Lately, it seems that I have gotten a reputation as a fan of femdom erotica. I have reviewed several femdom titles and I’m in process of reading another for an upcoming review. I receive unsolicited emails from femdom authors, begging me to look at their work.
Though I’m always intrigued by power exchange, I must admit that the staple elements of fetishistic femdom usually do not excite me. Many of the books I’ve read in this genre blur the line between domination and abuse to the point where I’m frankly uncomfortable. Don’t get me wrong. Anyone who has read my own stories will know that I don’t shy away from heavy BDSM scenes. I don’t mind pain, as long as it is illuminated and transformed by desire. But in much of the femdom I’ve encountered, that desire is missing. The powerful women are merely cruel. They despise the men they dominate. Safe, sane, consensual – these concepts don’t seem to exist. Perhaps this is exactly what thrills those who enjoy this sub-genre, but physical and psychological abuse unleavened by any shred of responsibility or concern falls outside my personal definition of erotic.
The Ancestors of Star by William Gaius identifies itself as focused on “female domination”. However, the mood and tone of this novel differs markedly from most other femdom titles that I’ve read. The Ancestors of Star is the extended tale of a young man coming to know and to worship a powerful older woman. He is in some sense her slave, but a willing, even a joyous slave, who receives the most acute pleasure and satisfaction from serving his beloved mistress.
Tim Hyatt takes a year off from college to work in the clinic at a remote American Indian reservation. His motives are hardly altruistic; strapped for cash to go to medical school, he is hoping that the experience among the Lagalero tribe may earn him a scholarship and help him climb into the social stratum of his Chicago high society girlfriend Natalie.
The clinic was founded and is managed by Elaine Yellow Star, a tough, intelligent native RN who has a well-known weakness for handsome younger men. Working for Star is a true education for the immature, macho city boy. He learns firsthand about the bleak and brutal lives of the folk on the reservation. He begins to appreciate the spiritual bonds that unite and elevate the Lagalero community. He overcomes his original distaste for cunnilingus in order to become an enthusiastic servitor between Star’s thighs. He becomes willing to forgo his own release in order to give her pleasure. Gradually he acquires a sense of personal responsibility, and the maturity to recognize and claim what he really wants – the long-term love and respect of his demanding boss.
The Ancestors of Star includes some steamy sex scenes. Furthermore, its core conflicts deal with sexual pleasure, trust and commitment in the context of a relationship that is not exactly vanilla. In both these senses, the book can stake its claim to being an erotic work. However, the novel is far more than a book about sex. Mr. Gaius paints vivid pictures of the blasted New Mexico countryside around the reservation: stark beauty and terrible isolation. His characters, too, are vivid – not just Star, but more minor characters as well: Metal Head, the Vietnam-vet-turned-shaman; Matt Hunter, the tribal cop; Lucy White Eyes, crystal meth addict and shaman’s apprentice; Dr. Frank Willis, the honorary Navajo who is Star’s former lover. Then there’s Natalie, whose disastrous visit to the reservation demonstrates to Tim how much he has changed. Shallow, prissy, ultra-chic Natalie is almost a caricature, but her interactions with Star, the woman she senses is her rival, keep her believable and human.
I was virtually left out of the conversation, but after a few minutes, a light dawned in my thick male head. Star had somehow read Natalie’s suspicions and was cleverly disarming them. How did women do it? They read one another’s innermost thoughts, and carried on battles and alliances and betrayals, right in front of unsuspecting men, who thought the conversation was only about schools and clothing.
Soon, they had moved on to weddings, and Star told of the high point of the Lagalero wedding ceremony, which used a special pot made with two spouts. If one person tried to drink from it, he or she would get soaked. But both partners could drink from it with ease. After the drink was taken, and they had eaten cornbread from the same basket, the two were considered married.
Although the literal subjects of the conversation didn’t interest me, I listened carefully, not knowing what I might be called to account for later. In my head, I tried to translate the innocuous conversation of women:
Natalie: “My parents want us to have a big, traditional wedding, in the church. Me, I’d just as soon get married at City Hall.” Translation: ‘I’ve fought off other women before. I can fight you off, too.’
Star: “If I had gotten married, it would have been a traditional Lagalero wedding.” Translation: ‘Tim knew nothing of real sex before I got to him.’
Natalie: “That would be nice, to keep up the old traditions.” Translation: ‘I finally seduced Tim into going down on me. Once I got him to do that, he’s mine, and you can’t have him.’
Star: “Just as well, I was born on the rez, and I expect to die here and be put with my ancestors.” Translation: ‘Well, guess who taught him that, Sister! Not only does he go down on me nearly every day, he cleans my room and does my laundry and gives me back rubs. He even shaves my legs.’
Natalie bent the conversation back to the privileges and duties of a doctor’s wife. It began to dawn on me that this was Natalie’s real ambition. She was going to be a doctor’s wife. If I happened to play the part of the doctor, that would be nice. But it could be anyone, really, so long as he had ‘M.D.’ after his name.
Mr. Gaius writes with grace and insight. His prose reveals character and situation, without getting in the way. The Ancestors of Star is a long book, more than 300 pages, but I never found myself bored. This is despite the fact that the novel does not have a traditional plot arc from an initial state up to a crisis and then down to a resolution.
Instead, the novel is episodic, offering a series of mini-crises: Star’s rejection of Tim after he asserts his macho side; Tim’s near-death experience among ancient, treacherous ruins; a traditional hunt for prong horn sheep set against the background of rivalry for Star’s affection; a drug buy gone bad that leaves two young natives dead.
At one point it occurred to me that Mr. Gaius had perhaps adopted Native American narrative conventions, which do not follow the same rules as our own. Toward the end of the novel, however, I understood. The Ancestors of Star is a classic quest tale. The callow young protagonist sets out on his journey to self-knowledge and emotional fulfillment. He undertakes trials and overcomes obstacles on the way to achieving the goal that, at the outset, he does not even understand. Star is both his guide and his greatest challenge. By the end of the novel, he has become a sort of hero, glorified by his willingness to submit himself to Star’s desires and needs, as well as by his sincere commitment to her culture and her people.
I greatly enjoyed reading The Ancestors of Star. It’s a serious book, with more depth than one normally expects from erotica. At the same time, I did find it sexy, far more so than most of the other femdom works I’ve read. Tim is uplifted by his servitude to Star, and the reader is, too. The theme of sexual pleasure as a healing and ennobling force is hardly original, but that does not make it any less satisfying.
“Mrs. Robinson” fantasies (referring to the older woman, Mrs. Robinson, who seduces a young man, a recent college graduate, in that iconic movie of the 1960s, The Graduate) deserve their own niche. What heterosexual teenage boy, bursting with hormones, has never been intrigued by a female friend of his parents? And where is such a young man supposed to acquire sexual experience – from an equally green girl of his own age?
This novel is a fantasy that could appeal to many a man who remembers his youth. It is also a realistic “what-if” story. What if the boy’s seemingly hopeless crush were mutual? What if the older woman took him under her wing (so to speak), apparently with his parents’ blessing? What would be her motivation? And how would the relationship play out?
This first-person novel tells the story of the narrator’s education, formal and informal, after he leaves home to attend Stanford University in California while living with “Aunt RoseAnn,” a sexy divorced Latina who is his mother’s best friend. The whole saga has the old-fashioned, autobiographical flavor of a realistic nineteenth-century novel. It is an erotic bildungsroman, a coming-of-age story.
When eighteen-year-old Barry arrives at RoseAnn’s apartment in 1983, he is impressed to see that she has outfitted a room for him. To his great embarrassment, he comes as soon as she hugs him. To his amazement, she is flattered. He confesses that he has fantasized about her for years.
Do you really think I haven’t known that? It’s been in your eyes since you were thirteen. Now you’re a full-grown man, virile and handsome. You carry yourself like a man years older than your calendar age, but I wonder, how much experience have you had with women?
A few girlfriends.
RoseAnn’s work is cut out for her, and she outlines his new role: he will be her houseboy, cooking and cleaning for her, but she will make sure he doesn’t neglect his studies. And she will introduce him to sexual self-control by teasing and frustrating him until she decides that he deserves release.
RoseAnn explains that she loves being dominant, but she doesn’t want to be addressed by any title. Barry learns that she loves oral sex (performed on her by an eager suitor) and that he has a natural talent for it. RoseAnn is honest about her age, 37, which is “just a number” to Barry.
RoseAnn is one of the most likeable Dommes in erotic fiction. She knows what she wants and keeps no secrets. She has known Barry for most of his life, and knows him better than he knows himself.
RoseAnn explains that she left her husband because he took her for granted and hit her, assuming she would accept this treatment. However, she has always been more than a sex object or a housekeeper. She is an engineer with skills that are in great demand in the development of cellular telephones. She is well able to afford her own expensive apartment and an independent life.
This story is told by Barry, who is so hooked on RoseAnn that he is unable to understand everything she tells him. A mature reader can grasp the essence of her instructions immediately. RoseAnn admits to being selfish enough to exploit the sexual eagerness of a young man, but she is also generous enough to give him an education which is likely to benefit him for the rest of his life. Without defining herself as a feminist, RoseAnn makes it clear that she will never again tolerate a man who exploits her and neglects her needs because he is lazy, selfish and ignorant. She is determined to train Barry well while he is still very susceptible to her training methods.
Barry thinks he has everything he could possibly want, but he is still attracted to female classmates. He is especially attracted to Gloria, sassy red-haired daughter of a Nobel Prize winner in Barry’s chosen field of study. Gloria flirts with Barry from their first meeting. What’s a boy to do?
Barry struggles to honor his commitments and make it clear to others that he is “taken.” He tells RoseAnn he wants to marry her.
RoseAnn’s training methods go beyond housework in the nude, cunt-worship and sexual deprivation to include bondage and whipping. As painful and cathartic as the percussion play is, RoseAnn’s cruel-to-be-kind response to Barry’s dream of a shared future hurts worse. Barry discovers the depth of his emotions as well as his own resilience.Lessons at the Edge is exceptionally well-plotted, and its solid structure raises it above the level of a masturbation fantasy aimed at teen boys. Every colourful detail is there for a reason which is eventually revealed. And for readers who are still hungry for more on the last page, there is the promise of a sequel.