Appetites: Tales of Lesbian Lust is an anthology loosely themed around cravings, which is fine with me, partly because it allows for variety, something I crave as a reader, and partly because any good story needs characters with an intense desire for something.
The cover image suggests a connection with Valentine’s Day, and the title suggests gustatory pleasures, but the stories aren’t constrained by those concepts. Editor Ily Goyanes says in her introduction, “No, you will not be reading about food in every story, in case you were wondering. Nor will every story revolve around Valentine's Day, a holiday which I deplore. The one thing that every story has in common is that they all feature characters who are hungry, whether it be for love, romance, excitement, acknowledgement, respect, pain, control, or blood.”
I’m happy to say that the book delivers on this promise. Some stories will appeal to certain tastes more than others, which is as it should be, and all of them do what they set out to do well. The editor’s arrangement of the stories keeps the whole book flowing nicely in terms of comparison and contrast and varying themes and voices. I had a few favorites, of course, but every reader’s mileage may vary, so here are brief tips as to what each story offers.
Allison Wonderland starts it off with her trademark wit and wordplay in “Be a Gal Pal,” about a celebrity impersonation act. “I love Lucy and she loves me not,” the Ethel half of the act begins, and goes on a few lines later, “She doesn’t know I want to hug her and kiss her and wrestle her in a vat of grapes.” Need I say more?
In “Two Meals and a Funeral” Foxy Kettir does focus on food, with cooking school proving to be a better cure for Lesbian Bed Death than dabbling in “open relationships,” although not in the way you might think.
D.L. King’s “Hot Blood,” on the other hand, is about nourishment of exactly the kind you’d think from the title, with engaging characters and a nice contrast between everyday realism and wild nights under the full moon.
“Kissing Whiskey” by Lauren Jade contrasts ambition in the business world with the very personal charms of a cozy neighborhood bar, and lets the protagonist enjoy the benefits of both.
“The Sweetest Fruit” by Elle sets a more somber (but ultimately redemptive) tone, with ex-partners meeting reluctantly over the hospital bed of the mother-figure they both love.
The next story, Erzabet Bishop’s “Naughty Cookie,” comes as a welcome change of mood and is memorable both for its colorful coupling of lovers on opposing Roller Derby teams, and the joyfully sexy banter of the characters.
The story that really warmed the cockles of my fusty old-school literary heart is “The Tomb of Radclyffe Hall,” by Bonnie J. Morris. Yes, the protagonist, a women’s history professor on a trip to London as a birthday treat, does do a bit of lecturing, especially when she falls in with a tour group cruising past Radclyffe Hall’s tomb in Highgate Cemetery, but I loved it. And the “international meeting of wenches and tavern keepers— basically, women who own or run lesbian bars,” culminating in a costume party with a Radclyffe Hall theme, was so appealing that it’s improbability hardly seemed to matter. The ghostly bathroom scene combining the heat of desire with “the chill of the tomb” was so beautifully written, so evocative of the past living on into the future, that I gladly suspended disbelief.
Transitioning from a literary ambiance to the world of paint and canvas, in “A Taste of Home” Liz McMullen deftly draws a brooding atmosphere of despair, with New England sleet outdoors and dark, jagged brushstrokes in the studio, as an artist fights the demons of a personal tragedy and ultimately finds the beginnings of healing in generous sex and the remembered taste of blueberry muffins.
“The Second First Time,” by Ashton Peal, is a real stand-out for its beautifully sensitive and sensual handling of a different sort of transition, when a wife and the wife she first knew as a husband cross the last bridge to melding their old relationship with the life they have and cherish now. Lovely, lovely work.
In another shift of mood, Jillian Boyd’s “Kicking the Habit” is a clever riff on the cheating ex who’s still all too irresistible, with an appealing setting of indie entrepreneurship.
Then Beth Wylde’s “Tiger by the Tail” sweeps us right over the startling edge into the paranormal with a “sexually induced shapeshifter” who turns out to be looking for lust in all the right places.
Jean Roberta’s “Labels” brings us back to a realistic earth worth living in, with a hugely likeable butch who travels by skateboard, runs her own Brake and Muffler business, and is lured by lustful attraction into tackling a panel on Gender Identity for a Pride Week event. Queer theory was never this much fun before.
“Lucky in Lust” by Kiki DeLovely takes the fun in another direction, with performers on tour, sexy encounters behind the scenes interrupted by calls for sound checks, spankings in supply closets, all presented with as much wit as wetness.
The final story in the anthology, “No, Tell Me How You Really Feel” by Ily Goyanes,
turns from extroverted performers to an introverted “emo art-school girl” who fights her own hankering for the college volleyball captain by persuading herself that she despises the jock type, and by meeting any attempts at friendship with cutting disdain. Here, with repression as the spice of lust, interspersed with vivid masturbation sessions driven by fantasies of the gorgeous athlete, the reader knows just where things are going, and enjoys every minute of the ride.
The whole book is an enjoyable ride with views along the way that may linger with readers according to each one’s particular tastes. Even if a few happen to slide by you without lasting impact, they’re far from boring--and if you need to ask, “Are we there yet?” you haven’t been paying attention.
Warning: this anthology is about women athletes who score with women as well as scoring on the field, the track or the rink. Why the warning? Because if you’re a writer like this reviewer, you probably had a love-hate relationship with jocks when you were growing up with your nose in a book. If I’m not mistaken, most of the contributors to this book grew up the same way.
Female athletes seem sexy by definition: strong, graceful, self-confident. In their youth, they seem to be the winners in the undeclared war between the Jocks and the Nerds. Yet girls who are good at sports rarely grow up to be professional athletes. And the few who do have a limited time in which to prove themselves. There is something bittersweet about any female athlete at the top of her game.
This anthology of sixteen diverse stories about sporty dykes captures their mystique. The sports described include relatively non-competitive activities such as long-distance running and scuba diving as well as team sports and hand-to-hand combat. However, competition is a major theme in almost every story. As it turns out, sports fans and nerds compete just as much as do sporty dykes, only less openly.
Each of these stories works in its own way, but if I had to choose a favorite, it would probably be “No, Tell Me How You Really Feel” by the editor, Ily Goyanes. The narrator is a college student, an artsy type in black eyeliner, who tries to hide her crush on Julianne, a volleyball star, by insulting her intelligence whenever possible. After an encounter in the library, the narrator tells the reader that she went home, cried her eyes out, then I fucked myself silly with my purple vibrator, reliving the close-up shot of her eyes on my face and the feel of her large, strong hand wrapped around my tiny wrist. When the narrator follows the team to an out-of-town game, Julianne finally discovers her secret. The undeclared war that so many of us remember from adolescence has rarely been described so hilariously.
The second-funniest story in the book is “Out and a Bout” by Allison Wonderland, a pun-filled, slapstick description of a reluctant roller-skater’s introduction to the rink by a more seasoned skater in a roller derby. This story is among several that explore the erotic implications of a relationship between a coach or mentor and a fledgling athlete.
In “Chairs” by Sommer Marsden, a basketball star helps the narrator, a losing player, develop her thigh muscles by doing “chairs,” an exercise which sounds harmless but is actually an excruciatingly extended squat. The narrator’s crush on Chevy, her mentor, enables her to bear the torture for a whole minute:
I watch the anorexic second hand sweep the standard-issue clock and when the final fifteen seconds starts to rush toward me, Chevy leans on my trembling thighs with her forearms and presses down.
I make a noise like some dying thing and she grins at me, white teeth flashing in the fluorescent lighting.
Luckily, improved strength is not the narrator’s only reward for following orders.
In “Boot Camp” by J.T. Langdon, a woman in her forties who wants to firm up some of those places that had been squishy for so long signs up for a workplace exercise class taught by a very fit and sexy woman instructor. The class is so strenuous that the student almost drops out, but the instructor’s special, after-class encouragement persuades her to keep going.
In “Goddess in a Red-and-Blue Speedo” by D.L. King, the narrator takes a certification course for scuba-diving from Lorna, the “goddess” of the title, who makes it all worth her while.
In some of the mentor-student stories, the relationship is explicitly Dominant/submissive. “Cymone’s Dominatrix” by Paisley Smith is set in ancient Greece and describes the yearning of the gladiatrix prima for darker pleasures of the flesh after she has won a fight.
The most poignant stories in the collection are told by middle-aged women revisiting their youth as sporty girls who missed a chance. In “Facing the Music” by Kiki DeLovely, the narrator warily attends her long-term lover’s 25th high school reunion at a “very conservative, very Catholic” school where Nic, the lover, finally acts out a locker-room scene which was only a fantasy when she was a star athlete at the school. “Hail Mary” by Shanna Germain shows a former tennis player unexpectedly finding her old lover in the sports store where she brings her daughter to buy a good tennis racquet. The “Hail Mary,” an almost unbeatable serve, is a metaphor for the ending of a relationship which once seemed likely to last a lifetime.
In “Run, Jo, Run” by Cheyenne Blue (reminiscent of a 1959 story and film by British writer Alan Sillitoe, “The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner”), a woman runs to escape her past, her emotional baggage, and the hell of other people. But then she meets her counterpart, another woman runner, in an open stretch of unspoiled English countryside.
Coming out as a lesbian is shown to be scary enough for teenage girls, even the ones who excel at sports. For professional athletes, the risks are much greater. As the narrator in Sacchi Green’s figure-skating story, “The Outside Edge,” explains:
Being gay wasn’t, in itself, a career-buster these days. Sure, the rumourmongers were eternally speculating about the men in their sequinned outfits, but the skating community was united in a compact never to tell, and the media agreed tacitly never to ask.
Until the last paragraph of the story (and the last moment of the performance), the reader/viewer can’t be sure whether the narrator and her lover will reveal their true feelings in public.
Space doesn’t allow me to describe every story in detail, although each one is worth reading. The theme of insults or taunts as thinly-disguised flirting in a sports setting runs through several stories. In the over-the-top “Blood Lust” by Gina Marie, two female boxers face off:
Marinda moved in close and grabbed Rae’s ass, not once removing her dark, vicious gaze from Rae’s reflection in the mirror.
“I know what you want from me, Sugar Rae.”
“Yeah, I’ve been around.”
“Don’t fuck with me, Marinda.”
“It’s Lucinda to you, Miss Cherry Pie a la fucking mode.”
“Fine. Don’t fuck with me, Lucinda.”
“Oh, I will fuck with you. I will fuck with you till you can’t take it anymore. But you won’t get it that easy.”
In a surprise ending, both these characters—who address each other as “whore” and “bitch”--are shown to have a romantic streak. As they begin to get better acquainted after the match, they both show all the endearing awkwardness of two dykes on their first date.
This anthology about the sexuality of sporty dykes and the ones who want them is likely to become a classic. It probably won’t be the last work of erotic fiction on this theme.