Polly Frost’s Deep Inside: Extreme Erotic Fantasies engages my attention in a way that is very unusual for the erotic genre. Fiction of any merit engages the reader, which is I think, why we read in the first place. Some authors take us into a different state of mind that is alternately exhilarating or dreamlike. Still others use the metaphorical nature of fiction to comment on the world we experience from day to day. A few can do both and Ms. Frost is one of them. Her stories are funny, clever, dark and often very disturbing.
Most erotica struggles to be genuine fiction very imperfectly because the author is using the story to get back to the subject of sex. Much of the stuff is redundant bilge in which we are invited to revisit the author’s obsessions through their grimly tireless lack of talent. The problem is not the sex, but that sex in itself is not inherently interesting as a mechanical catalogue of things done to and around various orifices. Sex by its very nature, comes from and leads to other things.
There is plenty of sex in Ms. Frost’s collection of stories, which runs the gamut of extremity from the ironic to the surreal. Sometimes it could be said that Ms. Frost writes one sexual stunt too many as opposed to making a few of them really shine. Men play a secondary role in these stories as does the penis. Dildos abound and some even have magical, very dangerous powers. Really hot sex here is between women who lick suck, spank and goose each other with relentless energy.
When she gets it right, her eroto-gymnastics are very sexy and imaginative. It does indeed leap off the edge of reality into the supernatural, but its sources are always from deep inside (as the title would suggest) the sexual wellsprings that make us human. Her first story, “The Threshold” gives us the erotic worldview of catholic schoolgirls. Schoolgirls are indeed the stuff of a long tradition of lurid fantasy in erotica.
It is almost a dismal cliché that the very school uniform that seeks to hide their sexual energy re-enforces its presence in the mind of the reader as well as the seedy, tweedy voyeur who is the customary protagonist. Frost, however, does not make her girls the object of sexual scrutiny. There is no aging voyeur. We are strictly in the world of teenage girls.
Frost allows her teenage dollies to use their allure as a means to their own satisfaction and near destruction. They are no more innocent than the old roué who usually appears in such fiction. We see the unvarnished sexual hunger, with its attendant adolescent ignorance, of teenage girls. They are cute girls, and they know it. Most of their energy, however, is strangely aimed at each other in a sort of savage sexual competition.
They are not romanticized. They are also not 50s teenage sluts. They are no nicer than they need to be to survive. They are often selfish and short-sighted like everyone else. Most of all, they are sexually curious, competitive, and as ripe as they will ever be. That is what makes them behave like vampires toward each other. It is also what allows them to deal with a real vampire who walks among them. They are Buffy without the Orange County sheen and the wisecracks.
A good part of "The Threshold" is positioned in the inner sanctum of the girl’s bathroom at the school. Frost does not serve up the usual hand-rubbing about the mysterious things girls “do in there.” Instead it becomes a place to strategize and compare notes in the search for satisfaction, whatever that may be, from the right lip gloss, to the ripest act of cannibalism. Now and then we get some maidenly masturbation, but it is in no way presented as anything other than getting off in a stall in a john.
Ms. Frost’s stories may not last beyond this era, but they speak to it uniquely well. Her characters are products of the arbitrary self-esteem movement. They have been encouraged to do what makes them feel good and to feel good about themselves. They speak and think in the half-formed idiom of a generation for whom part of the thought is enough. Unlike most authors, she does not treat them as not only vapid and selfish, but also as the ironic counter-result of exactly what their parents intended. They feel good, so why fight it? What is more they know it.
In "The Dominatrix Has a Career Crisis" we are presented with a young Ivy League grad who thought it would be chic to have a meteoric career as a woman who abuses those who worship her. After all, she has grown up abusing her dishrag of a mother who seems to yearn for ever more air-headed sadism. We are both horrified and amused to learn that Mom wants Katie (her daughter the domme) to, “move back home” when Katie is suspended for tardiness and sloppy work at her dungeon.
In truth, Katie knows there is something out of joint. Even as she surrounds herself with all her childhood medals, ribbons and awards, she knows there is a void in her being. She is as empty as her accolades since every kid in the class got the same awards to reduce their anxiety about being a loser. Is Katie a loser? Yes and no. She is so lazy that she cannot get to the dungeon on time even under threat of dismissal. She cannot deal with pressure to such an extent that she cannot give a good, hard, efficient beating to one of her gen-X female clients who works in the financial industry and is on a tight schedule. Is Katie simply a bum from the suburbs? It’s easy to say, “Yes!”, but frankly, no.
Katie is a perfectly awful person but so what? What she has going for her is that she understands that she is a walking set of mindless contradictions. She goes on a sort of eroto-rampage and does indeed wind up moving home where she temporarily pursues her career in sadism as a receptionist in a pilates parlor. Meanwhile she has decided to go to law school after which she can abuse people at her leisure and get well paid for it. As such, her gender and her skills at torture, may help her make partner all the sooner.
What is so appealing about all this is that Ms Frost is perfectly serious about her supernatural sex. These people are all so dreadful even they don’t know how awful they are, but the universe does. Her narrative context makes the stories truly funny, erotic and frightening. So much of sex takes the form of casual afterthoughts, deeper impulses that we could never admit except in the heat of passion. Yet they reveal so much about us.
The world of Ms Frost’s stories is one of seething chaos that bubbles beneath a Formica surface that is willfully and tiresomely humdrum. Her sense of the “She” pokes holes like a naughty teenager in that surface just to see how we will react, but it is not an exercise in vacant self-indulgence. Ms. Frost is an impudent eroto-anarchist in the grand tradition of American fiction that does not so much support anarchy as it accepts it as a fact of American life. She has not quite come to terms with that paradox. She has not learned the lessons of the master, Elmore Leonard, that one does not tsk and cluck over anarchy, you simply learn to use it. Thus she seems to be shaking a moral finger at us long after she has gone too far as an author to assume some sort of higher moral ground.
Her heroines are often bratty and self-serving, but they are neither saved nor corrected from that condition by some lover with hard thighs. They are often irritated and confused by themselves. They know they are hot stuff. They know how to get what they think they want, but none of it fits together when they get it. They may not have learned how to reflect and organize their thoughts, but they know that just scoring in some vague amorphous game is not enough. On the other hand, however dissatisfied they may be with the world, they know that it is a mess and that’s the way it is. Thus, whatever else, they are not suckers.
Ms. Frost is not the stylist she may one day become. She has not really found her own voice as yet as a writer. On the other hand, she has a truly remarkable ability to hear and create hyperbolic mimicry of the idiot idioms of our time. Whether it is the self-esteemers pushing vacant joy, or the tinsel thin aspirations of the latest Hollywood actress as in "Playing Karen Devere," Ms. Frost is a mistress of irony. She captures each crank pop idiom she tackles, from sci-fi to witchcraft to erotica with delicacy and surgical regard. She then uses plot to carry her stories one step further than the reader expects turning them into cautionary tales. In that sense she reminds one of Rod Serling at his best.