What happens when you begin an erotic novel with a fascinating and provocative premise, and then invite some of the most prominent authors in the genre to serially contribute individual chapters? The result could be inspired chaos, a kaleidoscope of erotic visions and fractal views of the main characters through the lens of each writer's unique style. Alternatively, the novel could end up as an incoherent and annoying muddle. Unfortunately, American Casanova is more the latter than the former, though it does offer occasional flashes of brilliance.
Maxim Jakubowski sets the stage and introduces the protagonist in the intriguing first chapter. Giacomo Casanova, burdened by the decrepitude of old age and the bitterness of lost loves, drifts into deathly sleep in Venice in 1798 and awakens in 2005. Reveling in his renewed vigor and youth, he immediately resumes his old ways by seducing an apparently innocent Italian girl who works at the local cafe. Christiana mentors him in the strange and outrageous ways of the modern world, as well as regaling him with the pleasures of her flesh. She accompanies him to a mysterious private party where the sexual excess of the guests shocks even his debauched sensibilities. It is here, at this lascivious ball, that Casanova first glimpses the intoxicating woman he calls Athena, leashed and collared, clearly a slave, yet with a beauty and presence that pierces even his jaded heart. As Athena disappears, he vows to find her and make her his own, thus beginning the quest that will drive (albeit in fits and starts) the novel to its conclusion.
The first few chapters unwind themselves in a reasonably consistent and satisfying fashion. Christiana helps Casanova discover the source of his invitation to the ball, the enigmatic Power Company. When he makes his way to their headquarters to confront them, he is drugged and abducted. He wakes on an enormous ship, a sort of floating dungeon, where he is forced to watch Athena being abused and debauched, even as he himself provides perverse entertainment for the ship's passengers. Christiana reveals herself to be no innocent, but a lustful slut who tops and bottoms with equal zest.
The ship docks in Key West, where Casanova escapes and nearly drowns. By the time he makes land, he finds that Athena (or O, as she turns out to be named) is being auctioned to a vicious punk rocker, Toby Faith. Along with D, one of the slaves from the dungeon ship, and with the help of a local cowboy, Casanova pursues Faith's caravan, driven by his need to possess O.
At this point, the narrative begins to fall apart, careening wildly from Key West to New Orleans to Seattle to San Francisco and finally to New York. Each subsequent chapter introduces new minor characters, who pop in and out of the story, changing roles and tugging the flow of the tale out of its main channel and into weird, distracting eddies.
Mark Timlin's chapter begins the dissolution by starting to tell the story from O's point of view. Before too long, there is also a thread narrated from D's perspective. We lose the pleasure of seeing the modern world and its sexual extremes through the eyes of Casanova, a cultured gentleman from another era as well as a sexual predator, and with that loss, much of the grace and intrigue of the tale.
Mitzi Szereto violates the perfect image of O by turning her into an idiot. She sends O on a benighted quest for enlightenment, seeking a God that she identifies with Kurt Cobain among bemused drug addicts and religious fanatics in Seattle. Then Michael Hemmingson's chapter layers on the wretchedness, filth and degradation in his characteristic neo-Beat style.
The plot thickens to the consistency of sludge as new chapters introduce yet another secret society, The Order, which exists to liberate and rehabilitate slaves from the clutches of the Power Company. D, Christiana, and various other characters reveal themselves to be double, or perhaps even triple agents, in this worldwide battle for flesh and souls. Casanova (who has by this time become almost passive, suffering lust and torment as he again and again catches up with O only to lose her) realizes that he has been brought back to life by the Power Company for some obscure purpose. This intriguing concept, alas, is never elucidated, although we discover by the end of the novel that O is also a revenant, the famous submissive of Roissy who has been brought to life in the new millennium after an untimely death in the 1950's.
Maxim Jakubowski makes a valiant attempt to tie up loose ends in the final chapter, which includes dark echoes typical of his writing. The final scene returns to Venice, with satisfying unity that is sorely lacking in much of the book.
As a single narrative, American Casanova lacks coherence and focus. On the other hand, from such an assemblage of erotic luminaries I would expect some beautiful, disturbing or evocative writing, and I was not wholly disappointed. Thomas S. Roche delivers an arresting chapter in which an aroused and conflicted Casanova chastises O and wins her devotion. John Grant's chapter includes one of the most intense sex scenes in the book, a coupling between Casanova and Croy, the in-your-face black DJ/chauffeur/body guard who works for the Order. And Sage Vivant's chapter, early in the book, provides a deliciously ambiguous encounter between Casanova and a woman who might, or might not, be a resurrected ex-lover from his own time.
I was ultimately disappointed by American Casanova. I can't help but wonder about the motivations of some of the authors as they fashioned their chapters. Building on someone else's plot twists and characters must be quite difficult, but I know from past reading experience that these writers could have done better. I had the sense that some contributors were playing a game in which each tried to outdo predecessors in offering ever wilder and more outrageous characters, events and interpretations. Certainly, in many cases, there seemed to be little consideration paid to the narrative as a whole.
Although the cover glosses the book as "An erotic novel directed by Maxim Jakubowski", it's clear that he exercised very little direction over his contributors. The result is a novel that I suspect is quite different from what Maxim imagined, based on the glimpses provided by his initial and final chapters. That novel, I think, I would have greatly enjoyed.
This thick collection of 41 stories is a banquet of sex in various forms and flavors, all predominantly heterosexual with a tiny amount of same-sex action sprinkled in for spice. The editor admits that his taste is "idiosyncratic." As a writer and bookseller of crime/noir fiction, he seems especially fond of erotica in those genres. He also has a fine eye for literary skill, so there are no clunker sentences or groan-worthy metaphors on any of the 460 pages of this book. (Not a single brooding detective in a rumpled raincoat meets a slinky dame, except in stories such as "Amour Noir" by Landon Dixon, in which an innocent traveler is bewildered, then aroused, then alarmed by characters in Iowa who seem out of touch with reality.)
Instead of relying on a select group of well-known writers to supply him with the year's best published erotica, Maxim Jakubowski has become famous or notorious for trolling the 'net for gems and republishing them with a minimum of communication with the authors. In fairness to him, the current general conception of "published" work includes anything posted in a public place, and Jakubowski seems to be pursuing authors more systematically now than in the past. A note in the acknowledgment for "Child's Position" by Dawn Ryan, first posted on the site "Sliptongue," claims: "Repeated attempts have been made to contact the author. Should she come across this volume, she should contact the editor c/o the publishers."
The results of the editor's treasure-hunt style of finding material (he also welcomes submissions) are impressive. In the introduction, he boasts: "Many names will be familiar to readers of past volumes, but I am particularly proud this year that eighteen writers appear in the series for the first time, and that a growing cohort of male authors also provides evidence that sexual sensibility is not just the domain of female writers."
Considering his professed open-mindedness, it seems ironic that he has not found any stories about sex between two men or two women worthy of publication, and the few stories about bisexuals (i.e. "menage" stories) emphasize the importance of male-female sex. There are no transgender characters in this collection that I could find.
The consistently high quality of this collection makes it hard to choose favorites, although as a member of the Erotic Readers and Writers Association, I am always glad to find a good handful of stories from the ERWA website in this series. Probably the fairest way to describe the stories in this book is to identify general themes.
There is an interesting spectrum of Dominant/submissive relationships, although the kind of BDSM activities defined as "extreme" or "black-hanky" are largely missing. In "The Slave," the first story in the book, Julia Morizawa takes on the voice of a female character in a doomed D/s affair with a man who reacts violently to her complaint that he is "too gentle. . . Master." Love, as distinct from momentary lust, is the demon they both fear.
In "The Shoot" by D.L. King, eye-candy male submissives are arranged for the camera by their Mistresses. Like other stories of camera erotica, this story plays on the D/s implications of human models who can be dressed, undressed, painted and posed for photographers who capture the image of a moment for all time.
"Matching Skirt and Kneepads" by Thomas Roche is the closest to a gay/lesbian story in the book. A female submissive who spends much time on her knees is taken out by her Mistress, who introduces her to a pair of leathermen. The "girl" is recovering from a clit-piercing, but she is able to please Mistress' friends with other parts of her body. Her reward is a set of kneepads that match her skirt.
In "Incurable Romantic" by Lisabet Sarai, a male Dom with the female submissive of his dreams is able to learn some new things about his own desires. "Late for a Spanking" by Rachel Kramer Bussel is brisker and lighter, but it also plays with desires that could break the trust in a good BDSM relationship. Like the Dom in Lisabet Sarai's story, the man here knows he is lucky to have an almost-perfect female submissive, and he has promised to be faithful to her in his fashion, but a frisky girl who likes to be spanked is almost irresistible.
"The Unattainable" by Livia Llewelyn is an outstanding story in a book full of them. On the surface, this is a kind of country song about a one-night-stand between a woman who has returned to small-town Virginia and a hard-muscled rodeo rider who tells her that he "always wins." Below the surface, however, his deep, unexpressed desire to submit, and her desire to be "the thing he longs for most in all the world" can almost be felt by the reader.
"Victoria's Hand" by Lisette Ashton is an over-the-top scene of a marriage proposal in the Victorian Age. The suitor asks Victoria for "her hand." Enjoying his anxiety, she seizes her advantage and demands to see the goods before she will commit to anything. In an age when most women have few rights, she negotiates a marriage in which she will be in charge.
D/s stories often overlap with fetish stories; the crucial difference seems to be that fetish stories focus on an object, a body part or a single activity rather than a relationship. Fetish stories in this book include: "Boot Camp" by Kristina Lloyd, a hilarious spin on recovery or detox centers. In this case, the narrator is a woman who loves to lick boots, and who has been sent to a camp for fetishists, supposedly intended to "cure" them. Not surprisingly, "Spitshine" meets a boot-wearer whose fetish is very compatible with hers. In "Supercollider" by Chad Taylor, a waitress meets a quirky customer who likes the same games that she does.
"I Am Jo's Vibrator" by M. Christian is a playful monologue by a vibrator who is thrilled to be brought home from the store to pleasure a young woman, and learns that he can also serve her boyfriend. In "Spin Dry" by Sam Jayne, a fiercely antisocial Englishwoman prefers the vibrations of her washing machine to the efforts of a man. When her washing machine breaks down, she must find a way to replace it.
"Hair Trigger" by Nikki Magennis is a darker story about a woman who learns that her boyfriend, who will only see her at certain times, loves long hair more than he loves individual women. She takes revenge in an appropriate way. In "Slightly Ajar" by Jeremy Edwards, a woman and her husband discover the primal excitement of a woman pissing with the bathroom door slightly open. In "Glint" by Portia da Costa, a woman on vacation believes that the people in the next cottage are watching her and her husband on the beach, and the feeling of being watched transforms them both.
“Spider” by Donna George Storey features a seductive Japanese man who plays on an American woman’s fear of large spiders; he teaches her to enjoy being caught in a shibari web. “Paranoid Polly” is a more farcical story about a young woman who is equally surprised by the barely-hidden sexual relationship of two male co-workers and her own reaction to a stuffed toy when she accidentally sits on it.
Is incest a fetish? If so, the surrealistic “Narcissi” by N.J. Steitberger fits in with the other fetish stories. Joseph desires his twin and female alter ego, Josephine, but is she real? His (or their) mother doesn’t think so, but Mom is often in an altered state of consciousness.
On that note, there is a small but memorable group of fantasy stories in this collection, including “The Threshold” by Polly Frost, in which a high school virgin learns that supernatural beings from another realm have been attracted to her town by the freshness of her energy, on which they want to feed in an ancient ritual. And despite the bragging of her friends, male and female, she is far from the only unplucked rosebud in her school. “17 Short Films About Hades and Persephone” by Elspeth Potter is a powerful reworking of the ancient Greek myth about the god of the underworld and his abduction of his own niece, daughter of his sister, Demeter. “Sparklewheel” by Kris Saknussemm reads like a hellish acid trip through the modern industrial world undertaken by a man and woman who survive despite the odds.
The impact of disability on sex and sexual relationships might be considered anti-erotic, but it is brilliantly and sensitively dealt with in three stories. “An Early Winter Train” by C. Sanchez-Garcia is told by the husband/caretaker of a woman who has lost most of her memory. In “Objects of Meaning” by Savannah Lee, a female anthropology student gives a professor, who was accidentally mutilated years before, what he could not get from his fiancée. In “Skin Deep” by Kristina Wright, a man who must not overexert himself because he has a heart transplant meets a woman whose husband has been repelled by her mastectomy. In a poignant encounter which can never be repeated, they mirror each other’s beauty and strength.
Stories about heists, murder and contract killing include one by the editor himself, “L’Americaine,” about a cool American blonde who travels with two passports (much like this reviewer, except that I don’t do this for nefarious purposes) and who inadvertently rescues a young Italian woman from a sinister older man in Paris. “Murder Intermezzo” by O’Neil De Noux, set in New Orleans, is as dramatic as an opera. “Behind the Masque” by Sophie Mouette features the kind of surprise twist that is characteristic of this author.
The story which will probably resonate in my mind the longest is the chilling historical tale "Mr. Merridawn's Hum" by Cervo, based on a traditional ballad which has inspired other modern artists. (The Hangman’s Beautiful Daughter, an innovative folk-rock album recorded by the Incredible String Band in 1968, is one example, and so is the 1993 novel of the same name by Sharyn McCrumb.) The daughter of the hangman (whose presence at dawn brings anything but merriment) is a delicate flower whose grotesque sexuality seems logical for her circumstances:
She did, however, have a deep weakness for hanging owing to the fact that it so often befell the youngest and prettiest of men who were nimble enough to try -- but not to succeed -- at poaching, robbing the high roads, and sheep stealing. She would comfort them in the night by singing to them softly before they dropped away from the light at dawn. On more than one occasion she had noticed that despite all the unattractive results of hanging, many of these men were taken down with their cocks still hotly erect and they had clearly ejaculated at their final moment. This was for her a new discovery, and something to consider when thinking of a stiff prick.
Desire, hope, mortality, greed, generosity, deception and illusion all mix together seamlessly in these stories, as does the comedy of sex and the tragedy of human loneliness. This is a book to be dipped into again and again.
Regarding the statement about Mr Jakubowski “trolling the 'net for gems and republishing them with a minimum of communication with the authors,” he states that “In 15 years of publishing the Mammoth books, [he’s] only published 4 stories discovered online which [he] was unable to find the authors of, despite documented mails to editors of the websites where stories had initially appeared and all other possible sources.” He further states “in ALL cases, bar the latest, authors [made] contact with [him] and were not only paid, but [were] delighted to be in [the] books.
Let me begin by admitting that I am at a distinct disadvantage in reviewing this book. Despite its literary reputation, I've never been to Dublin. The closest I've been to Ireland is Boston. I've read some Joyce but found myself confused at least partially because of his references to places and historical events with which I was totally unfamiliar. Hence, I'm not particularly well-qualified to evaluate whether the stories in this collection succeed in bringing the city in the title to life.
So I have to judge this anthology based on whether the stories created a distinctive world that I could clearly imagine - whether I'd recognize Dublin if I visited after reading these tales. Of course, the normal criteria for reviewing erotic fiction also apply. Is the story original? Is the writing competent? Are the sex scenes intriguing, arousing, emotionally involving?
Sex in the City: Dublin includes two exceptional stories that do all of the above and more. Stella Duffy's "Of Cockles and Mussels" offers a lyrical portrait of an earthy fish monger named Molly Malone, who claims she fucked James Joyce and was the inspiration for Molly Bloom. Never mind the literary references, though. This gorgeous story evokes all the breathless intensity of first love, or first lust (it has never been too clear to me whether the two can be teased apart).
If there's one thing I know to be true about Molly Malone, it's that she was not sweet. Not sweet at all. She was wild and funny and exhausting to be with, she could be cruel too, had a mean temper and a hard jealous streak. But God she was good, to watch, to drink alongside, to play, to laugh, to fuck. And definitely more salt than sweet. Alive, alive oh.
The story also paints a vivid picture of working class Dublin, in the rhythm of its language as much as its descriptions. The narrator is a dirt-poor, hard-working Catholic girl:
Middle child of five and all those boys, you know my mother didn't have anyone else to help her keep them all clothed, fed, washed, clean. I hated doing the laundry, all that endless scrubbing of filthy boys' shirts and underpants. My brothers are not the only reason I started with women, but knowing a little too much about the ways of men certainly did make a woman a more interesting possibility when I was just sixteen.
When she catches Molly's eye at the market and gets invited to visit, the narrator's mother, surprisingly, doesn't raise a fuss. The mother understands that her daughter may be treading a different path than her own and is glad of it. That's only one of the joys of this story.
The other standout tale, for very different reasons, is "Picking Apples in Hell" by Nikki Magennis. In this sassy, sexy story, the narrator Niamh meets up with her old lover Frank, who has returned to Dublin for some undoubtedly dodgy purpose. Once again, the language catches the rhythm of Irish speech:
"So what's dragged you back, Frank?"
"Oh, c'mon now. Can't a man visit his home town without good reason?"
"Don't try telling me that you were missing the ole place," I said, keeping my voice nice and flat.
What I didn't say was: tell me you were missing me, tell me you couldn't forget me, tell me you'd cross the sea for one more shot of that filthy, mind-blowing fucking we used to do.
Niamh discovers that Frank is indeed involved in a dangerous and illegal game, but she can't help surrendering to her lust - and her nostalgia:
That mouth. It might have produced some of the filthiest lies you've ever heard in your life, but there's no denying that when Frank McAuley kissed you, it was enough to make St. Peter forgive the devil. He tasted of whiskey and wet nights on the town, he covered my lips with his own and devoured me, drew me forward so it felt like I was falling.
I loved this story for its colorful depiction of the seedy underside of the city as much as for the characters and the sizzling sex. The fact that Ms. Magennis pulls off a deft surprise ending was an unexpected bonus.
Compared to these two stories, the other contributions are at best workman-like but unremarkable. Ken Bruen's "Love is the Drug" is a wry, humorous piece about a regular guy from New Jersey who travels to Dublin looking for love, only to have all his romantic illusions about Ireland shattered. "Abstract Liffey” by Craig J. Sorensen offers complicated and ambiguous characters with whom you can identify - a hallmark of Mr. Sorensen's fiction - but as far as I could tell, the story could have been set anywhere. Elizabeth Costello's "The City Spreads Startlingly Vast" is an eloquent tale of sex as an antidote to grief, but once again, did not seem particularly Irish. Several of the stories I actively disliked - but of course, that's only one reviewer's opinion.
This isn't a bad collection, but I will admit that after having read Sex in the City: New York, I was disappointed by this other volume in the same series. I'd chalk up my reaction to my unfamiliarity with Dublin, but the fact that two of the tales did succeed in making me see, smell, and taste the city suggests that the problem lies elsewhere.
Themed anthologies, I find, have you guessing at the contents before you’ve properly cracked the spine on the book you’re reading. As soon as you read the title you’re predicting the content of some of the stories.
For instance, an anthology about sex and vampires had me thinking there would be stories about fluids being sucked. An anthology about spanking made me think there would be bruised buttocks somewhere in the tome. An anthology of sixty second erotica had me thinking that my wife was writing about our sex life. (Please note, I’m not trying to brag about the sixty second thing. The sixty seconds includes foreplay and lighting the cigarette afterwards).
Consequently, when I received my copy of Sex in the City: London, my mind began to predict the contents before I’d opened the front page.
Sex in the City: London is one of four recently released titles from Xcite Books. The others in the series are Sex in the City: Dublin, Sex in the City: Paris, and Sex in the City: New York.
I can already imagine that Sex in the City: New York involves at least one story with sex in a yellow taxicab, or sex beneath the shadow of the Statue of Liberty. I suspect Sex in the City: Dublin includes something seductive involving a pint of Guinness. And I’d guess Sex in the City: Paris has a story with a woman who doesn’t shave her pits and a man who’s never brushed his teeth.
But it’s Sex in the City: London I’m looking at and, before I glanced beyond the cover, I wondered if it might include sex with the queen (never going to happen), sex with the prime minister (even less likely with the current mob of fugly incumbents) and sex with someone called Big Ben.
Fortunately, my expectations were usurped when I began to read the stories. Instead of taking characters roughly up the Old Kent Road, or riding a character’s tube until they’re snugly settled in the West End, the collection is credible, entertaining and literate. The stories here are certainly erotic: but they each contain the essence of a city dweller’s grudging adoration for the place they call home.
And, perhaps that’s what makes each of these stories come to life. Anyone who has ever lived in a city knows that the instinctive affection for home is tempered by a weary distaste for all its shortcomings: a duality of cognitive dissonance that is irresoluble and inescapable.
Or, as Kristina Lloyd points out at the beginning of “The Caesar Society,”
I like Soho. It’s horrible. It used to be worse and I liked it better then.
This duality extends to people, as Justine Elyot observes in “Thames Link,”
He’s a creep, he’s a sleaze, he’s a perve. He’s my kind of guy.
Or, as Maxim Jakubowski explains in “Woke up with the Hampstead Blues Again,”
Then there’s the real London.
And then again, there is the unreal London, a world of shadows, imagination and loneliness.
This is a collection to be savoured like a sightseeing tour. The stories show imagination and excitement without once forgetting about their shared background.
In “Monster” Francis Ann Kerr takes her readers to the nefarious Torture Gardens. “The Tourist,” by Clarice Clique is a veritable whirlwind visit through the city, touching on the Tate Modern, the London Eye, Piccadilly Circus and a handful of other venerable attractions. In “What are you Wearing?” Matt Thorne appears to answer every visitor to the city’s question about what happens to all the luggage that goes missing form Terminal 5.
As a writer, and as someone who also teaches creative writing, I think the most appealing element of this collection is that each author has provided notes on their inspiration. Elizabeth Coldwell talks about the influence of Soho, and how that dictated her narrative for “Rain and Neon.” NJ Streitberger discusses the true incident that inspired the fictional account of “The Girl on the Egyptian Escalator.” Kevin Mullins and Marcelle Perks explain the mechanics of their winning collaboration on “Strawberry Pink.” It’s a fascinating glimpse behind the thought processes that have created these compelling stories.
Perhaps the clever thing about these anthologies is that they’ve been edited by Maxim Jakubowski. Anthologies need to be edited by someone who has a feel for the subject matter and it goes without saying that Maxim is well travelled: regularly jetting between New York, London and a host of other exotic places. He is undoubtedly savvy to the nuances of each anthology’s destination – making him ideally placed to edit stories focused on specific locations.
And Maxim also knows about sex. As the presiding editor of the Mammoth Best New Erotica series, it’s acknowledged that he knows a good erotic story when he sees one. In short: Sex in the City: London is a testament to Maxim’s abilities as an editor and it deserves to be a triumphant success. The authors who have contributed know how to tell a story and how to convey the essence of a city. And who could ask for more than that in a book?
Maxim Jakubowski, editor of the Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica, offers a new line of anthologies with stories set in London, New York, Paris, and Dublin. I'm always excited to see what Maxim has to offer, with good reason. Sex in the City: New York was one of the best anthologies I've had the pleasure to read.
In addition to these wonderful stories, each contributor included a short non-fiction piece about their story. I'm one of those people who actually reads author bios in the back of the book, so to me, the essays were a stroke of brilliance. After reading this, I plan to read the other three in the series.
I've only been to New York City once. A friend who lives there met me at the train and showed me around. While she went to a business meeting, I sat in a small park and just let it sink in. That's the way I like to experience a city. It was only a brief taste, but it was enough to get a feel for the rhythm. Reading these stories brought that vibe back to me.
Usually, I pick a few standouts from an anthology to talk about in further detail, but each of these thirteen stories is so sophisticated and literate that it's hard to play favorites. I'll tell you what - you read this anthology, and then we'll go out for drinks (make it The Algonquin for the proper atmosphere) and have a friendly discussion about the top picks. I'll bet your list is different from mine, and I'll bet that you'll have a hard time narrowing it down to just three.
Sex in the City: New York
With contributions by
Donna George Storey, Maxim Jakubowski, Polly Frost, Jeremy Edwards, Tsaurah Litzky, Shanna Germain, Thom Gautier, D.L. King. Michael Hemmingson, Lisabet Sarai, Thomas S. Roche, Cara Bruce, and Ira Miller.
What makes Paris unique -- apart from food and architecture, art and ambience, fashion and flowers -- is the French people. What makes the people of France unique is their sense of appetite, which finds expression in everything their senses encounter, all of which would be null and void without l’amour. The French connect sex and love in ways that English speakers can or do not. Flirting is a not just a game, it’s a sport for which the French people wisely train all their lives. Thus the French -- who often tend toward being dour, practical and frugal – create existential balance for themselves through love lives that thrive and grow throughout their life.
Parisians can afford to be fussy about what they eat and wear because they are always in training for their next affaire de coeur, even if it is with the same person they have been in love with for decades. All that and more is wonderfully reflected in a quirky volume of stories edited by Maxim Jakubowski as a part of his Sex in the City series published by Xcite books, which is devoted to love making in Paris.
Paris is at the heart of this studied Gallic devotion to the erotic. Any number of books have been written about Paris as the city of love. Some are vastly better than others, depending on how well the authors have actually invested themselves with the living personality of Paris. Hemingway, for example, in The Moveable Feast, was so interested in himself and his own feelings that he dealt with Paris from an abstract distance as though he were seeing it in a movie. Orwell, on the other hand, climbed down into its gustatory bowels and heard its stomach rumble in Down and Out in Paris and London.
Such is the case with Sex in the City: Paris. Those authors who actually have opened their minds and hearts to its nature truly get the city; those who do not, fail rather badly. That is especially true in instances where details of actual city life are botched or simply wrong. Paris has a strange but definite emotional embrace that it you either feel or don’t, regardless of how long you are there. For many people that embrace is almost instantaneous, just as it is for those who fall in love with New York City, even though she can be a very cranky mistress.
Three stories in this volume stand out in particular, "Bellville Blue" by Carrie Williams is wonderfully written in a fluid, engaging style. But what makes the story work best is that she has truly thought about the character of each sector and street of the city she describes. The erotic encounter she relates is not merely plausible, but tangible to the senses. She knows the difference of the feel of each block as you walk along with your lover, and thus her balance of deftness and precision makes her writing a lovely amuse bouche to read.
Maxim Jakubowski’s own story, "An Unreliable Guide to Paris Hotel Rooms," offers his delightfully droll look at sex, with and without room service, in an assortment of Paris hotels. In truth these establishments usually seem to be expensive and dreary with claustrophobic rooms and a furtive staff. But as we all know, an assignation is often a way of making life beautiful despite the surrounding conditions, rather than because of them. What this story captures so well is that transitory sex is often a matter of misdirection and substitution that produces as much irony as fulfillment. That is not to say that his story is without romance; it’s just not always between the two people who happen to be in bed at the time.
By far for me, however, the best story in this anthology is EllaRegina’s "The Red Brassiere," an homage to the film, "The Red Balloon," by Lamorrisse made in 1956. This story is a truly outrageous surreal fantasy about a flying red brassiere that magically becomes the seductress of all the men in the multi-national capitol of France. I will not spoil this story with further plot elucidation, but I will say that it is a work of delightfully playful story telling that authentically lifts the heart. And that’s what makes it so perfect, because despite the endless struggles of urban life, Paris is a city that truly is available to the open heart when it is supported with élan, a little charm and a sense of humor. That short list also fairly well sums up the greater part of Sex in the City: Paris, as a lovely read.