It’s often said that beauty is only skin deep, but usually this is just the whining observations of ugly people who are trying to make themselves feel better after a bad experience with the mirror. Beauty is a revered and quantifiable commodity. Many people long to be considered beautiful or, if that’s not possible, they seek the company of beautiful people in the hope they will be considered beautiful by association. I know this is true because of the number of fuglies that hang around me in the hope that some of my divine brilliance will shine positively on their Quasimodo-like features.
Fuglies, for those of you who don’t know, is a collective noun used to describe people who are fucking ugly. It might sound like a cruel way of dismissing individuals and overlooking their inner worth, but I’ve always found that doesn’t matter with ugly people. And some of my adoring friends are real mingers. One friend’s face could not look more like a dog’s arse if his nose became a waggly tail. Another friend has the sort of features that mean she only receives party invitations on Halloween.
I tolerate the repulsive presence of these fuglies because, as well as being superbly handsome, I’m also beautiful on the inside and I take pity on pathetic charity cases with their heads from the Horror Channel. But please, don’t start thinking I’m a saint. I do have some minor flaws. I’m obscenely modest and far too self-effacing.
However, that’s enough about me and my gorgeousness. I only mention my legendary good-looks (and my incredibly altruistic nature) because Enthralled is a novel about one man’s obsession with a stunning beauty. In fact, it’s more than an obsession: it’s an overwhelming obsessive compulsion. The story’s hero, Matthew Crawley, sees the gorgeous Jasmine Del Ray and his need for her is instantaneous. This initial meeting is the catalyst for a self-destructive adventure of Herculean proportions.
To describe Matthew Crawley as the story’s hero is possibly misleading. Matthew works in a dull job and lives a dull life. He endures an acceptably grey existence and has little that is remarkable or heroic within his life until the story begins. But as his tale progresses, and Matthew surrenders himself to the indifferent Jasmine Del Ray, he displays a heroic dedication to servitude. In that regard, Matthew bursts through the boundaries of what could ever be considered acceptable and shows himself unequalled in his heroic devotion to this beautiful but barbaric bitch.
Enthralled is a cleverly executed story in that it takes the fantasy theme of male submission and makes the narrative shockingly real. Unlike the typically fictional exploits of servile men, Matthew is a credible individual in frighteningly believable circumstances. He does the nine-to-five routine. He eats, sleeps, drinks and wanks. He works with a woman who is vaguely fanciable but she’s not nearly the Goddess he longs to worship. His undoing/salvation (depending on how you perceive male submission) only comes when he encounters the cruelly good-looking Jasmine.
For want of a better word, Jasmine is probably best described as a bitch. No. That’s unfair. There are two words that better describe her: she’s an absolute bitch. She’s attractive – and she knows she’s attractive – and she associates with the sort of beautiful people who wouldn’t ordinarily give Matthew the time of day. When she notices Matthew’s interest her first reaction is amusement and scorn. Her second reaction is to tease and exploit him – simply because she can. Her third reaction, not surprising considering the realistic feel of this story, is to toss Matthew aside and forget about him.
Perhaps, in the real world, the story might end there. But Matthew is heroic in his need to be near Jasmine and that heroism is matched by his obsessive desire to be a part of her life – no matter how small or ineffectual. Her rejection of him only marks the proper beginning of the story.
And Matthew plots.
Eventually, Matthew’s efforts and persistence pay off and Jasmine consents to let him be her whipping boy: literally, figuratively and regularly.
Ordinarily I’d offer a warning at this point and say that Enthralled is not for the faint-hearted. Matthew subjugates himself beneath Jasmine. Jasmine, being the absolute bitch that she is, takes his suffering to some pretty vicious extremes. The couple complement each other in his tireless need for her humiliation and her easy ability to push him down to the next level.
And then down to the next level.
And then down to the next.
If you enjoy credible stories of female domination and male submission, then Enthralled is going to satisfy on many, many levels. Well-written, credible and exciting, Enthralled delivers the goods in excitement, eroticism and energy.
Different strokes for different folks. Reviewing erotica has made me realize the truth of this aphorism. When I read a book for review and find that it does not arouse me in the least, is that the author's fault, or my own? Is it possible for me to honestly assess the erotic potential of a work that bases its appeal on some fetish that I find completely uninteresting or even disturbing?
This question reared its head as I was reading Lance Porter's collection of femdom stories. I'm sure that Mr. Porter thinks that his stories are titillating. Virgin Books/Nexus must think so too; this is at least his second publication with Nexus, the first of which was apparently nominated for an erotic writing award.
So when I find that five of the six tales leave me unmoved at best, annoyed and disgusted at worst, is this because I'm not a femdom enthusiast? Because I am too blind to see the erotic elements in a scenario where a woman uses and abuses a man or men for her own pleasure? Well –I've written such scenes myself, and thought that they were pretty hot. On the other hand, much of the femdom work that I've reviewed has left me cold, or worse. Is Mr. Porter the victim of my lack of erotic imagination?
I don't believe so. The Wicked Sex has some positive features, but I think that generally it lacks a critical characteristic that is a prerequisite for an erotic experience, at least for me: sympathetic characters with whom I can identify. Mr. Porter's characters, both male and female, are either stereotyped caricatures, or selfish villains, or both.
The first story in the collection, “Bound by a Woman,” is the worst. Gunther is a middle-aged German restauranteur who is waiting to meet his gorgeous Asian mail order bride. Bee, the bride, turns out to be a cruel and self-centered creature who, when she discovers that he's not as rich or young as she had hoped, binds Gunther with her stockings, stuffs her panties in his mouth, and hangs him from a hook on the wall of his apartment while she goes out shopping on his credit cards. Eventually she screws his younger and more virile neighbor, and then leaves, with Gunther still dangling from the hook.
Bee treats Gunther despicably, not because it arouses her, or him, but because she's angry with him and doesn't care in the least what happens to him. On the other hand, one can't really feel much sympathy for Gunther (at least I couldn't), who is a chauvinistic liar marrying strictly for sex (and the satisfaction of showing off his Asian beauty to all the German women who rejected him over the years). Since I really disliked both the main characters, how could I get emotionally involved in the story?
To compound the problem, this story in particular had some very sloppy writing, most notably a sudden and confusing shift in POV from Gunther to his neighbor Siegfried during the climactic cuckolding scene. Then there are sentences like the following:
“He roared in response, squeezed her juddering ass cheeks between his clawing fingers and drove himself with ever-greater vigour. “
“Juddering” may not be the least erotic word in the language, but if I were trying to paint a sexy picture, I'd avoid it!
“Teen Tease”, the second story in the collection, is more tightly written. The narrator is an eighteen-year-old sexpot who gets her kicks tormenting her ex-gangster stepfather and making her ex-stripper mother jealous. The tale offers some sly humor in its images of the narrator and her classmates in Catholic high school, trying to seduce the incorruptible Father John. I also found the unexpected twist at the end quite clever. But arousing? With whom am I supposed to identify? The truly wicked teen narrator, who delights in her cruel power? The disgusting mafioso pervert who drools at her feet? Sorry, but the only person for whom I felt the least concern was the beleaguered priest.
The third tale in The Wicked Sex is entitled “The Land of the Giant Supermodels.” The title says it all. A group of fifty or so men, applying to appear in a commercial with some famous beauties, are abducted to a world inhabited by women fifty feet tall. One by one the men try to escape and meet various horrible fates, until the narrator, the last remaining prisoner, is crushed to death in a supermodel's vagina.
This tale really is as ridiculous as it sounds. Actually, it's rather humorous, and again, has an ending that is more subtle than I had expected As erotica, though, it fails miserably, at least in my opinion.
“Heartless,” the fourth story, is a rather incoherent tale of a young man driven mad by his lust for the woman who spurned him. “Imperatrix,” the last story in the volume, postulates a competition between two dominant women to see which one can exhaust the most men. In this story, at least, the men are willing participants, well paid to service and satisfy Valerie Sales and her archrival Katerina Dominova. The story is fun, if not very original, with a few genuine fireworks set off between the two women. (The men here are no more than animate sex toys.)
The one story that did strike some sparks for me was “Mistress of the Hunt.” This tale, loosely based on the classical myth of Diana and Actaeon, succeeds in evoking an aura of mystery as well as a terrible sense of tragic inevitability. Young, virile Acton is hired to care for Mistress Delia's hounds. He suffers unbearable desire for her chaste beauty, yet at the same time resents the haughty manner in which she wields her power. When he spies on her bathing, she exacts the ultimate in punishment. Mr. Porter manages to suggest that this scenario has been played out many times in the past, and that the future would see new incarnations of the Huntress and her eternal prey. Although the exposition is a bit rambling and Mr. Porter throws in a variety of characters that distract from the central theme, this tale does merit the description “erotic.”All in all, however, I cannot honestly recommend The Wicked Sex. Possibly a true afficionado of female domination would find something in this volume that I missed. I know from personal experience that if a work of fiction pushes your buttons, you're willing to overlook (or maybe don't even notice) the literary rough edges. Possibly the right reader would finish this book with racing heart and engorged genitalia. I'm certainly not that reader.