Contributing to a worthy cause gives you a warm glow, but seldom does it heat you up the way the Coming Together books do. (The charity benefitting from the proceeds of this book is GMHC.org, an AIDS/HIV care and prevention organization.) Coming Together Presents Amanda Earl, edited by Lisabet Sarai,ramps up the heat especially well. Amanda seduces not only the libido but also the mind, sometimes subtly (although the sex is seldom subtle) and sometimes very blatantly indeed. In the editor’s introduction the book is described as “literary—and literate—erotica,” which is quite true. There are frequent literary references, and characters with backgrounds in (or aspirations to) the literary world, but the sure-handed quality of the prose—raw when it needs to be, even brutal, introspective at times, poignant, complex, and memorable—is what makes it both literary and literate.
I was especially intrigued by the variety of points of view in these stories. Often (but not always) female, occasionally older women with younger men, with a nice range of characterization from deliciously dominant to deeply submissive to downright surreal.
The first-person narrator of the opening piece, “Mind If I Sit?” takes full advantage of sitting next to a young, blond, somewhat nervous “golden boy” with a contradictory “rebel look” on an airplane. She has what it takes to get his attention; “Long legs: check. Flimsy mini skirt: check. Big tits in a low-necked blouse: double check.” Her copy of Kerouac’s On the Road doesn’t hurt, and is the first of many literary references that fit naturally into the flow of the prose. “I’m a capricious bitch,” she tells us. Newly turned forty, resolved not to “sit back in your comfort zone” and let life pass by, she’s a complex, arresting character, good company for the reader as well as the for guy who gets to share her under-the blanket games.
The narrator in the second story, “Real Irish,” has a very different self-image, at least at the beginning. She thinks of herself as a “middle-aged spinster” with indecently lustful thoughts about a good-looking Irish barista and a stream-of-consciousness novel eternally in progress. By the end, though, thanks to her best friend who resembles Botticelli’s Venus and lets nothing stand in the way of what they both want, her stream-of-consciousness has more to celebrate than her most lustful thoughts had imagined. The hottest threesome I can remember ever reading, and the most fun.
We also get a ruthless legal secretary with a “Daddy Complex”, a housewife whose secret is that instead of AA meetings, she goes off to wear a catsuit at a BDSM hideaway specializing in rubberists, and a girl who thinks she’s desperate for domination, pain, and humiliation from a stranger, but has the sense at last to resist a scene that goes too far, and the luck to get away.
In a few of the stories the sex is entirely in the minds of the protagonists, their lust no less arousing for being unfulfilled, with a melancholy tone that provides a contrast to more carefree encounters. In “The Vessel,” the point of view shifts between two not-quite-lovers, each so scarred by their pasts that they can’t believe the other could find them worthy of desire or love. ”Typing for Jack” begins with the woman losing her long-held virginity with a man she’s met at a funeral, but it’s Jack’s funeral (yes, that Jack,) and the defining act of her life has been typing the manuscript of his On the Road. For all her fantasizing, and all the opportunities Jack offered, she knew she could never handle his freewheeling sexual habits, so she handled only his manuscript, and takes cold comfort in a report that he was holding it when he died. And in “Sex with an Old Woman” the fifty-ish narrator can’t imagine her much younger male friend finding her sexually attractive, and tortures herself with imagining how repulsed he would be if he saw her naked. I kept thinking, “But fifty isn’t all that old!” until she revealed how much more than age her body had endured.
I was encouraged by a later story about a woman of fifty who is unabashedly “boy crazy, man hungry,” and thinks of herself (with reason) as “irresistable,” but there’s a dark undertone here as well. “The Adulteress” stalks her literary prey—novelists, poets, playwrights—and seduces them, married or not, with no difficulty. Adultery just adds extra spice. The sex is hot, raw, and described, by the woman writing it all down afterward, with explicit attention to detail a well as evocative imagery. Even at the height of arousal she thinks about what she’ll write afterward, how she’ll “frame this later on the page.” Truthfully, don’t all writers of erotica think sometimes about how we’ll describe sex even as we’re (almost) swept away by its delights? Should we feel guilty? Does it cheat our partners in some way, or does our secretly enhanced excitement intensify their own experience? The latter, I think, but who knows? In the case of the woman supposedly narrating this story, one even begins to wonder how much of what she describes really happened that way (in the context of the story) or is magnified by her writerly imagination. The nuances of this piece are tinged with melancholy, deftly written, and the final paragraph is a masterly handling of perspective. I’ll leave readers to discover that for themselves.
I’ve only mentioned nine of the twenty-four stories in this collection, even though all of them are just as worthy of consideration. Some, of course, will appeal to certain tastes more than to others. My own tastes run to literary references and older protagonists, but the book provides plenty of other viewpoints and scenarios that I found just as enjoyable. I should also note that several stories are of the science fiction or fantasy persuasion, and they’re worth an entire review of their own. I’ll just mention that one involves an orgy in heaven and another has a nice twist involving its deliciously snarky narrator. I may already have come too close to revealing “spoilers” about the other stories I discussed, though, so I’ll leave the rest for the reader to discover. And to savor, just as I did.
Steven Diamond is an extremely successful trial lawyer in his early sixties, with strong opinions, expensive tastes, a penchant for dominance, and a heart as impervious as his last name. When his younger half-brother Ray gives him the lovely and talented fetish photographer O to be his slave, Steven’s first inclination is to decline. As one of the founding members of The Mansion, a luxurious private venue catering to practitioners of kink, he has ready access to a stable of well-trained submissives on whom he can practice his deviant desires. Steven knows how much Ray cares about O and doesn’t want to see his somewhat feckless sibling hurt. One night with O, though, is enough to make Steven realize that she’s unique. He has never met a submissive more finely attuned to his needs and preferences, nor one so eager and so able to endure the extremities he loves to inflict. She is his equal in intelligence, spirit, and evil imagination. As Master and slave, they make a perfect pair, but as time goes on, Master Steven finds he wants more.
In Master of O, Ernest Greene borrows the characters from Pauline Réage’s erotic classic, but aside from the emphasis on BDSM, the two books have little in common. The original Story of O focuses on the slave O’s experience, both physical and emotional, as she descends more and more deeply into total submission. Master of O, for the most part, is narrated from Steven’s perspective, as O walks into and, ultimately, out of his life. Story of O is a slim 200 pages, while Mr. Greene’s book runs to over 900. While Réage’s novel partakes of a dream-like quality, with O drifting in and out of scenes of pain, humiliation and debasement, Greene’s opus is hyper-realistic, laden with detail that at times becomes excessive.
I have somewhat mixed feelings about Master of O, but I can honestly say that despite its length, I did not get bored. The story, which revolves around Steven’s deepening attachment to O as well as their joint plot to hook Ray up with one of O’s models, moves along smartly, punctuated by frequent, lengthy and explicit BDSM scenes. A lively cast of secondary characters joins in the orgies of bondage, flogging and fucking. Most of the time, the nicely varied sex scenes do play some role in advancing the plot and/or revealing the natures of the characters. In some cases, they’re just for fun, for instance, a wild six-way romp in a private jet, with several Mansion slaves costumed in latex stewardess uniforms.
Steven and O live in a world where D&S activities are the norm. Everyone around them is kinky. Ray makes his living publishing a high-class fetish magazine. O’s photographs of beautiful women bound and abused are partially responsible for the magazine’s success. Steven’s ex-wife Marie runs The Mansion as well as supervising a bevy of aspiring slaves in her own home. Even Steven’s secretary is comfortable with bondage, piercings, and nipple clamps, at least as a spectator. And everything is consensual – the slaves clearly enjoy their roles as much as the dominants.
At the same time, this book does not treat D&S entirely as play. The scene in which O accepts piercing and extensive tattooing to mark her as Steven’s property has an almost transcendent quality - a dignity, a level of ceremony, that attests to its significance in the kink community. As O willingly undertakes painful hours under the needle, she is surrounded by her sister slaves, as well as Marie, Ray and Steven. All are left spell-bound by her beauty and her glad suffering.
Steven’s and O’s interactions go beyond mere amusement or sexual satisfaction. Linked by complementary fantasy and mutual perfectionism, they engage in a quest for increasingly total control – Steven’s control over O, O’s control of herself.
In one of the most memorable scenes, Steven and O contemplate a set of erotic drawings together:
The image was powerful. A tall, spectacularly curvaceous woman of perhaps thirty-five lolled in the arms of a muscular, bearded man many years her senior. He stood, holding her barely upright, close against his broad chest. His penis, jutting up under the woman’s back, was equally impressive. He looked down at her with a strange combination of severity and tenderness. The woman’s eyes were closed. Her face was transported with an ecstatic transcendence familiar from the images of martyrs O had seen on the walls of many an Iberian church.
But the most arresting aspect of the drawing was the scrupulously rendered evidence of intense and prolonged flagellation. The woman was marked from her collarbones to the bottoms of her feet. A variety of different instruments had been used on her with great patience and skill. A layer of broad strap marks had been applied first, followed by a global lashing with some kind of slender, cutting whip that left long narrow welts, the deepest of which oozed tiny rivulets of blood. The whipping had obviously gone on for hours until ever inch of her exposed flesh was covered in thin stripes inflicted with sufficient restraint to fade within a couple of weeks.
The woman was collared but otherwise unrestrained and though clearly too exhausted to flee or resist, showed no evidence of wanting to do either. Something profound had clearly transpired between the two of them. The viewer was left to conjecture the specifics from the visible aftermath.
“Now that’s my idea of a good whipping,” Steven said.
“You could whip me like that if you wanted,” O replied without an instant’s hesitation, eager at the prospect.
Steven looked over at her gravely.
“Careful what you offer. You know I’ll do it.”
“Why would I offer otherwise?”
They looked into each other’s eyes for a long moment.
This is one of the most erotic moments in the 900 page novel, in my view. All Steven’s clever instruments of torture don’t begin to turn me on like this admission of shared deviance.
Later, toward the end of the book, Steven makes good on his promise – at O’s insistence. Shivers run up my spine at the thought – not of the beating itself, but at O’s determination to endure it.
As illustrated by the quote above, the writing in this novel ranges from mostly competent to occasionally inspired. Mr. Greene has a talent for clever observations.
The shades were down over the glass wall, and no light came from beneath. Somewhere deep in the empty park across the boulevard someone was playing the violin, quite expertly. Once again, Steven laughed at the town where the Department of Incidental Surrealism was the only agency that worked overtime. (p 142)
Performing complex procedures without losing concentration on their purpose was the BDSM equivalent of walking and chewing gum, yet few of those who had topped her possessed that ability. (p 631)
[When you’re out about being kinky] “Try making a campaign contribution and see what happens. You know you’ve achieved infamy when politicians won’t take your money.” (p 683)
In short, Master of O provides plenty of kinky action, a bit of deeper exploration into the psychological aspects of BDSM, and decent writing. Why do I say that I have mixed feelings about the book?
First of all, it’s rife with typographic errors, missing or incorrect words, even sentences that trail off without completion. At one point, I noticed that the main character’s name was misspelled. At first I bookmarked each error; after about hundred pages I didn’t bother anymore. An author who allows his book to be published with these sorts of problems loses a lot of my respect, no matter how sexy a story he has penned.
Second, despite his generally competent command of language, the author has serious problems maintaining a consistent point of view. I’m not a purist, eager to condemn “head hopping” in any form, but in this book the POV shifts from one character to another without any signal or justification. In some cases this tendency interferes with comprehension. In others, it’s merely irritating.
Finally, the book’s obsessive descriptions can become wearying. I understand that, by mentioning every element in Steven’s wardrobe, including his watch, his pen, his jewelry and his wallet, the author is trying to convey the character’s preoccupation with, and desire to control, these details. Once or twice would have been enough, however, to make this point. Instead, whenever Steven goes out – throughout the full 900 plus pages - we’re treated to a litany of clothing and brand names.
Some of the BDSM scenes suffer from similar problems. By exhaustively describing every implement and recounting every action, the author paradoxically reduces the immediacy and intensity of the scene.
In some cases, though, the book’s preoccupation with detail makes it more effective. Unlike the encyclopedic enumeration of Steven’s (and Ray’s) clothing, the descriptions of the female slaves and their fetish gear managed to be arousing rather than annoying. The scenes of Steven’s fencing lesson, O’s photo shoot, and Ray’s computer graphics session all benefit from the realistic details. I really liked the occasional mention of Steven’s testosterone pills and Viagra; they lent verisimilitude to his potency in his role as a Dom. And I truly appreciated the fact that Mr. Greene describes the physical toll a BDSM session takes on both the top and the bottom.
Overall, I enjoyed Master of O. I’d consider reading another book by this author – if and only if he manages to find a better editor!
Judging from the enthusiastic reviews on Amazon, I gather that many readers don’t really care.
In the introduction to Penthouse Variations on Oral, editor Barbara Pizio says: “Penthouse Variations on Oral offers stories that are both entertaining and inspiring, giving you a taste of what can be if you release your inhibitions and indulge your appetite for passion.”
Whilst the claim might seem grand, it’s true. Consider this opening from Alison Tyler’s story, “Lickety-Split.” The story’s hero, Zach, has just said he would hurry back, “Lickety-Split.”
Once he’d set the last lid in place, Zach hefted the box to carry it to Jamie’s ad agency. I held the door open for him, and right as his well-muscled body was lined up with my own, I said, “When you get back, I have another type of split I’d like you to lick.”
I thought he was going to drop the coffee. I could actually see the Rorschach-like splatter on the tiled floor in my mind—regular two sugars blending with decaf with soymilk—but he caught himself and said, “Back in two minutes. Hold that thought.”
I held it. I held it as tightly as I possibly could, with my thighs squeezed together and my pussy positively clenched. Standing nearly frozen behind the counter, I willed myself to still my racing heart. As I exhaled, I looked at myself in the mirror over the fancy bronze coffeemaker.
I had my blonde hair up in a French twist, every hair in place. The pink in my cheeks hadn’t come from a cosmetic palette, but from my sexual excitement. Every sensual fantasy I’d ever had about Zach seemed to percolate in my head into one steamy concoction.
It’s an intense scene, described with Tyler’s usual flair and enriched with her focus on the excitement of sexual anticipation. As with all Tyler’s work, the story does not disappoint.
Equally, Justin Lewis with his short ‘Fine Dining’, gives the reader a pleasurable episode of cunnilingus followed by an intense explosion of fellatio.
Pushing her shirt up over her tits, I tongued her nipples through her bra, but then I pushed that up to suck the rosy flesh directly. While I did that, Sonia reached between us and massaged my cock through my pants. It was clearly time to start making my way southward, so I kissed my way down her stomach until I reached the waistband of her jeans. When I looked up, she nodded enthusiastically, so I popped the button, pulled down the zipper and, after she’d raised her ass, pulled the jeans off, along with her drenched-through panties.
The scent of her lust was potent, and I breathed in deeply as I lowered my head to her moist center. She spread her legs wider as I got closer to her crotch and the petals of her pussy peeled back, revealing the ripe berry in the center. I was tempted to zero in on it, but I knew that would instantly trigger her orgasm instead of letting her build up to a bigger, and more pleasurable, climax. Instead, I sucked gently at her labia and ran my tongue teasingly over her slippery folds. I put my hands on Sonia’s hips as she started writhing, and I lapped at her tender flesh, swallowing down my fill of her sweet-tasting juices.
There are many things that put this book above so many of the erotic anthologies currently flooding the market. The stories are exciting and well-rendered. The narratives are polished and presented with a clear focus. And, most important of all, each of these stories has been professionally edited.
Call me a whiny old grammar-Nazi if you want, you wouldn’t be the first. But one of the genuine pleasures I got from reading this title was the thrill of not having to wade through a crapload of spelling errors or try to make sense of a series of grammatical fubars. Too many self-published titles are missing this level of polish. Some of the allegedly professional published titles I’ve been asked to review have been lacking the smooth veneer of edited material. The completeness of polished, professional writing comes across beautifully in this anthology.
My one quibble with this title is the unnecessary subtitle: erotic stories of going down. To my mind it’s enough that the title includes the words Penthouse and oral. I don’t think it takes Sherlock Holmes to work out what will occur in the content. However, that’s a minor quibble and probably related to my aforementioned grammar-Nazi tendencies and a lifelong mistrust of tautology.
If I understand the literature I’ve been reading correctly, Penthouse Variations on Oral is the first in a series of planned anthologies. If the others are only half as good as this opening salvo of short erotica then the books will be well worth the investment. As Pizio says: “Penthouse Variations on Oral serves up more than twenty tasty tales of oral delights. These sexy stories run the gamut from the unrestrained passion of brand-new lovers to the uninhibited exuberance of devoted couples. These people understand that oral sex isn’t something to be rushed through or performed out of some sort of duty.”
Consequently, if you enjoy well-written oral sex, you should buy this one.
It’s often more difficult for a writer to tell a story from a Dom’s point of view than it is to tell it from the sub’s. While it may seem that a sub is the passive one, that isn’t so. They are active participants. And, more importantly for a writer, they are often the experience the reader wants to share. Doms are supposed to be mysterious, distant, in control, and unreadable. That’s part of what makes them such fun fantasy figures. Imagine a lover who can read your mind and body so well you don’t ever have to talk, even if you could around that ball gag. But in order to create that mystery, the writer can’t let you inside the Dom’s head. And for that reason, even though this is the Big Book of Domination, many times the stories you’ll read are from the sub’s point of view.
Alison Tyler’s stories are always wonderful. She steps out of the usual tropes and writes such interesting characters. Although I read an anthology in order since the editor selected that order for a reason, I always want to save the Alison Tyler story for last. In “Playing for Keeps,” a reporter for an Avant Garde magazine hooks up with a sexual sadist. It makes her editor uneasy, and this reader uneasy too, to see how far she’ll go. If something beyond safe or sane revs you up, this is the fantasy to save for your alone time.
Have you ever seen a show where the performer was obviously loving every moment of it too? That joy and energy takes it to another level for me. D.L. King’s “The Day I Came in Public” has that same infectious spirit about it. The characters are having a good time, the writer is so clearly enjoying herself, and the reader? Well, the reader gets to enjoy being hot and bothered with a grin on their face. Don’t take this all too seriously and have fun with this gem of a story.
If you like your BDSM on the high fantasy side, try Andrea Dale’s “A Healthy Dose.” Mothers – it’s always the mothers, the doctor muses- send their daughters to a clinic to help them explore their submissive side. A young doctor watches with increasing arousal as a young lady in the garden thoroughly enjoys her punishment for spilling some whiskey. There’s no question he’s going to enjoy working here.
I’ve only mentioned the heterosexual couples, but there are several stories that feature gay, bisexual, and lesbian lovers mixed into this anthology. It’s a big book with room to be inclusive. With such talented contributors, you’re sure to find many stories that make you want to slip your hand under your clothes. Word to the wise for those of you reading on trains—your ebook reader may hide the cover, but we can tell from your flushed cheeks and squirming what sort of naughty things you’re reading. You should probably be punished.