The contributors to Iridescence: Sensuous Shades of Lesbian Erotica will probably be familiar to fans of lesbian erotica. Fiona Zedde, Rachel Kramer Bussel, Jean Roberta, Jolie du Pre, and many others are known for their sensuous, hot, delightful, and thought-provoking work. This wonderful collection of stories shows why.
Like many of these stories, Tenille Brown’s "Waiting" highlighted the problems of a cross-cultural relationship, but it’s the personal distance that gives this story its edge. Lucinda has her life set in neat, distinct categories that suit her needs, and she makes it clear that Gabriela isn’t invited to step outside that boundary. When Gabriela does, Lucinda is unwilling, or unable, to give her some-time lover any emotional respect. Gabriela’s longing for more than her defined role is heartbreaking.
Nan Andrew’s "The Portrait" touches on skin color more than any other story, but not in terms of race. An artist, inspired by Freda Kahlo’s work, tries to paint a portrait of a woman she’s attracted to, but can’t make it work. Every time she looks at her soon-to-be lover, the complexity of skin color, with all the underlying tones, frustrates her. She can’t seem to capture it. Only after the artist experiences her model beyond the surface can she paint the person. This story encapsulates the theme of this anthology – race and culture influence perspective, but it’s what lies beneath that ultimately matters.
Fiona Zedde’s "Night Music" is lush, but playful. Likewise, Rachel Kramer Bussel’s "Two Strippers in Love" is upbeat and oh-my-is-it-getting-hot-in-here sexy. Jean Roberta’s "For All My Relations," and Jolie Du Pre’s "Monisha" are about loves that can never be again, and how the bittersweet knowledge of that can only be held outside for so long before reality creeps in. Lisa Figueroa’s "Enchanting Evalina" and Cheyenne Blue’s "Glory B" show that sometimes finding the prefect lover takes a touch of the mystical.
The stories in Iridescence: Sensuous Shades of Lesbian Erotica feature women of Caribbean, Native American, Brazilian, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, African-American, Mexican, and interracial backgrounds. They are photographers, mechanics, musicians, barkeeps, strippers and sex workers. Refreshingly, none of these women are fetishized. They are real, smart, sexy, and a pleasure to read about.
Swing! has a fabulous cover and, as promised by the sub-title, an impressive roster of contributors. I have been eagerly awaiting this collection, my interest stimulated by the impressive pre-release publicity campaign orchestrated by its dedicated and energetic editor, Jolie du Pré. Still, I felt some trepidation when I opened the book to discover that it was 437 pages long. Despite Ashley Lister’s introduction hailing the diversity of the tales in this anthology, I wondered whether a subject like swinging might not be too narrow to support a book of this length.
My concerns, it appears, were not completely ill-founded. In my personal opinion, Swing! would have been a far better book had it been cut to half its present length. The collection includes some exceptional tales, including Ms du Pré’s own contribution, “Before the Move,” a clever commentary on hypocrisy that manages to arouse despite its ironic bite. However, other stories struck me as uninspired in the extreme, shallow and predictable, and a few are just plain badly written.
Let me talk about the stories that shine. “Dez Moines,” by Alicia Night Orchid, appears on the surface to be the standard swinger tale. Young man marries innocent college sweetheart, only to discover that she has perverted desires he would never have imagined, which lead them into an escalating series of sexual encounters with their friends. It is the characters in this story that make it vivid and memorable. They feel like flesh and blood, with voices that remain with the reader after the story is done.
Donna George Storey’s contribution, “John Updike Made Me Do It,” once again explores the scenario of close friends brought together on a vacation and swapping partners. As she often does, Ms Storey brings her literate fantasies into the mix. The real world swinging is colored by her fascination with the fictional couples in John Updike’s world, whose indiscretions loom large in her personal sexual mythology.
“The Best of Friends” by M. Millswan is refreshingly different in both its distanced third person narration (“let me tell you about something that happened to a friend of mine”) and its bittersweet tone. The protagonist finds himself making love to the woman he has desired since high school while her husband watches, yet he understands that the encounter, satisfying as it is, means much less to his partner.
Tawanna Sullivan’s “Just Desserts” is a tasty tale of two lesbian couples stranded in the airport by bad weather. It’s a swinging story in the sense that the two couples swap, but says more about the erotic potential of chance than about any kind of “lifestyle.” The initial scenes where the women eye each other and then share dinner in a typical, tacky chain restaurant are close to perfect, capturing the awkwardness of strangers and the intimacy of flirtation.
M. Christian’s contribution to the volume is entitled “Bob & Carol & Ted (But Not Alice).” What sets this story apart, aside from its cleverly allusive title, is the way Mr. Christian explores Bob’s barely articulated desire for other men. In too many erotic stories, the characters blatantly announce what they want and then go after it. Here, the character is realistically confused and unsure, even as he is aroused.
“One Weekend in Toronto” by Claudia Moss is an extravagantly decadent, gender-bending pan-sexual romp that will make you hot and bothered whatever your orientation. Amanda Earl’s “Ghost Swinger” succeeds in bringing to life the lost sexual spontaneity of the hippie years, the golden era after the Pill and before AIDS. “The Twenty-Minute Rule,” by Ashley Lister, proves that there are exceptions to every rule, especially in the domain of sex. In “Be Careful What You Wish For,” D. L. King conveys the reader to her fantasy world of strict but scrupulously careful Dommes and the male slaves who gladly serve them. I should also mention the arousing and disturbing “Initiation,” by Rick R. Reed, in which a gay man undergoes a series of creative and increasingly extreme tests in order to gain admission to a mysterious sex club. I really did not see what this story had to do with swinging, and I found the shock ending a bit difficult to deal with, but I must admit that the rest of the story pushed my buttons.
Many of the stories that I have not mentioned above could have been excised from the manuscript without doing any damage. Most are not bad stories – I just found them rather uninteresting. As would be expected from an anthology about swinging, most feature sexual encounters with friends or else visits to swing clubs or parties. Several focus on a woman’s initial sexual experiences with another woman in the context of swinging. Typically, a couple explores their desires for sex outside their relationship and then draw closer to each other as a result. This is fine, but hardly surprising or exciting. I mean, certainly, the sex might be feel great, but after all, it’s just sex, usually with someone who is almost a stranger. There’s little depth there, little complexity, none of the emotional nuances that drive the best erotica. It’s an old story, and it takes some special twist or a particularly gifted writer to give it new life.
I wanted to give Swing! an unabashedly positive review. When I realized that I could not honestly do so, I wondered whether my own experiences swinging were influencing my perceptions. My husband and I have visited swing parties and clubs. We’ve posted and answered personal ads for sexual partners. We’ve experienced ménages a trois with close friends of both genders. Only the last adventures were truly satisfying, from my perspective at least. I love the sexualized atmosphere at a club or party, but I find that it’s difficult for me to really enjoy sex with a stranger, unless there’s a rare, special spark. Was this why so many of the stories in Swing! seemed to fall flat?
I don’t think so. For one thing, some of the outstanding tales in this anthology offer the same basic scenario, yet managed to excite and impress me. I can be pulled easily into the fantasy of the perfect swap, if the storyteller is sufficiently skilled.In the final analysis, I think that Ms du Pré should have said “No” more often. With her enthusiasm for revealing the world of swinging to her readers, she accepted stories that diminished rather than enhanced the power of her message.