Writing fetish stories is an art and a challenge. For this writer/reviewer, sex is a symphony of sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and especially tactile sensations. Fetish stories isolate one aspect of the whole gestalt and describe it as a complete, satisfying experience which might not include genital contact -- or at least fucking (to put it crudely) is not the primary goal.
Rachel Kramer Bussel has edited (and co-edited) a whole spectrum of fetish anthologies, including collections about lingerie, rubber, feet/shoes, crossdressing, spanking, and previous collections about watching and being watched. The number of possible approaches to any particular fetish, as expressed in these anthologies, seems to be unlimited.
This anthology includes eighteen stories by an interesting mix of veteran erotic writers and newcomers to the field. Although none of the scenarios literally involves show biz, putting on a show (a planned display, intended to be watched by an audience) is one of the themes of these stories. The various show-offs and watchers, some of whom take great risks to get their kicks, shed light on the erotic basis of the performing arts.
Several of these stories are set in cultures that feature particular forms of sexual display. "Rosse Buurt" by Geneva King is set in the famous "red-light" district of Amsterdam, where sex workers lure passers-by from display windows. In this story, a female tourist is especially attracted to a particular woman in the window, but she has qualms:
My panties dampen, just a little.
I promptly feel ashamed. While I've had my share of one-time encounters, the thought of buying sex bothers me. To be honest, I probably did pay for it each time: a drink to loosen up the cute girl in the bar, dinner at a nice restaurant; all money out of my pocket and there wasn't even a guaranteed payoff at the end of the evening.. .
She [the woman in the window] widens her stance, so I get a good look at her body. You like? she seems to ask.
I like. I like it a lot.
On the last day of her trip, the narrator gives in to temptation.
"Clean and Pretty" by Donna George Storey (known for her stories of Americans in Japan) follows a white American woman who has been introduced by a charismatic Japanese businessman to a particularly "clean" form of prostitution: she masturbates in a shower for paying viewers who cannot touch her. "Clean and pretty" is described as a rough approximation of an almost untranslatable Japanese word, kirei.
"Calendar Girl" by Angela Caperton is set in the late 1950s, a time when men could channel their interest in female bodies into amateur photography, and young women who loved being watched could model for them in "camera clubs." Desi, the heroine of this story, is inspired by the sight of a particular image in a "girlie" calendar in the garage where she works in the office:
All through that spring, sometimes when she was alone in her room at home, Desi stripped her clothes off and imagined posing. . .
Sizing herself up in the mirror, Desi thought she compared favorably to April [the image on the calendar]. Her breasts were bigger, with little dark nipples instead of pink points, and her waist was tight and curved, sexily, she thought, above the swell of her hips. From the back, her bottom was high and firm, rounded and symmetrical as a perfect olive, golden where the sun had never touched her. But what held her eye and tempted her fingers was the patch of silky fur that covered her treasure--Mom's name for her pussy.
A real girl, Desi thought, and slipped her fingers through the satiny moss, but a goddess too, sacred to men, naked and made to be worshipped.
This scene reminds me of the powerful moment in The Picture of Dorian Gray (thinly-disguised gay novel of the 1890s) when the formerly unself-conscious young man, Dorian, sees his own beauty in the portrait painted by his admirer, a male artist who magically transfers Dorian's soul to the canvas.
Most of the stories in this book feature male-female couples, but the eroticism of watching and showing off is complicated: the watcher can either desire or identify with the one(s) being watched, and the performers are usually not particular about who sees them. "Glass" by Nobilis Reed features a convoluted set of relationships among at least four people: Mira (a security guard who likes watching impromptu activity in a parking lot through the monitor), Lucy, Chris (a man), and an unnamed man who is Chris's fellow-voyeur in the bushes while two women (Mira and Lucy?) put on a show in a bedroom window. Each of the characters seems to have a fluid sexuality, which is not only triggered by watching, but by watching others watching them.
This story suggests a painting of a team of artists painting their own portraits.
Several of the stories deal with the spread of modern surveillance systems. In “Audience Participation” by Elizabeth Coldwell, a female narrator named Kat explains her boss’s plan to bring a British company into the 21st century by setting up a webcam. Chris, the hot male techie whose job is to make this happen, invites Kat to join him in his own digs to watch the office after-hours. As Kat and Chris enjoy their mutual seduction, they are delighted to see something unexpected on the screen: their stiff-necked boss with his pants down.
Workplace seduction is also featured in “Superior” by Monica Shores, but in this case, the theme of watching and being watched seems less crucial to the plot, in which a classic lady boss torments and seduces her besotted male underling. This is one of several traditional seduction stories in this collection. While not completely stale, these stories could as well have appeared in half a dozen other erotic anthologies.
Two of these stories, both well-written and memorable, seem especially off-theme. “Ownership” by Craig J. Sorenson is a grimly funny, realistic tale about a young man in the military who is itching to get laid, and is instead forced into the role of an observer who can watch but not touch anyone but himself. This story is as much about gender roles and miscommunication as it is about watching and performing. “Missing Michael” by M. March is a heartbreaking gay love story involving three good men who each get to tell the same timeless story from a different viewpoint. This story could be classified as m/m paranormal romance, and it is haunting on several levels. While it does involve watching and being watched, it is very different in tone from the surrounding stories.
In “The Theory of Orchids” by L.A. Mistral, a horticulturalist with the discreet charm of a male geek (like that of an authoritative voice-over) offers an attractive woman a presumably scientific explanation of the relationship between watcher and watched: live beings, including orchids, change in undefined but definite ways in response to being observed. Of course, the man and the woman, a budding exhibitionist, test this theory together and find it valid. They have each gone to Florida to get away from their ordinary routines, and they are literally showered with orchids when they attract attention from other tourists.
Each of these stories deserves to be read (or seen), but limited time and space prevent me from doing them all justice. The diversity of this collection is part of its strength. While few readers are likely to love all these stories equally, few fans of erotica would find all of them to be a waste of paper. For those who would like to understand the fascination of the theme – and perhaps, like a sensitive orchid, be coaxed into full bloom – this book would make a good instruction manual.