This annual anthology of lesbian erotica was clearly inspired by the success of Cleis Press' Best Lesbian Erotica series, a groundbreaking concept when it was launched in 1995. By now, there are clichés in female/female erotica as there are in male/female and male/male erotica. Some of the standard scenarios can still be approached in fresh ways, but not all writers have the skill and imagination to do this.
The strength of this volume seems to be the variety of stories in it. They range from familiar tales of horny college classmates, exhibitionists in front of picture windows on high floors and seductions involving sexy lingerie to glimpses of woman-love in non-European cultures. Some of these stories could be defined as down-and-dirty sex fantasies, which have a loyal following. Other stories in this book feature psychological insights and literary style, and they would look appropriate in cream-of-the-year annual anthologies such as Best American Erotica, formerly edited by Susie Bright, or Maxim Jakubowski's Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica. It seems unlikely that any one reader would like all these stories equally.
Several of these stories focus on the sexual initiation of a novice, a woman with no sexual experience with other women and no ideas about what to do. Some of these stories are more convincing and effective than others. In "A Different Kind of House Call" by Madlyn March, the narrator stubbornly refuses to please her girlfriend by giving or receiving oral sex, thinking it is too messy and too intimate. The girlfriend hires a female porn star, "Anita Fok" (star of a film series, “Horny Hospital”) for an educational threesome, although a less patient girlfriend would probably have found what she needed behind the narrator's back. This is what the narrator assumes when she walks in to find Anita and her girlfriend naked in bed. In “Les Triumphantes” by Lara Zielinsky, which takes place on a ship by that name, a high school teacher who wants to “come out” feels awkward and out of place on an all-woman cruise until the perfect stranger introduces herself and gently leads her to ecstasy.
The treatment of lesbian sex as an arcane ritual known only to adepts and their chosen students is entertaining but not strictly realistic. Young women who have never known other lesbians have figured things out together, both in real life and in fiction. It’s not rocket science.
The suggestion that lesbian sex is a sacred mystery is carried to its logical conclusion in two stories with an explicitly spiritual theme: “Holy Fuck” by Geneva King, a series of scenarios about sex between women in various religious contexts, and “The Day the Sun Goddess Got Laid” by Donna George Storey, a marvelous teaching story about the Japanese sun goddess, Amaterasu, and her search for an explanation of erotic laughter.
The sacred and the sensual are combined in a rare art-form, banned by Christian missionaries for a hundred years and now revived, which is beautifully described in “Traditional Inuit Throat Singing” by Giselle Renarde. In this story, an Inuit woman from Canada’s far north introduces her lover, the child of Russian immigrants, to her relatives who are temporarily in a “southern” city to perform for a crowd, and then teaches her how to sing or chant a duet. It’s all about sharing vibes.
Most of these stories are realistic, including two similarly-named but distinctly different epistolary pieces, “Love Letter” by Miel Rose and “P.S. I Love You” by Kissa Starling. The first of these is an intense, poignant letter to an ex-lover with whom the writer has lost touch, but who haunts her dreams and her waking thoughts.
The story by Kissa Starling is a sweet historical tale about two young women who hook up at Woodstock in August 1969, in an atmosphere of universal love. Many years later, one of them has a reason to reminisce about the good old days. The Woodstock scenes are groovy, and they include references to the actual bands that played there as well as the farmer who let thousands of people converge on his land for the event. However, the author has missed a chance to trace the development of a long-term lesbian relationship which would have been influenced by the sweeping changes in American culture since 1969, including the birth and development of both “women’s lib” and “gay rights.”
One story that acknowledges the influence of earlier lesbian literature is “BLR” by K. Sontz. Living in the 21st century, the two lovers who have “come out” in college face a familiar dilemma: their parents are upset to different degrees, and the lovers must meet in secret. The narrator’s girlfriend discovers that she has been reading Beebo Brinker, a lesbian novel of 1962 about going to Greenwich Village to meet beatniks and other queers. Both lovers agree that the lack of sex in lesbian fiction of that time is disappointing, but their instincts serve them well.
The only paranormal story besides Donna George Storey’s invented myth is “Rackula,” an overwrought vampire tale by Heather Towne. If this is a parody of horror fiction that takes itself too seriously, something like “The Rocky Horror Show,” this story sets the right tone. It begins thus:
“Upon my eighteenth birthday, when I became a woman in the jaundiced eyes of Romanian law, my mother sat me down in the musty living room of our ancient cottage and told me the story of the Countess Sabrina Comaneci—the evil, vengeful, undead, large-breasted seductress who haunted the backwoods byways of our impoverished province, deflowering virgins with her serpentlike tongue and jagged fangs, and the hungrily supping on blood from the rents she’d made in the young women’s maidenheads.”
From there it gets better, or worse.
Two memorable stories focus on clothing. “The Perfect Fit” by Stephanie Rose is an unconvincing but charming fantasy about a woman who has worked hard for a year to become fit, after sinking into depression and overeating after the death of her father. Her reward for herself is a private appointment with Miss Lila, glamorous owner of a lingerie shop who offers very personal fittings.
“Tight Sweater” by Jacqueline Applebee is a kind of quirky joke about a blonde Englishwoman who manages to encase herself in a sweater which is almost too tight to allow breathing. When she can’t remove it herself, she is forced to beg her attractive Nigerian neighbour for help, even though it is against her policy to get too close to anyone living in the same apartment building, since a falling-out would make the inevitable hallway encounters uncomfortable. As it turns out, the tight sweater makes an effective bondage device, and the Nigerian, who has been hurt by her neighbor’s apparent indifference, is able to satisfy them both.
“Something I Gave Her” by Sandra Roth is a threesome story in which the butch narrator fulfills her femme girlfriend’s fantasy by encouraging her to drink until she passes out, and then offering her to her closest friend. Chris, the friend, is understandably reluctant to grope a sleeping woman, and requires a lot of persuasion to join in the fun.
Chris eventually expresses an interest in ass-fucking, and the narrator tells the reader: “if you think I’m going to let someone else be the first to ream my girlfriend’s ass, you’re smoking some deadly weed.” Here is where the consensuality wears thin. The narrator is packing a larger “cock” than the one she has loaned to Chris, and she decides not to lubricate it because she lacks the patience to dig the lube out of her backpack “at the other end of the bed.”
The narrator explains calmly: “I swear I can feel Tara’s asshole tear, as the head of my rod rams through her tight sphincter.” Although Tara keeps her eyes closed, she screams. The narrator is turned on by the sound.
Admittedly, this story is a fantasy about a fantasy, but the narrator lost much of her appeal for me at that point. There is no indication that Tara ever wanted physical damage, and even if she had, a responsible lover would not ignore her welfare in a state of reckless lust. Feh.
“The Evolution of Party Girl” by Charlotte Dare is about two apparently mismatched young women from different sides of the tracks who must overcome their preconceptions and develop the maturity to appreciate each other. This is not an original theme, but the author handles it well.
“Earthy” by Anna Watson would appeal to anyone with a smell fetish and/or an interest in voyeurism. “Room 545” by Geneva Nixon and “Room with a View” by Kimberley LaFontaine are both hotel-room fantasies, one starring established lovers and one describing a hot scene between a chambermaid and a guest. “Beach Moth” is a fantasy about being cast away on an island with the woman of one’s dreams.
“Thursday Nights in Soho” is a thought-provoking story about a career woman who goes regularly to a lesbian watering-hole with her best friend to pick up chicks. As the narrator admits, her desire for sex without commitment causes her to behave like a boorish man. The narrator and her buddy meet their match when two stunning women enter the club, looking for paying customers.
This book contains enough treasures to be worth its price, but the plots, the styles, and the characters vary widely. Perhaps we are living in a Golden Age of lesbian erotica, when one-handed reading and literary fiction can still keep company.