All Night Long is a smooth read, one that pulled me right along, the flow of the prose, especially the dialogue, even making me forget that I should be taking notes for this review. What better proof could there be of Madelyne Ellis’s skill as a writer?
The plot isn’t particularly complex—Black Halo, a popular metal band, is thrown into confusion mid-concert by the lead singer Xane’s declaration just before he storms away that he’s leaving and the band is breaking up. Soon enough, though, it becomes clear that the survival of the band is really only a sub-plot, and the real action rests in the developing relationship between Ash, the band’s leader, and Ginny, the girl who waylays him in his dressing room, as hundreds of girls have done before. Will Ginny recognize how much more she wants than the single, all night long fuckfest she asks for? Can Ash overcome the wounds of his past and break through the bonds of determined non-commitment? Is there really any question? It doesn’t matter that we’ve seen this sort of set-up over and over again. Ellis knows how to get the maximum mileage out of that familiar scenario, and how to insert the maximum of mind-blowing and often creative sex without being repetitive.
Somehow it all feels believable. Some readers might wish that the heavy metal band setting had a darker tinge, with more gothic moodiness and angst and destructive behavior. I didn’t mind at all that the band members, behind their eyeliner and flamboyant quirkiness, are quite likeable guys. The three of them, deserted by the defector Xane, hide out from ravening fans in Ginny’s scruffy hotel room, so her “all night long” fantasy doesn’t turn out quite the way she envisioned it. But after some playful group sex the other two band members have the decency to remove themselves to the van and the bathtub, respectively, so Ash and Ginny get enough steamy one-on-one time to make them realize that they’re made for each other, however much they try to resist that truth.
Readers who are not particularly turned on by clever word-play and imagery may not savor such phrases as “the event horizon [of orgasm] sped towards him,” and “Water droplets clung to the fishnet strands, so they looked like spider silk hung with raindrops,” the way I do, but they’re not likely to be disappointed, or unmoved, by the sex described. Eroticism drives the whole book, with hints of deeper emotions. This is just as well, since the plot thread about the possible break-up of the band are not resolved at all, which only makes sense when you read the author’s note at the end. It turns out that All Night Long is part of a series, and not intended to stand alone. I found this rather annoying, but in fact I should have noticed that the book’s parenthetical title was Black Halo Unplugged #1 and not been so surprised.No guarantee, but I just may be hooked enough to look for the next two books about these characters (along with the missing singer Xane, and Ginny’s missing roommate Dani, who turn out to be missing together, but not missing much.)
When people start throwing around labels like “gay,” “straight,” or “bi,” I hold on to the conviction that most of us are attracted more to individuals than to a specific gender. This proposition can feel threatening to some, suggesting as it does that one might stray from a comfortably heterosexual life over to some unpredictable dark side if one met the right person. Nevertheless, I believe it's true. Teenage circle jerks with buddies; girlhood crushes; wine-drenched, one-of-a-kind evenings where you end up in bed with your best friend of the same gender; we tend to discount these experiences as flukes, but to me they demonstrate the flexible nature of sexual attraction, as well as how thoroughly it may be entangled with other emotions.
Rarely have I read a book that conveys this truth as effectively as Varian Krylov's Dangerously Happy.
Aidan is a shy, struggling musician, working a cubicle job to make ends meet while writing his songs and performing with a couple of bands. He's totally straight; he's had plenty of women as lovers including two serious relationships, one of which almost ended in marriage. Nevertheless, he's fascinated (and somewhat intimidated) by Dario, the owner of the vast downtown loft that serves as weekend gallery, theater and party space for a crowd of arty friends. Dario, a successful novelist, is handsome, articulate, and self-confident. “He was the one who looked like a rock star despite the fact that he was the writer and I was the musician... More than all that, it was how people always seem to hang on every word of his as if he were Socrates or the Dalai Lama or something, unless the cluster of acolytes in his orbit was bursting into sudden laughter at some witty remark of his...”
Weekend after weekend, Aidan's band plays for the impromptu gatherings in Dario's space. During the week, Dario invites the band to use the loft as rehearsal space. The charismatic author acts cordial with Aidan, but always a bit distant. Aidan wonders why after nearly three years of knowing one another, they're not closer friends.
Then one evening, Aidan shows up for rehearsal to discover that the other band members have canceled. Face to face with Dario, without a crowd to act as a buffer, Aidan feels the other man's magnetism more strongly than ever. Aidan plays one of his songs for Dario. Dario offers Aidan one of his stories to read. “It's … vaguely pornographic,” he warns. “In the most literary sense of course.” Aidan finds himself becoming aroused by the gay erotic tale and is terrified to realize there is a sexual dimension to Dario's appeal. The writer confesses that he's been attracted to Aidan for a long time – that his cool demeanor has been a compensatory strategy to avoid scaring Aidan away.
The two men begin a relationship – fierce, ecstatic, tender and profound. Their carnal connection goes beyond anything Aidan has ever known, but sex is only a part of what draws them together. Aidan finds he's “dangerously happy” as he struggles to accept his own homoerotic desires and to cope with Dario's wounded past.
The novel focuses on the development of Aidan's and Dario's relationship, with all its challenges and reversals. In this sense, it has something in common with a romance. However, both the barriers that divide them from one another and the acts that demolish those barriers are sexual. Violently raped as a youth, Dario has a paradoxical attraction to D/s power games. He initiates Aidan into bondage but the inexperienced musician misinterprets his lover's desires, jeopardizing their future. Dario makes rash decisions that similarly imperil their love. Each crisis brings them closer to one another but sometimes at great emotional cost. Still, they persevere, determined to surmount the obstacles created by societal attitudes and personal history.
I enjoyed reading Dangerously Happy. With their insecurities and their secrets, the characters are convincingly real. Mr. Krylov is skilled at evoking emotional nuances as well as the physical aspects of sex. The first person narrative, from Aidan's perspective, provides an intimate sense of both his joy and his confusion.
Readers looking for plot-driven fiction might be disappointed by this novel. Most of what happens involves shifts and realignments of the relationship between the two main protagonists. Also there's one segment – when Dario invites his female friend Vera to join them for a threesome – that felt gratuitous and artificial to me, mostly because of the extreme BDSM involved. While I could imagine Dario wanting to fulfill Aidan's sexual desire for a woman, I couldn't believe that a neophyte like Aidan would participate so readily in dominating a stranger.
The three way scenes with Xavier, on the other hand – a hulking Dom with whom Dario also has a prior history – felt genuine. Xavi recognizes and adapts to Aidan's inexperience in a plausible way. Furthermore, Xavi plays an important role later in the plot.
Overall, I strongly recommend this intelligent, sensitive novel about love that transcends labels. Although Dangerously Happy is distinctly different from the rough, anonymous, physically focused interactions that characterize some gay erotica, I found it both arousing and emotionally satisfying.
I’ll do the full disclosure thing before I start. I have a short story in this collection, published under a pseudonym, therefore my review can’t be considered 100% impartial. Not that I’m going to rave about how brilliant my story is (although it is brilliant). But I figured I should be honest from the beginning.
Big Book of Submission is a superb book. It comes from Cleis and it’s edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel – both of which are guarantees of high quality in erotic fiction. This passage is from the opening of Rachel’s short story in the collection: “Reverse Psychology.”
“Bite my nipples harder,” Sasha hissed at me, the edge of frustration making her hiss hint at true anger. I focused on the way her body trembled on the bed before me as I sank my teeth into her nub. “That’s better,” she said, grabbing me roughly by the hair. “I hope your cock is getting ready to fuck me the way I like it. First you need to do your job.”
I pressed as hard as I dared, tugging on her nipple while I twisted the other one between my fingers. I hoped my cock was getting hard too. See, I’m not a sadist by nature—I wouldn’t hurt a fly. Really—I’m the kind of guy who goes out of my way to give directions or help little old ladies across the street. I’m a service sub, the worshipping sort, but I fell madly in love with a woman who happens to be a masochistic domme. Sasha likes pain, but for her it has nothing to do with being a “bad girl” or any of that. If I dared to call her names like slut or whore during sex, she’d lock up my cock for a week.
There are sixty-nine short stories in this collection, shorter than the usual short fiction. Personally, I find short, short fiction exciting because the writer is forced by restrictions of word count to use an efficiency of words that isn’t as important in longer fiction. To my mind, that moves the content of the fiction closer to poetry in its aesthetic appeal. And, if fiction is close to being poetic, I usually figure it’s been well executed.
Joy Faolán with “Hard Things” illustrates my point:
Somewhere in the midst of it all, the heat of the pain and the blood melted my fear away and left nothing but perfect submission, perfect trust and perfect love. There was nobody in the entire world in those moments except her and me, owner and property, bound by pain. You know how some people just have something inside them that you can taste from across a room? You can smell it on them and feel them coming from a mile away. Like they’ve taken a piece of Life and claimed it as their own. Now I have it, too.
I have faced one of my most intense fears. I have walked through darkness, trembling and frightened… and not only did I survive, but I found light and love to embrace me as I came out the other end.
And I wear the marks of my journey with pride.
It goes without saying that this collection is more than one submissive sex-scene after another. The range of imaginative scenarios throughout the anthology is outstanding. The attention to detail and the physicality of the stories is emotive, engaging and exciting. Consider the sensations of physicality evoked by these lines from Regina Lafayette’s contribution, “In the Darkness.”
Dammit, I think. I don’t even know if she’s in the room right now.
My whole body is alert, lying exposed and at her disposal. Suddenly, I feel her swing a leg over to straddle me. The soft touch of her leather crop kisses my neck, the flat tip dragging agonizingly slowly over my breasts and down the center of my belly. With a sure and quick motion she flicks the sensitive flesh of my clit, making me cry out. I tense, unable to see where she’s aiming her next blow.
“I love when you tense like that in anticipation,” she says, amusement clear in her voice. “Now where shall I hit you?” she asks, and I feel her shift. I think she’s putting herself in a better position to wield her crop until I feel her mouth descend onto my cunt.
As Rachel Kramer Bussel says in the introduction:
You’ll find so much here, from naughty professors to sadistic former students to sex clubs, art galleries, photo shoots and more. Wherever the setting, the submission exhibited in these stories runs deep, far below the surface of the recipients’ tender skin, far louder than their cries of pleasure (and pain). Whether you read one story a day or devour them all at once, I hope these quick and dirty stories turn you on to new authors and new naughty possibilities.
This title really is worth the price of admission. Make sure you secure your copy today.
“It’s a crummy commercial?”*
Oh Ralphie, I feel your pain. I do. It struck me as odd that the cover didn’t show the author’s name, so I hoped to find it at the end. What I found was a bunch of links to his/her/hir hypnosis products. *long sigh*
I don’t feel this writer is ready to be published, and pointing out specific examples of why strikes me as cruel, so I’ll leave it at that.