Erotica is in the eye of the beholder, right? I try to write my reviews with an eye toward how well a book will appeal to people who like its particular flavor of erotica. Of White Snakes and Misshaped Owls: Volume One of the Charlotte Olmes Mystery Series by Debra Hyde rings a whole carillon of my personal chimes, so if you share my tastes you’ll like this book, and if you don’t, you won’t. To be more specific:
So consider yourself forewarned if you don’t happen to share my tastes in these matters. Also be forewarned that, while the crime and investigation are well-drawn, this is a novella-length story, and with all the deliciously erotic scenes the mystery part may seem a bit rushed, and even a bit unfair to the reader since it depends on the detective’s knowledge of the lowlife jargon of the times. On the other hand, the reader gets what may seem like all too much help from scenes that switch to the viewpoint of the murderer and others associated with him. I didn’t mind, being more preoccupied with the various other kinds of switching being described.
The author says she hopes to continue the series with more crime cases and more about the team of Charlotte Olms and Joanna Wilson. They fit their times and relationship very well, since, after all, Victorian-era gentlemen didn’t get to have all the fun, no matter what we’ve been made to think.
Let me begin by confessing that I don't generally find orgasms erotic. I'd rather read about obsessive, irresistible desire than its fulfillment. I often find what's going on in lovers' minds far more arousing than anything involving their bodies. In some sense, climaxes are anti-climactic, the predictable denouement of practically every story that has ever appeared in a Cleis anthology.
Hence, I approached this massive collection of very short erotic tales – none longer than 1200 words – with a certain degree of wariness. I know from personal experience how difficult it is to compress three-dimensional characters, a recognizable conflict, a narrative arc and a resolution into a mere three or four pages. I expected a parade of shallow sexual scenarios, each one leading inexorably to the money shot. When I opened this book of “sexy stories,” I feared I'd find far more emphasis on the sex than on the story.
I wasn't completely wrong. At least fifty percent of the contributions focus almost purely on the physical, albeit in a wide-ranging set of circumstances. I forgot these stories pretty much as soon as I'd read them, though I'm sure there are readers who'll have a different – probably more physical – reaction. Among these somewhat commonplace offerings, though, I discovered more than a few gems: stories with an actual plot, dealing with real problems; stories whose originality made me smile or ache; stories where the language made me gasp in admiration; stories with truth and heart.
Possibly my favorite tale in the book was “Matinee” by Suleikha Snyder. A college student in America returns to India to find herself smothered by the constraints of traditional culture. A young man named Azad (which means “freedom”) greets her in the park, where she is walking with her scandalized cousins. In defiance of society's standards, she allows Azad to take her to the movies and there, in the darkened theater, with him barely touching her arm, she finds herself drowning in arousal. “Her knees were covered,” Ms. Snyder writes, “but everything else was stripped totally naked.” Rarely have I read such vivid evocation of youthful lust.
Preston Avery's “White” is another standout. “When I make you come, what color is it?” asks the narrator's wife. As she teases and torments him, every nuance of sensation takes on a hue. “All I want to do is come, and I am red with it. Orange, yellow then blazing electric blue.” The story is as gorgeously erotic as a Georgia O'Keefe painting.
“After the Funeral” by Jeanette Grey, introduces two complex and troubled characters, with a sexual history we can only guess. As they come together, awkward and angry, driven by grief and loneliness, they find a kind of transcendence, at least for the moment. Who are this woman and man? What's their relationship, to one another and to the deceased? Who died and under what circumstances? The unanswered questions only add depth to the tale.
If I were asked to choose the one story that personally turned me on the most, I think I'd pick “The Morning After” by David Salcido. This luscious, pan-sexual, post-wedding menage is cleverly designed to keep the reader guessing as long as possible about the gender of the narrator. But then, that issue really doesn't matter in Mr. Salcido's story-world, where everyone gets a generous piece of everyone else.
Tenille Brown and Logan Zachary win special accolades for originality. Ms. Brown's contribution, “In Her Hands,” features a couple of homeless people as the main characters – definitely not your standard erotica protagonists. When Randall gets picked up by a wealthy woman who feeds and clothes him in return for sex, Button decides she needs to take charge in order to get him back. Mr. Zachary's “Remote Control” is an outrageous fantasy about a device that can alter reality in whatever way its operator desires. I won't spoil the fun by revealing just what desires get fulfilled.
I've already confessed that I find the mind more arousing than the body. Hence, I loved Xan West's tale
“Baxter's Boy.” The narrator, a high femme lesbian, is obsessed by Baxter, a legendary FTM transsexual interested only in males. Her extreme encounter with Baxter and his submissive boy takes place entirely in her imagination, but that does not render the effect any less real.
I don't have time or space to provide details on every story I marked as exceptional. Others included:
“How You Christen a Bed” by Thomas S. Roche, a wise and humorous examination of incompatibility, told in evocative, clever prose;
“Her Lover is a Flame” by Cecilia Tan, an exquisite prose poem in less than three hundred words;
“Payback” by Emerald, sexual second chance offering a pleasing symmetry;
“Pushing Boundaries on Public Transit” by Victoria Blisse, smutty, heartfelt fun that will leave you smiling;
“Icing on the Cake” by Lula Lisbon, a filthy femdom snippet with kinks that will squick some and make others squirm;
“Meeting Cute” by Vanessa Madison, another steamy movie house flirtation featuring red licorice Twizzlers;
“Queer for Mike” by Shane Allison, a sad, believable story about taking what you can get;
“The Park” by Elise Hepner, ultrashort, enigmatic and evocative, set in an after hours amusement park;
“Meeting Myself” by Anya Levin, a sincere and moving look at a widow reclaiming desire after her husband's death;
Even with all these excellent stories, I found myself getting a bit burnt out by The Big Book of Orgasms. Then, a few pages from the end of the collection, I encountered the astonishing “Should You Ever Be Allowed to Feel This Good?” by Lillian Ann Slugocki. This story is in a category by itself, so powerful that it's scary. I read it over three times. I'm sure I'll go back and read it again.
It's not easy knowing that tonight is the night – the mask of Lilith, like a shadow on the bed.
When he was gone, I finally looked at myself – and saw that my legs were tattooed up and down with bite marks. As if a rabid dog or a wolf had gotten control of me, sunk his incisors deep into my flesh, and wouldn't let go. I needed a rabies shot, antibiotics and cold compresses. I needed to see a doctor, a shrink, a shaman, a priest. I needed to call my mother but she was dead.
It's almost worth buying the book, for this story, alone.
Someone who has read and reviewed as much erotica as I have tends to get a bit jaded. I don't necessarily expect much. I'm happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of many of the sexy stories in the The Big Book of Orgasms. Meanwhile, if you're more of an orgasm fan than I am, this collection offers an almost inexhaustible supply.
In the future, the distant future that was promised to us long ago, where we ride hoverboards and commute via flying cars, researchers will have specific names for our time period. In particular I think researchers will divide the eras of erotic literature into Pre-50SOG (Prior to the publication of Fifty Shades of Grey) and Post-50SOG (In the period following the publication of Fifty Shades of Grey).
I riffle through the piles and piles of paraphernalia sprawled all over my bedroom floor. I’m going to be late. “Kate!” I yell frantically. Where the hell are they? I run out onto the landing and throw myself over the banister. “Kate!”
I hear the familiar sound of a wooden spoon bashing the edges of a ceramic bowl as Kate appears at the bottom of the stairs, her red hair piled high in a mass of curls. She looks up at me with a tired expression. It’s an expression that I’ve become used to recently.
“Keys!” Have you seen my car keys?”” I puff at her.
“They’re on the table under the mirror where you left them last night.” She rolls her eyes, taking herself and her cake mixture back to her workshop.
These are the opening lines to This Man, the first of a trilogy of books that tells the story of Ava O’Shea and her relationship with Jesse Ward. As you read the above, about Ava and Kate, in the first of a trilogy, presented in paperback as a black bound book with silver/white iconic imagery on the cover, it’s easy to acknowledge we’re living in a Post-50SOG society.
I’m not trying to suggest that a Post-50SOG world is indicative of a dystopian society (although the absence of hoverboards and flying cars does seem to lend itself to an idea of dystopia, There were no hoverboards or flying cars in Orwell’s 1984 and that was pretty shit). Fifty Shades sold an enormous amount copies and I’ve always maintained that 70,000,000 lemmings can’t be wrong. I’m simply trying to point out that it’s impossible to read This Man without realising the book, characters, packaging and concept do appear to have been shaped by the fact that we live in a Post-50SOG community.
Perhaps it would be easier to illustrate my point with some sex.
“Don’t stop!” I scream, flinging my hands up to grab his slippery biceps. I dig my nails in to try and find some grip, prompting him to yell more and pound harder. I throw my head back in despair. The power and control he has is beyond comprehension.
“Damn it, Ava. Look at me!”
My head falls back down and our eyes meet. His pupils are huge and glazed, nearly cancelling out the greenness of his stare, and I notice his frown deepening and sweat dripping down his temples. Shifting my hands to the back of his head I fist my hands in his saturated hair, pulling his head down so our lips collide and our tongues clash, while he continues his punishing blows.
I can’t hold back any more. “Jesse, I’m going.” I pant against his lips. The tops of my fingers are numb from my stupidly fierce grasp of him.
“Fuck! Together, okay?” he strains through his clenched teeth, driving harder a few more body-blowing, mind-numbing times, before yelling., “Now!”
I let it go – all of the pent-up heaviness in my groin, the weight in my lungs and the fire in my belly – it all comes out on a massive rush of pressure and a very loud scream.
“Jesus Christ!” he cries, thrusting one last, powerful time before stilling over me.
In the Pre-50SOG world, erotic fiction was identified by the fact that it provided innovative titillation. Books would be discussed for their inventive approach to coitus, their cruel approach to BDSM or the appeal of unfamiliar, unusual and possibly illegal practices being described. Character, as always, was consistent with the milieu of the story. In the Post-50SOG the world is filled with trilogies that are packaged to look identical, and filled with characters and sex that don’t give us anything we haven’t seen fifty times before.
I’m going to point out here that I’m not having a go at This Man. If you want to rub one out to a book, as the passage above shows, This Man is more than suitable for those purposes. This Man also contains the plot.
But the book didn’t strike me as anything particularly new. As the aforementioned sex scene demonstrates, the intercourse is presented with an inoffensive vocabulary and illustrates intimacy with anodyne terms, adjectival phrases and a text message’s worth of exclamation points. The majority of anatomical descriptions relate to aspects of the body that are not conventionally associated with sex (head, teeth, biceps and lungs) and there are some lesser suggestions of more sexually familiar component parts such as a groin and tongues. I’m not saying this is the wrong way to write erotic fiction. I’m just pointing out that, in the Post-50SOG world where we reside, this is standard.
This Man is good, but it’s no better than fifty other trilogies that are currently sitting on the shelves.What I’m trying to say is: the worst thing about the consumerist future in which we currently reside is that we’re too often treated like consumers. This book, rather than being produced for entertainment or edification, is simply produced for consumption.
Reviewed by Kathleen Bradean
Despite the visibility of BDSM in popular culture nowadays, it’s still not the norm for sexual experiences. Like a tuxedo or that pair of high heels, many aficionados may save it for special occasions. But in the universe where BDSM is the norm, one wonders what it takes to be considered Twisted. I was a little apprehensive. Then, as I ticked through the things that I’d expect to encounter in edgy BDSM-- blood play, pet play, cutting, scarring, CBT (especially with clips)—I realized that everyone has their own edge, and mine is far off on the horizon. To each their own, but I don’t think any reader will find something past their limits here.
Andrea Dale’s “Tie Me Up” surprised me because I expected it to go on from the first page. Then I realized it was perfect as it was. Short fiction is a real challenge to write. It left me wanting more.
“Love to Hate,” by Molly Moore, was a truthful look into how our minds work. You don’t have to be into BDSM to understand the dynamic of a couple like that. So even though it might seem oxymoronic, I’d classify this as sweet BDSM.
Kristina Lloyd’s “Dry Spell” is fanciful, hot, and delightful. I just loved this story. During an unusual weather pattern, a woman and her lover come to the conclusion that her orgasms make it rain. The problem is that they have orgasmic sex quite a bit, and the countryside is drowning. So he convinces her to give him control over her orgasms. The sun comes back out. How do you balance your need for release with the good of the nation? The line, “Lie back and think of England”—which is implied rather stated, something else I loved about this story—was never so aptly applied.
Many BDSM stories show how much of the desire for perfection comes from the submissive rather than the dom, but Joan Defers’ “Be There With Bells On” is the best portrayal I’ve seen in a long time. The challenge is to cross the room then retrieve something from the bathtub without making the bells attached to nipple clamps chime. The tension in the story mounts-- will she make it—with the arousal. I won’t give it away. Enjoy this fine example of suspense writing.
“Stag Beetle,” by Sacchi Green, is the most unusual story in this anthology. The one almost guaranteed to make people squirm. Would you let a big bug walk over you? How about if you were tied up? Think of those little insect feet on your bare skin. You know your safe word. Would you use it?
Maybe I’m jaded, but few of the stories here struck me as really twisted. However, as one would expect, Alison Tyler brings together a good assortment of BDSM tales. Maybe it’s better not to be too squicked by the stories. They’re supposed to turn you on, after all.