura Antoniou, and Patrick Califia, you're bound to find several that speak to you. From BDSM to sweet romance, Tristan brings you a wide range of stories. I wish we had a rating for thumbs up plus, but I'll have to be content telling you that this anthology is not to be missed.
I’ve posted some fairly harsh reviews on here over the past few years. And, at first, I thought, “Wow! I’m a bastard.” I’ll be honest and admit that there was no sense of Machiavellian pleasure in that thought. I was genuinely appalled by my apparent vindictiveness. I’ve never wanted to be a bastard and reaching that status is not something of which I’m proud.
I try to be positive with book reviews. I know how much hard work and effort goes into any creative endeavour – books especially. Book reviews that are scathing just for the sake of being scathing are nothing more than ego trips for the reviewer. And reviewers who are consistently scathing are nothing more than bastards.
But, it seems, that’s what I’ve become. I’m a bastard.
Initially, as a reviewer, I had always tried to couch my barbs behind pleasant euphemistic phrases.
“A good effort,” was one of my favourite (condescending) phrases. “A good effort,” usually meant: if the author had spent twelve more months reading through the material, amending it and addressing all of its numerous issues, the draft MS might have been ready for the hand of an editor.
Mentioning that the book or the author “has potential” was also another of my ways to politely say that the tome stank like an overused outflow pipe on a hot summer’s day.
If I said the book “brought a tear to my eye” it was invariably because I’d considered self-harm rather than subjecting myself to reading any more of the title being reviewed.
But then my façade of geniality began to slip. I remember suggesting that one book could have used the services of a good editor. I then went on to add that the abilities of a competent author would not have gone amiss.
It was a harsh review although I still stand behind the honesty of every scathing word I wrote. The author said it was a harsh review when he or she sent me the hate mail afterwards. (I’m saying he or she because I can’t remember whether the author was male or female. And I’m too lazy to change tabs on my browser and look up this trivial piece of information).
What I should be saying when I review a poorly written book is: it’s not the quality of your book. It’s my ideals as a reviewer and publishing professional. In the current climate of mediocrity and middling abilities your book is a nadir of acceptably low standards. Sadly, I keep falling back into my old habits of hiding behind euphemistic pleasantries.
All of which brings me to Whileaway [sic].
Whileaway is a collection of short stories varying in length. Pitched as “erotic tales to revitalise the weary traveller…” and purportedly being presented by, “A Major New York Times Bestseller Peruser [sic],” the stories in Whileaway are written with a distinctly male narrator’s voice. Even when the story is lesbian sex, told from the perspective of one of the enthusiastic lesbian characters, there is still something masculine about the narrator’s voice:
She slide [sic] her fingers around, trying to find the spot. “It must have dried up,” Monika said with a concerned look. She popped her finger into her mouth and wet it. “Here let me try again.”
Her wet finger traced a cool damp line along my thigh that was so indescribably delicious, I was afraid I would shout out with joy. I felt an independent trembling of my hips that I had never experience [sic] before, as if I was going to throw up in another part of my body.
And here’s a taster from the short story “OOF.”
I fill in the application form carefully, and insert the required money order, seal the envelope and add a stamp. I had climsily [sic] torn the self-addressed envelop [sic] that came with the offer, so I am obliged to address a new envelope by hand. “OOF,” I write on the first line. Obviously it stood for “Official Old-” something-or-other. Odd they didn’t let on. A whiff of malodorous hot air is passed, causing my eyes to tear and momentarily disturb my concentration.
So, read closely through the above excerpts and appreciate that I’m being really picky about the quality of the writing. It’s not the author at fault here: it’s the bastard reviewer. If either of those snippets from the book makes a potential reader feel they want to read more, I’d advise you to rush out and buy a copy.
And, for anyone who has read this title, I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say that Whileaway is a good effort and the book or author has potential. Reviewing it brought a tear to my eye.