Extraordinary Deviations is a collection of short stories featuring transgendered characters. The first several stories seem to have been written by someone who heavily fetishizes transgendered people while simultaneously loathing them, which made it uncomfortable going in the beginning. Thankfully, that tone seemed to change in later stories.
Honestly, I almost set aside the collection during the first story, “Only Fate,” due to the rampant misogyny. Only by reminding myself frequently that it was the character, not the writer, speaking, was I able to wade through the bitterness. Unfortunately, “Lover of the Whore of Babylon” was pretty much along the same lines. A collection is in trouble when the first two stories inspire long, deep sighs and glances at a watch, but then lo! A miracle occurred. The third story, “Opening,” was actually interesting. Good world development and well-drawn characters. “Gallae” was about being obsessed with transgendered folks as sexual objects, which is problematic, and the story wasn’t that interesting, but at least by then I wasn’t dreading the next story as I had been after the first two.
“Thief of Dreams” had an excellent premise if you’re not too picky about consent, invasion of privacy, and things like that. A hacker taps into interactive porn and participates. The other person thinks it’s simply a program while he pushes them to fulfill his fantasies. Then someone with revenge in mind tracks him down and hacks into his feed. He can’t escape. He isn’t sure he wants to. I give this story a huge recommendation if you like edgy.
I also have to give recognition to the story “Jack-A-Roe” for recognizing that some sexual fantasies are simply too much for some people. A woman is bequeathed a mask and other items from her aunt that she uses as part of a costume. The spirit in the mask leads her into a rather wild time that overwhelms and scares her, so she puts it aside. Respecting your personal limits is just as important a message in sex-positive stories as the “try it, you’ll like it” spin.
If you’re into the fey and other woodland supernaturals, “One Hundred and Twenty-Two Petals” might be a tale for you. Not my thing, but by now I was just grateful that the creepy fetishizing established at the opening of the collection had simmered down into decent storytelling, so I have no complaints about this one.
In “Bridge Over Shifters Chasm,” beta mutants in an alpha superheroes world find each other. This is one of the stronger stories in the collection, and a good way to close it out.
I don’t quite know what to make of Good Pussy Bad Pussy: Rachel’s Tale. I’m not sure the author did, either. The title sounds like a lighthearted, sexy romp, and the first part is certainly sexy enough, but Rachel is foolish rather than lighthearted, and some of the situations she gets herself into are too grim to be considered romps.
This isn’t a bad book by any means. The writing is good on a sentence-by-sentence level, even if the overall pattern is somewhat confusing. The central character is likeable enough, even when one wants to give her a clue-by-four (or six, or eight.) The sex is well written, although by the second half of the book there’s very little enjoyment involved.
Rachel, an American, is bored with her husband in Amsterdam, so she leaves him (and her four year old son) and runs off with blond, buff Stefan to Nice, convincing herself that “it was true love, great passion, high romance.” Life on the Riviera seems to be everything she could want, and so does the sex with Stefan. Sex with Stefan’s boss is even better. But sex with the boss’s brutish business associate is not, and Rachel feels guilty that she comes to orgasm even with someone who repels her. (She never seems to realize how lucky she is that all the men she fucks, even the brute, are skilled at giving women oral sex.)
Rachel also feels guilty now and then about leaving her son, but she’s so intent on living her life to the fullest, on having “freedom” and “being someone” (at least in a sexual context,) that she ignores such guilt as much as she can. She also ignores certain facts of life (as do the men, somewhat unbelievably,) and sure enough, she gets pregnant.
Here’s where the story takes a turn or two away from anything remotely approaching a romp. Stefan rejects her; her husband in Amsterdam reluctantly takes her back, but that isn’t working out well; and suddenly she gets word that her father in New York is dying and she must fly there to be with her family.
What follows is a mix of positive—Rachel’s mother is a strong woman who supports her daughter even while they’re both grieving—and over-the-top negative, chiefly due to Rachel’s brother-in-law, a gynecologist who has lusted after her for years and now goes batshit crazy over her with assault after assault. I don’t want to give away every detail, but if the pregnancy itself isn’t supposed to be seen as a punishment for all the joyful sex she’s had, the cartoonishishly obssessive brother-in-law certainly fills that bill. After all Rachel’s rhapsodizing over the glories of sex, is she supposed to be learning a lesson?
Then romance reaches out unexpectedly from the past, and the pregnancy may turn out to provide a reward instead of punishment. If this is meant to be a morality tale, Rachel’s one redeeming act has been refusing to get an abortion.
As I said at the start, I’m not sure what to make of it all. A morality tale or a paean to sexual desire, the greatest life-force? It’s not that I feel a need for every book to be strictly categorized, but in this case I couldn’t help wondering what the reader was supposed to take from all this. Still, every reader is different, so for some, Good Pussy, Bad Pussy may be just what their fantasy lives ordered.
I’m not a fan of erotic romance.
I don’t see the allure of emotionally distant billionaires—emotionally distant anyone, for that matter. Just so you know I don’t have it out for billionaires.
It annoys the hell out of me when female characters are drawn as clumsy to make readers hate them less, or something like that. My family motto is practically “Never admit to weakness,” so I’m perplexed by the strategy when women gush, “Oh, but I am so clumsy. Gosh, I can’t function in life, I’m such a scatterbrain.” Come on, ladies. You can’t fool me. I’ve seen the way you handle real life, jobs, kids, marriage, committees that organize the entire world, deal with sick or elderly parents, and negotiate through hard economic times. You aren’t idiots, so why do you like reading about characters that are? I don’t get it.
So you see, I’m probably the last person who should be reviewing Charlotte Stein’s Run to You, because all the story elements are practically designed to irritate the crap out of me. And yet, Ms. Stein is such a delightful storyteller that even this black, hardened heart lightened up a bit. I know! Scandalous! Once she dispensed with the de rigueur introduction of the character Alissa as a loser, she let Alissa turn it about and act like a sensible person. Alissa knew her comfort zones. Like any real hero, she pushed herself to try things, but didn’t always like them. When that happened, she clearly said no and didn’t let herself be pushed. That’s admirable in anyone, male or female.
Janos starts off as emotionally distant and sort of dom-ish. What made him interesting wasn’t his billions, but how he was just as unprepared for a relationship as Alissa was. There’s so much ebb and flow of power between the two that it came across as an equal relationship. Despite some D/s aspects in the bedroom, out in the real world they’re not doing scenes. They can barely deal with just being themselves. And even in private, there’s a playfulness between them that made me think that, okay, if these were real people, they really would get along.
I was a little disappointed toward the end when the story took a turn to the formulaic, but what can you do? It’s erotic romance. [Editor’s note: And that is but one of the reasons Erotica Revealed strives not to review erotic romance. I am sorry Kathleen; I did not realize Run to You was erotic romance.] But even then, I enjoyed Ms Stein’s writing. Just please, don’t tell anyone I recommended this book. I have a reputation to maintain, after all. ;)
When a suicide appears in the first few chapters of a book, one expects death, or at least violence, to show up before the end. In the case of Julie Hilden's novella The Film Student and Me, the victim is a female photographer whose erotically themed work adorns the walls of eponymous film student Jared Smithson's palatial and barren penthouse apartment.
Most of the Woodman photos are nudes of Francesca herself or of other women, and I find them powerfully erotic and powerfully disturbing. Just like Jared. No wonder he chose them. There's a darkness, a sadness, in these photos, and in him.
I don't know what to make of the photos where the women's faces are obscured or blurred, while their bodies are clearly shown. They are a strange mix of disturbing and dangerous and arousing, all at once.
I worry for a moment about the emphasis of bodies over faces. These seem to be the only pieces of art he owns, and thus an important clue to who he really is.
And in looking at these photos, I think I have been duly warned as to what I am in for. Something disturbing. Something sexual. Something where my body will be the focus, but in a dangerous, forbidding way.
Even without having read Ms. Hilden's chillingly erotic novel 3, (which I reviewed for Erotica Revealed a few months ago) you can't help but catch the sense of anxiety here, the threat lurking beneath the surface, the imminence of terror and pain. These emotions might trigger enough discomfort that you stop reading, though more likely, you'll persevere, fascinated by the tangled connections between sex and evil, drawn (as I am) by that promise of madness.
In The Film Student, however, the author does not fulfill this promise. What begins as a trip to the dark side of desire fizzles out into a happy ending that's both conventional and implausible, given the early chapters of the book.
Let me back up and introduce the characters and the plot. Rebecca, the narrator, lives the perfect life, or so she believes. Married to a wealthy, dynamic financier, with two lovely and talented preteen daughters, she has traded her youthful dreams of a PhD for comfort and security. True, the physical bond between her and her husband has more or less disappeared, but she tells herself that this is a natural consequence of age and familiarity, and that they still love each other.
This fantasy of satisfaction crumbles when she discovers her husband is having a passionate affair with a much younger colleague. Stunned at first, Rebecca decides to respond by taking a young lover of her own. She wants to avoid a divorce at all costs, out of concern for her children, but she figures that she deserves some extra-curricular fun.
At first, she steers her own sexual journey, donning revealing clothing for the first time in her life, basking in the masculine attention she attracts, flirting with the men who notice her and considering, almost clinically, which one she should select for her affair. Then she meets Jared in the NYU library. Almost immediately she gives him control over her body and her pleasure – as he invites her to do. She's frightened of the self-involved, amoral film student, but irresistibly attracted as well. Despite her better judgment, she finds herself obeying his every whim, even those that involve pain, humiliation, and the risk of exposure. He rewards her with pleasure beyond anything she's ever imagined.
Who could give up this kind of pleasure, pleasure that's so intensified by the waiting that it is almost unbearable, that it's almost pain. A delicious kind of pain, but pain nevertheless.
For this pleasure many sacrifices would be made, and many moral codes broken.
I'm afraid I found Rebecca superficial and unconvincing. She claims that her girls mean everything to her, yet manages to completely forget them once she's in Jared's sway. She talks about how frightened she is by her lover's extreme demands, yet she comes back again and again. Finally, despite her avowed addiction to the film student, at the end of the tale (spoiler alert), she walks away from the supposedly life-changing relationship with scarcely a second thought.
Jared, on the other hand, managed to fascinate me nearly as much as he does the other women in his life. Orphaned by his parents' car crash (rumored to be due to carnal activities while they were driving), he grew up wild, buying his way out of trouble – especially sexual trouble. By his teens he was already expert at getting females to do whatever he wanted. Early in the book, he tells Rebecca the story of Krista and Belinda, two girls at school whom he turned into his sexual slaves. They hated one another, but they roomed together so that when one was with Jared, the other would know. Years later, they still come when he calls them.
Jared's a bit insane, demanding and irrational, damaged and lonely, but inordinately proud of his phenomenal erotic abilities. When he shares his cautionary tale of Krista's and Belinda's degradation, he's both warning Rebecca and tempting her.
“This is what I do, Rebecca. It's the thing I'm best at in the whole, entire world: seducing women. There's a million things I'm terrible at, believe me. I suck at sports and I'm only okay at school. A big donation got me into NYU film. But when it comes to seduction, I'm a genius.”
To be the focus of that sort of confident power, especially when backed up by knowledge and intuition, can be intoxicating. One would do anything, risk anything, for the experience. And after Krista and Belinda's terrifying story, after the foreshadowing photos, Ms. Hilden had me believing that Jared truly was dangerous.
In fact, the prophesied violence never appears. The scenarios Jared orchestrates to push Rebecca's limits are moderately transgressive, but have none of the life-threatening quality of Ilan's games in 3. What begins as an exploration of power and surrender turns into a love story. And finally, abandoned, Jared simply disappears from the narrative.
I don't buy it.
The darkness is real, at the beginning of this tale. By the end, it has gone underground, buried under romantic platitudes and feminist rhetoric. A reviewer should not, perhaps, speculate about an author's intentions or inner state, but I can't help thinking that with this book, Ms. Hinden started out to write something like 3, something vital and raw, vicious and seductive, and got scared – whether personally, or about the book's marketability. I don't know the history of The Film Student and Me, but both the language and the structure suggest that it was written before 3, which reads like a more mature work. On the other hand, it's possible that this novella is in some sense a sequel, cleansed and brightened to appeal to a wider audience.
The Film Student and Me is far better written than many of the erotica titles I review. It has flashes of brilliance and truth. In the end, though, I was disappointed that the author did not follow through on her promises.