Authors
Alexandros
Carmine
Melanie Abrams
Julius Addlesee
Shelley Aikens
A. Aimee
Jeanne Ainslie
Fredrica Alleyn
Rebecca Ambrose
Diane Anderson-Minshall
Laura Antoniou
Janine Ashbless
Lisette Ashton
Gavin Atlas
Danielle Austen
J. P. Beausejour
P.K. Belden
Tina Bell
Jove Belle
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore
Ronica Black
Candace Blevins
Primula Bond
Lionel Bramble
A. J. Bray
Samantha Brook
Matt Brooks
Zetta Brown
James Buchanan
Louisa Burton
Angela Campion
Angela Caperton
Annabeth Carew
Julia Chambers
Dale Chase
M. Christian
Greta Christina
Valentina Cilescu
Rae Clark
NJ Cole
Christina Crooks
Julius Culdrose
Portia da Costa
Alan Daniels
Angraecus Daniels
Dena De Paulo
Vincent Diamond
Susan DiPlacido
Noelle Douglas-Brown
Hypnotic Dreams
Amanda Earl
Hank Edwards
Jeremy Edwards
Stephen Elliott
Madelynne Ellis
Justine Elyot
Aurelia T. Evans
Lucy Felthouse
Jesse Fox
I. G. Frederick
Simone Freier
Louis Friend
Polly Frost
William Gaius
Bob Genz
Shanna Germain
J. J. Giles
Lesley Gowan
K D Grace
K. D. Grace
Sacchi Green
Ernest Greene
Tamzin Hall
R. E. Hargrave
P. S. Haven
Trebor Healey
Vicki Hendricks
Scott Alexander Hess
Richard Higgins
Julie Hilden
E. M. Hillwood
Amber Hipple
William Holden
Senta Holland
David Holly
Michelle Houston
Debra Hyde
M. E. Hydra
Vina Jackson
Anneke Jacob
Maxim Jakubowski
Kay Jaybee
Ronan Jefferson
Amanda Jilling
SM Johnson
Raven Kaldera
J. P. Kansas
Kevin Killian
D. L. King
Catt Kingsgrave
Kate Kinsey
Geoffrey Knight
Varian Krylov
Vivienne LaFay
Teresa Lamai
Lisa Lane
Randall Lang
James Lear
Amber Lee
Nikko Lee
Tanith Lee
Annabeth Leong
James W. Lewis
Marilyn Jaye Lewis
Ashley Lister
Fiona Locke
Clare London
Scottie Lowe
Simon Lowrie
Catherine Lundoff
Michael T. Luongo
Jay Lygon
Helen E. H. Madden
Nancy Madore
Jodi Malpas
Jeff Mann
Alma Marceau
Sommer Marsden
Gwen Masters
Sean Meriwether
Bridget Midway
I. J. Miller
Madeline Moore
Lucy V. Morgan
Julia Morizawa
David C. Morrow
Walter Mosley
Peggy Munson
Zoe Myonas
Alicia Night Orchid
Craig Odanovich
Cassandra Park
Michael Perkins
Christopher Pierce
Lance Porter
Jack L. Pyke
Devyn Quinn
Cameron Quitain
R. V. Raiment
Shakir Rashaan
Jean Roberta
Paige Roberts
Sam Rosenthal
D. V. Sadero
C Sanchez-Garcia
Lisabet Sarai
R Paul Sardanas
R. Paul Sardanas
Elizabeth Schechter
Erica Scott
Kemble Scott
Mele Shaw
Simon Sheppard
Tom Simple
Talia Skye
Susan St. Aubin
Charlotte Stein
C. Stetson
Chancery Stone
Donna George Storey
Darcy Sweet
Rebecca Symmons
Mitzi Szereto
Cecilia Tan
Lily Temperley
Vinnie Tesla
Claire Thompson
Alexis Trevelyan
Alison Tyler
Gloria Vanderbilt
Vanessa Vaughn
Elissa Wald
Saskia Walker
Kimberly Warner-Cohen
Brian Whitney
Carrie Williams
Peter Wolkoff
T. Martin Woody
Beth Wylde
Daddy X
Lux Zakari
Fiona Zedde
American CoolAmerican Cool
By: Susan DiPlacido
iUniverse, Inc.
ISBN: 0595448771
June 2007





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

First it must be said that Susan DiPlacido can write, as her edgy story “Neon Nights” in her collection, American Cool, illustrates. Here is a Vegas denizen’s view of tourists,

I know what these tourists are seeing.  High heels and wild hair, can’t walk a straight line, night-hardened, booze in the sunshine while they’ve got their fanny packs and cameras, freaking normal people ready to snap pictures of botanical gardens and Bugsy’s plaque; bright-eyed tourists assaulted with the anachronistic reality of one of Sin City’s living ghosts – me.

Her prose has the feel of her stories’ terrain, and they vary a great deal from hardcore super sex in “Coyote Blues” to a gritty search for rough justice in “Bloodlines.”  DiPlacido can inspire with a story about women’s college baseball, ”Like a Girl,” in which some of the team love each other as actively and violently as they love the game.  She can write hilarious misadventures in the form of a bumbling poker player with big ambitions and bigger issues that she allows to distract her attention, like the size of her butt, and a particularly nasty bee sting.  Then again she can wax engagingly girlish in “Right Hand Diamonds” though it may not be safe to say that to her face.

DiPlacido is an excellent stylist, and that alone would set her well above the vast majority of writers of erotica.  Of equal importance is that she is an able storyteller, and that is even more rare.  American Cool is entirely devoted to the search for outsiders in American society who long to get “in” or be cool, which means being “in” on their own terms. None of them make it because their uniqueness as individuals will forever set them apart one way or the other.  Some of them come to terms with that and seem ready to lead happy and fulfilling lives, but just as often they seem as likely never to understand why they are forever “out.”  In some cases it costs them their lives.

It is a feeling that most Americans in the arts share with her characters and I think most young people experience at some point in their lives as they struggle to find a balance between what makes them special as individuals and what allows them to belong even if only in a world of misfits.  It is here that DiPlacido’s sense of sex shines most brilliantly in her work because she is able to capture the myriad ways in which Americans use sex as a safe haven, a bargaining chip, a weapon, a tool, and, most importantly, as a vehicle of self-realization.  Sometimes that can be a bitter revelation as in the last story, “American Cool” which is also the title of the book.

She writes a full range of sexual tastes and so if there is not quite something for everyone in this book that suits your particular kink, I assure you there is something that is close enough.  What is more, she is writing about sex as a means of celebration, understanding and discovery as well as a good way to get off.  That is no guarantee that sex is the cure for anything, nor is it even the central theme of every story in this volume, but it most certainly plays a key role in the book’s vitality.  I must credit Rebel Press that if there is any sloppy editing in this collection, I didn’t find it, making them one of the last serious book publishers doing erotica.  More to the point DiPlacido is absolutely literate and absorbing with a funky lilt to her prose and a keen eye for the American scene, making the book nearly impossible to put down. 



Bitten: Dark Erotic StoriesBitten: Dark Erotic Stories
Edited By: Susie Bright
Chronicle Books
ISBN: 0811864251
July 2009





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

The very name Susie Bright would seem to thumb its nose at the whole notion of literary substance, but then there’s that other nom de plum, e.e. cummings.  They share in common the ability to elevate and rarify a fairly hoary literary form to create a work that belongs among the literary canon of the last decade.  In this instance, I refer to Ms. Bright’s Bitten, an anthology of “dark erotica” that exceeds any work of this kind that I have read since the inception of Erotica Revealed.

In every story, the authors have taken some cliché of fiction, usually gothic in nature, and turned it out with a new lining, a new feel and entirely penetrating sense of style.  Humor balances gracefully with cutting surreal horror in “The Resurrection Rose” by Anne Tourney.  What is more, as is generally the case in this volume, the narrative has a genuinely erotic effect on the reader.  Partly that is a matter of how the subject is manipulated, but equally important is the elegant and sexually fluid style.

To my delight the book itself is an oddly sensual object to handle even in paperback.  The cover art is a dark and sensuously raised representation of a snake in greens and purples.  The edges of the pages have been burnished with some sort of charcoal silver substance that makes them smooth to the touch and easy to turn.  Those who can remember 19th century books, which were often leather bound and burnished at the edges, will take tremendous pleasure in just touching this book.  It is silky, slick and has an interesting texture.

It may seem odd to extol a book ‘as object,’ but if you have occasion to handle lots of less thoughtfully wrought texts, as we all do in the age of the computer, the feel of this book is worth noting.  Plaudits indeed should go to Chronicle Books.  What’s more, why not?  I read erotica primarily for pleasure.  Why shouldn’t the caress of the book itself be as pleasant as the fantasies it creates?

The authors in this book have an amazing ability to connect the sense of touch with the experience of reading.  Sera Gamble’s “The Devil’s Invisible Scissors” is the best case in point.  What more innocuous cutting tool is there than scissors, especially a tiny pair of shears?  But have you ever caught your skin in scissors and felt their bite say while grooming a pet or cutting something thick and hard to penetrate?  The cuts can be both painful and surprisingly incisive.  The shears in the story nestle between two delectable breasts, so the libidinous imagination hums into gear at the contrast of textures.  You want to see these little scissors and touch them, but in the back of your mind, you surely know better.  That is real dramatic tension in fiction because it invades the body of the reader.

None of these stories fail to engage the reader even though they do so at a widely divergent set of levels. In “The Witch of Jerome Avenue” Tsaurah Litzky perfectly captures the unique and sea driven atmosphere in that part of Brooklyn, the borough in which I live.  She has blended the voice of its streets with the nuanced character of her heroine.

The most outlandish offering in Bitten is “Get Thee Behind Me, Satan” by Ernie Conrick in which the hero, Mr. Morgenthaler, has decided that, “he wanted to forgo their usual dinnertime rituals and have a sudden, impolite encounter that ended with the fertilization of Mrs. Morgenthaler’s esophagus.”  It is a tale of downtown Manhattan; an area where I lived for many years and apparently so has Mr. Conrick. 

His version of life there has a hilarious murderous tension that all New Yorkers feel when waiting for the “F” train to come and wondering if there will be a square inch of room for them to squeeze inside.  So dense is life for us in Gotham, and so bizarre the mix of people, that it does not seem outrageous at all that the laws of physics might be set aside and some totally new cosmic mayhem unleashed by our pent up sexual desires.  I will not spoil the story by giving more specific examples.

I think it fair to say that all the stories are strong and unique in this book, and thus something is there for every erotic or literary taste. You may even develop some new ones. 



BrushesBrushes
By: M. Christian
Phaze
ISBN: 978-1594268151
June 2008





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Brushes, by M. Christian is a loosely woven series of idylls about the sexual union between the artist and his model, all artists here being male. We are given to understand that somehow painters must penetrate their models spiritually in order to render them on canvas.  As one may expect, that leads to a good deal of penetrating on other levels -- except in those rare and poignant (if murky) moments when it does not. Leastwise, without the literal penetration, we wouldn’t have much of a book here, and I am not sure we do anyway.

Brushes owes something to Laurence Durrell and The Alexandria Quartet for its organization and its tone of breathless ennui.  Mr. Christian’s characters all seem on the verge of exhaustion created by existential confusion and perhaps an excess of paint fumes in small Paris flats.  All of the stories are loosely hinged to a Hemingwayesque painter named Escobar, who is forever overshadowing the lives of the others as an artist and a lover.  He is mostly an illusion, however, in that his power lies in his painting, which the author never really elucidates.
 
Moreover, we are at a loss to understand this general malaise as everyone in this novel seems to have – unlike real artists – the means to subsist if not thrive, and they have plenty of free time to contemplate what they are doing, when they are not screwing.  Some seem even to have time for it in mid-fuck.  One young woman is so distracted by her existential state that she mistakenly fucks the caterer at a high fashion event.  He seems agreeable enough when he is not talking about a wine as an “impudent little vintage,” and he is quite skilled in bed, but he is a real come down for her from fucking a designer.  I suppose finding a straight male fashion designer in Paris or New York might be tricky, but why be such a snob?

In sum, the relationships in the book are much like French establishment cinema.  You seem the same actors playing the same characters in a vague state of discontent that leads them to no particular solution. So like much of recent modern fiction, this book deals with people who have time to decide they have a problem and then to start worrying about it.

The style of the novel is engaging when grinding away at a sex scene.  Much of the rest of it though, runs to self-indulgence as through sentence fragments and a kind of sheered off prose.  Here is an example:

A wry smile on his ghostly self-portrait. ‘Better art by accident,’ he thought at his reflection. The gallery was closed for the evening, small incidental lights dully lighting the rest of the works hanging on its walls. Only one high-intensity beam shone, singling out the bright colors and mad streaks of that one painting. From the side, from a niche filled with a glass-topped desk, a man walked out. Dim in the closed gallery lighting, details were lost, but Philip could see he was big, not exactly heavy. Thinning gray hair. The posture, the age, of an owner -- not an employee. A small clipboard in one hand, short fingers curling around the edge. Philip couldn't see where the man was looking, but his shoulders and posture broadcast dismissal as he turned and walked out of Philip's sight.

Sucking his teeth in disgust, Philip went back to the Escobar. The gallery was a little out of his way, a stroll from the off-site Sorbonne classroom -- where he'd been substituting for a vacationing professor -- down the Rue Christine, and eventually to his little plaster box apartment in Montparnasse. Normally he wouldn't have turned that one corner, walked down that one avenue, to take himself past the pure white geometry of the gallery -- called, in supreme arrogance, ‘L' Art’ -- to look in the window.

Such prose is to some extent a matter of taste, but Brushes also does a lot of laborious thrashing around on the subject of painting mostly emulating the arduous style of ArtNews, mixed with the sort of agglomerated modifiers one hears in ART APPRECIATION 101.  Thus we have this sort of thing when a character confronts Escobar’s painting for the first time:

It didn't have the passion of Picasso, the spectrum of Manet, the delicacy of Monet, the composition of Mondrian, the whimsy of Kandinsky, the elegance of Sargent, the tranquility of Hopper, the precision of daVinci, the strength of Michelangelo, the madness of Van Gogh, or the music of Cezanne. It was ineffective, clumsy, inelegant -- or maybe just ugly.

Even worse, for a novel about the Paris art world and its great collections, Mr. Christian does not seem to know much about them.  At one point he confuses the water lilies of Monet, which fill the main floor of the recently reopened Musée de l’Orangerie,  with some hitherto unknown ones by Manet.  Canvasses by Auguste Renoir are said to be hanging in the Louvre, which is most unlikely as the Louvre is limited to works completed no later than 1848 at which point Renoir would have been seven years old.

The same applies to Mr. Christian’s understanding of Paris itself.  He refers to an “arab quarter” in the city of which there is none.  There are sections of the city and its suburbs where there is a substantial Moslem population who are of course not all Arabs, but he is conjuring some sort of closed Arab enclave.  What is more, anyone who has followed Parisian social unrest in the last couple of years would know that.
 
Mr. Christian may regard these things as the right of authorial whimsy, but they are not.  If you write a book focused entirely on painting with numerous references to the Impressionists of the late 19th century, you had better know that such works hang in the Musee d' Orsay, not the Lourve, with the exception of those that are in special collections (also not in the Louvre).
 
This sort of error about Paris is equal to a crime novel that might describe a car chase proceeding uptown on Fifth Avenue in New York City.  It would be a short chase as everyone knows that Fifth Avenue goes only -- and very resolutely -- one-way, which is downtown.  It spoils the book for the moderately sophisticated reader, and who else reads anything these days?  That sort of blunder pervades Brushes.

Somebody most certainly could write about the erotic relationship between the artist (of either gender) and his/her model (of either gender).  Robert Patrick wrote quite a good, and well-researched, play on the subject of Buonarroti’s model for the “David” called, “Michaelangelo’s Model” which I reviewed in the 1980s. Viewing painting, like viewing sculpture, is as much a tactile experience as it is visual.  The texture and even the color of what appears on canvas is a product of feeling as much or more than sight.  The visual cue gives the painter the objective coordinates of the object in space regardless of the style in which it is rendered; but it is the evocation of tactile experience that makes a painting profound.  Thus Starry Night becomes a dizzying swirl of light hurtling through an impending blackness.  You feel what you see primarily among the senses.  That is also the stuff of erotic relationships.



Coming Together Presents: Remittance GirlComing Together Presents: Remittance Girl
Edited By: Lisabet Sarai
CreateSpace
ISBN: 1450511902
February 2010





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Over time as a critic of erotica, you learn that the hardest thing to write in this sub-genre is the act of sex without being a bore. For a number of years now, Remittance Girl (hereinafter known as RG) has been the mistress of solving this confounding problem by engaging with it in the most difficult possible way.

As her new collection in the series Coming Together demonstrates, the art of writing sex can be best accomplished by forging the simplest elements into a story that is driven by the most felt and honest of passions.  Through the deft manipulation of a minimum of detail, she integrates structure, style, atmosphere and character into a seamless whole.  The sex is not the objective of her stories so much as the inevitable, organic result.  That result is almost overwhelmingly erotic as well as moving on other levels.

RG writes about hunger, that higher hunger of the body for the touch of another.  It may be a rough and sometimes brutal grasping, but it has the honor and the feel of life, as opposed to the more deathly feel of compromise that marks pat formulaic writing, where the passions are winnowed out with decorous  care but with less honest revelation.

That is the difference between soft romance that plays at the edges and symptoms of the heart rather than cutting to the actual pounding of that organ of the soul.   Perhaps RG succeeds in this simple mode where most fail because no matter how brutal the world she depicts, it never yields to the lesser state of bitterness.  Few authors in our time have that sort of strength.

The story that most captures the depth of RG’s vision for me is “River Mother,” about a young woman damaged by war the United States waged against the people of Southeast Asia in the 1960s and 70s.  Set in that brutal aftermath, the verdant tenderness the author creates reminded me of what art and love are ultimately about, which is hope – the simple hope that life can survive the worst abuses of a petty, greedy  and malicious world.

RG has unique powers of understanding the way people sense each other in the most literal way.  She captures the way we see each other, hear each other’s voices and feel the first touch of a lover.  Her blend of intelligence and sensitivity lend her stories a winning quality of rue.  She knows that for every benefit there is a cost, for every gain a degree of loss and every freedom – sexual or otherwise – has its price.  Thus in stories like “The Spy Who Loved His Wife” the principal character seems like a bantering cocktail sipper out of Noel Coward’s “Private Lives.”  That is until we, though not he, come to understand that he loses something of himself in gaining what gives him the most pleasure.

These stories are not parables, however, instructing us on the ways of the wayward.  They are instead the indelicate, raucous, bawdy, tender, round-bottomed lustiness of the human heart.  They invoke an actual tear from time to time just as they provoke a good deal of honest and playful laughter.

A little something should be said here for Lisabet Sarai who edited this volume in the “Coming Together” series, and who writes for Erotica Revealed as a critic herself.  Writing is a small world and so it is altogether fitting that I acknowledge the gracious and generous gifts of both of these women as artists regardless of where they are published.

Erotica has enjoyed some very good writing in the last couple of years, which I believe is in large measure a function of some new insight that has come from able, intelligent, gifted and talented women such as RG and Ms. Sarai. 

Editor's Note: All proceeds from the Coming Together series go to charity.





Confessions of a Romantic PornographerConfessions of a Romantic Pornographer
By: Maxim Jakubowski
iBooks, a division of Brick Tower Books
ISBN: 1596878819
April 2009





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Maxim Jakubowski’s novel Confessions of a Romantic Pornographer is outstanding if for no other reason than because he understands that sex comes from people, as opposed to a lot of porn where the authors seem to believe that people are literally created by sex.  Sex is an important part of human nature and it does indeed influence the rest of our lives in myriad as yet unclear ways.  Nonetheless, a character whose thoughts and feelings are entirely driven by sexuality is little more than a talking species of appetite with no memory and thus, no consciousness.  Now I don’t doubt that we can find any number of people who fit that description in modern life, but I am equally obliged to say that such a creature is unworthy of fiction.  Why?  It is because they are literally too boring for words.

Mr. Jakubowski has given us an impeccably detailed, raw, and often obscenely graphic landscape of the body sexual personified in a young woman who is part detective, part masochist and sometime sociopath.  For non-specific reasons she is in search of a dead writer’s last manuscript. She goes through a succession of people, most of them, twisted, narcissistic and middle-aged, in search of his work.  Have no fear though, whatever their deviance, kink or sheer lack of affect, they have met their match in the beautiful Cornelia.

She does indeed give them what they want in every form imaginable, often at considerable cost to herself, except in one respect. She makes herself available to them sexually, but not personally.  She seduces but does not woo.  She provides and exceeds every bit of the pleasure that her body and distant charm promise, but they are never anything much to her, other than necessary steps on the path to her objective.  As such, it is a very chilling story although an endlessly fascinating one as well. 

Much of that arises from Mr. Jakubowski’s authentic and deep talent as a writer.  He can for example, talk about his heroine’s cunt or her anus any number of times and each view of these openings leads us to a new understanding of them.   That may sound facetious but I mean no irony whatever.  His writing reinvents the subject of sex and sexuality.  These qualities so truly emerge from characters whose presence can be felt.  These are not just urges, they are people, and it is perhaps that very fact that makes them so scary.

Jakubowski’s style is both precise and fluid.  Detail brings this book to life because the author has thought through the psychochemical process of erotic response.  Thus the book is truly sexy as well as erotic in the thrilling, often awkward way that the body works in reality.  Fantasy works on the flesh and then the flesh enhances the fantasy for Jakubowski’s characters.  That in turn constantly raises the stakes sexually for what is actually going on between them. 

Structurally this novel is wonderful because it shifts point of view constantly from chapter to chapter.  You have to actively read this book and pay attention to stay with it and get its full effect.  It is an enormous source of excitement frankly to read someone once again who can shift focus clearly and effortlessly rather than beating out the action from a single point of view like a first grade music teacher who has recently discovered the metronome.   Humans are fundamentally irrational, especially about sex, and this book retains clarity without reducing character to cartoon figures.

The fact is that most erotica is deliberately devoid of ideas, stylistically clumsy, and grindingly lacking in talent or vision as a result.  Mr. Jakubowski is the exception, which he so beautifully demonstrates with Confessions of a Romantic Pornographer.



CuckoldCuckold
By: Amber Lee
Nexus Enthusiast
ISBN: 0352341408
November 2007





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

The first part of Amber Leigh’s Cuckold is both excruciating and hilarious to read, and that is precisely because she writes as well as she does.  The book is relentless in creating the exquisite suffering that Ms. Leigh’s protagonist, Sally, brings down upon her husband Edwin.  Her infidelity -- real and imagined -- provides the agony that haunts his every moment, crushes him with its revelation, and uplifts him on the cross of his own ignominious, gross penchant for being abused.

By way of contrast, Emma Bovary uses her dullard husband’s bourgeois self-satisfaction as a springboard to betray him.  He responds with the sweetness of a dumb ox.   That sweet dullness is what feeds her will to exploit and torment him. Sally captures and torments Edwin with all the dispassion of Pinhead. Defiling his trust heightens her pleasure.  As perhaps the prime example, she lavishes a deep throat kiss on her husband with her mouth still full of his own brother’s dripping, thick, and reeking come.  Edwin reacts in two ways: he is utterly revolted, and as a result, he has a mind blasting orgasm.

Who are these people anyway?  Edwin talks, thinks and behaves in the manner of a repressed, prim, middle-class compulsive out of D.H. Lawrence.  Strangely though, given the people around him, Edwin’s passions and desires are not off-putting.  They spring from the classic problem of all men in literature who have married women they cannot sexually master.  The difference is, ‘Eddie’ likes it that way even though it takes him a while to realize it.   It slowly dawns on him that he craves Sally’s dalliance more than even she does.  His mania is scarifying in its total obsession  -- not so much with his wife  -- but with the need for her to betray him.  She is a kind of monster Stepford wife. Her perfection is his undoing, but not forever.

Edwin may seem a petit bourgeois bean counter, and he is, but that is not the sum total of him.  He is canny, as the ironic resolution of the book shows.  Nor is Edwin Joseph K. with an erection, forever pursuing his accusers to be forgiven for he knows not what.  He is the perfect post-modern artist who -- having lost all faith in ordinary communication and human contact -- is creating only one work of art.  That is himself, and he slowly emerges from the clutches of his beautiful and unbelievably awful wife to be the master of the situation and all those who have tormented him at her behest.

Who is Sally?  Naturally Ms. Leigh has made her an artist too.  Sally is a painter, who creates very salable works that appeal to the likes of Edwin’s boss, Jake, an old-moneyed, callous, and crudely manipulative boor for whom consumerism is all.  Jake is not so much a henchman to Sally’s devices as he is her tool, and a blunt one at that.  His very loathsomeness makes his conquest of Sally that much more erotically gratifying to Edwin.

Sally herself is everything the artist-as-commodity must become and therefore nothing like an artist at all.  She makes and sells consumer goods for customers who she herself intends to consume.  If her stable of males were American, they would be the familiar, beefy, self-serving frat boys who are still cute as a bug’s ear (and about as bright), but who are doomed to sclerotic decline and disillusionment in their late thirties.  Not to worry, Sally will find replacements.

What is it that makes Cuckold so captivating and haunting?  First, the obsession is never a source of genuine pleasure to Edwin.  His experience of “pleasure” is a bleak, snake pit of sexual denigrations that few if any would willingly descend to share with him.  Even he doesn’t like it in its raw form, despite the fact that he cannot stop himself from pursuing it.  It leaves him pawing through garbage hoping for a clue, any clue, that Sally is unfaithful.  The fact is that she really is fucking a half-dozen men on the side.  That is strangely a relief for the reader.  It affirms some sort of reality because, like Raskolnikov’s pawnbroker, Edwin’s wife is just as vile and deceitful as he imagines her to be.

What makes Sally so grotesque is not that she is cuckolding Edwin.  He truly is a lousy lover and besides she is really doing to him out of “love” what she knows he wants her to do. It is not that she is truly a sadist.  That is part of the deal with Edwin and he cannot have what he wants if she does not give rein that part of herself.

What divides Sally from Edwin is that she is a boor, and he is not.  She stuffs her every opening with cocks (or their equivalent) in the way that Homer Simpson hordes and consumes doughnuts.  Having found herself a license to behave like an insensate numbskull, she revels in it.  She plunges in tits deep with never a moment’s reserve.  Her beauty, which she holds over Edwin as a totem of her absolute power, becomes his talisman of her fleeting substance.   He comes to prefer Sally at a distance so that he can fantasize about her boorish excesses, rather than have them slathered and dripped all over him.  I can see why.  Sally is the ultimate expression of bad taste, and that is the source of the humor in Cuckold.

Edwin, you see, always was a man of reserve, unflinching dedication (and how!), and good taste.  He has the Englishman’s decorous sense of social restraint.  Those around him lose all control in their pursuit of eroto-consumerism, and so Edwin becomes the ultimate master of the situation.  Why? 

The answer is delicious.  Edwin’s obsession has put him forever at a distance from others, a fact that has given him a degree of consciousness and self-awareness that no one else around him possesses.  Unlike anyone else in Ms. Leigh’s novel, he knows not only who he is, but also what he is, and that, ironically, is the tool Sally has given him to take control of her. 

Much credit is due Ms. Leigh because she can actually write in fluid, deft and complex English, something which is rarely present these days and on the decline in erotica.  It allows her shades of meaning and deliberate ambivalence that few eroticists are able to achieve.  She is truly witty.  I will leave you with an example that demonstrates how wonderfully this author has captured the dreary horror of obsession:

“Crazy,” he muttered.  The word echoed hollowly from the kitchen tiles.   It was slurred by the remainder of the third scotch.  Forcing himself not to talk out loud, sure the verdict of craziness could only be confirmed if he compounded his present problems with a solitary conversation, he  sighed and decided it was now long past the time to put the obsession behind him.

Of course he does not because he cannot, but Edwin learns to use his obsession to control others.  Ms. Leigh demonstrates that, once again, there will always be an England, however anally retentive.





Danny Volume 1Danny Volume 1
By: Chancery Stone
Poison Pixie Ltd.
ISBN: 0954611500
June 2004





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Part of human life is a dead space – a dark emptiness.  Revealing that terrain is one of the crucial lessons of literature and it is accomplished in detail in Danny (Volume One) by Chancery Stone.  What counters that void -- in large part -- is the creative force of the erotic.  Tom Jones may not clearly understand why he is always one step away from the gallows, but he faces life with a hard cock and an optimistic view; and so, he does not swing.

Mr. Stone’s title character, Danny, shows no sign of such lively, erotic ebullience. The author unfolds constantly menacing conversations embedded in a catalogue of sexual and psychological abuse. Danny lives on a farm in a place where English is more or less spoken, and life is conducted in a desultory fog of grim days.  Surprisingly, in the 989 pages of Volume One, Mr. Stone never really lets Danny articulate his core feelings. The publisher, Poison Pixie, tells us that there is a second volume, and a third in the works, presumably of equivalent length.  Perhaps he emerges more fully in those.  I doubt I will pursue it.

Both the dialogue and prose in Volume One swan between a deadpan, quasi-journalistic style that shuns emotional nuance and a low-key lament that runs perilously close to whining.  But why Danny endures as he does is never made clear except that he finds his mistreatment arousing to the point of being hypnotized by it.  That does not mean he enjoys this abuse so much as he is addicted to it as a sexual fix.

Danny is an exhaustive – and exhausting -- study of incestuous depravity committed against the title character principally by his brother in endless and unrelenting detail. Danny himself arouses little sympathy, compassion, or even interest.  He is a chronically sullen twink who seems enthralled by his torment even though he vaguely despises his abusers. 

There seems to be a place in British porn/erotica for this sort of unremitting, fictional drubbing in which the reader is pummeled page after page into the same stupor of malignant, benumbed suffering that hangs over Danny.  At times, I suppose it is born of the naïve (and nearly a-literate) concept from 20th century pop reviewers that all narrative fiction requires conflict.  Danny has the illusion of struggle throughout.  But in truth, there really isn’t much conflict in this novel because Danny seems helpless to put up any serious resistance whether he wants to or not.

Sometimes such passivity is used as a metaphor for the dehumanizing effects of the British class system, or a study of the basic brutishness of the human condition. One can imagine the literary doyens of the Manchester Guardian – after the Dover sole and just in time for a glass of port -- bemoaning this fictive world as a metaphor for the lingering existential malaise created by unbridled capitalism. But for the life of me, in nearly a thousand pages, I found no evidence of anything of the sort.  At the other end of the spectrum, Danny is not arousing.  The nasty spirit in which the abuse is delivered defeats that.

That Danny happens to be both male and gay, matters not at all.  This novel is about the crudest, ugliest sexual abuse, especially of the psychological sort.   That may be its intended appeal.  For me, the level from which that abuse springs is so low, fetid, and unremarkably banal, that it quickly becomes genderless, if not entirely sexless, and certainly not erotic.

Danny could do with some serious editing.  On the second page I encountered the following dialogue, “Don’t blame you dog.”  It is addressed to a dog because he is lying on the floor thumping his tail but unwilling to further exert himself in the surrounding heat. The sentence is confusing because, correctly punctuated, it would read, “Don’t blame you, Dog,” because it is a form of direct address…to the dog. That is perhaps among the most egregious editing errors, but the wandering length of the book makes one pine for someone with a blue pencil to get the prose under minimal control.  There is nothing wrong with writing a long novel, but there is no inherent virtue in garrulous length.

The problem is that Danny seems to be a book that is totally devoid of insight. In James Dickey’s Deliverance, the rustic characters show a visceral, generalized, ignorant hatred for the world beyond them, but not without some justification.  The good ole boy ‘urbanites’ who invade their domain are condescending, vain, and insensitively thick as wet cornbread.  Neither side understands themselves any better than the strangers they face, and that failure sparks both to behave as they do. They do not see themselves in their enemy until it is too late.

Both sides in Deliverance seek the brutal thrill of penetration provided by the hunt.  What is more, both factions ironically get what they thought they wanted from their atavistic weekend in the wild.  Dickey’s book is a tragic-comic, violent collision of absurdly mismatched cultures.  We learn from inhabiting the sexually charged, cultural void between them. Danny, on the other hand, finally seems to be nothing more than a study in sexual nastiness to the point of being oppressive.  Worse still, it is prolix and undisciplined.



Death By FictionDeath By Fiction
By: Ashley Lister
Kokoro Press
ISBN: 1453800301
August 2010





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

If Ashley Lister is not aware of the late Donald Westlake’s work, he most certainly should be especially for the Dortmunder series of novels about a star-crossed Manhattan burglar and his hapless crew of professional criminals.  Westlake was perhaps the most successful and, I speculate, the most beloved mystery writer of the late 20th Century. His Dortmunder books are funny, fatalistic, good-hearted, atmospheric and utterly charming.  Every one of those adjectives might just as well be applied in equal measure to Mr. Lister’s murder mystery novel, Death by Fiction.  Reading this book about the fraught world of writing and publishing is genuine fun.  For younger readers, I would compare it favorably with Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series for the same favorable reasons.

Ashley Lister writes for Erotica Revealed and so to those who feel this review is little more than a puff piece, I can say very little other than they are wrong.  That is because Death by Fiction deserves exactly the lavish praise I am about to heap upon it almost without reservation. Here follow my caveats.

As a point of interest, I have actually known several professional criminals after they resided as guests of the States of New York and New Jersey, so you know they were authentic if not always very competent. One of them, for example, insisted on using a large caliber rifle where a pistol would have done nicely.  The noise and bulk lead to his incarceration.  One should always use the right tool for the job.

As a life long student of crime and crime fiction, I would admonish him to consider shifting his focus at times from the moment of motivation (the inciting incident as it were) to the moment in which the criminal act actually begins.  It has more tension and it lends the character’s back story about how the actor got to doing what he or she is doing, a greater intensity. 

Secondly, I think the mechanics of crime – particularly guns -- though standard subjects in lots of crime fiction, are boring by themselves.  Professional criminals know their weapons and how they work.  However, a real professional is not friends with his gun.  He wants to be rid of it as soon as it has done its job.  It’s a tool to be used once. If you have to think about how it works, it’s not working properly. On the other hand, the choice of criminal technique and implements can be a reflection of character.  So you can work the gadgets and gimmicks in, they just need to have a narrative purpose in the storytelling.

Those two thoughts aside, Mr. Lister has a natural gift for character driven plotting.  The denizens of Death by Fiction seem sort of like rather psychotic versions of those you meet in Agatha Christie or the old game of “Clue.”  Their imaginary lives are often delightfully blood-thirsty, just as their erotic lives are plangent.

All murder mysteries allow the reader the pleasure of doing the murder they will not allow themselves to commit. To drive that point home to the potentially homicidal reader, the murderer almost always gets caught. In some cases, that takes the form of hard-boiled, edgy, pathological mayhem that Charles Willeford used to write. In others we are presented with a cozy killing that is decidedly less messy than the actual results of bludgeoning, shooting or stabbing each other.

Death by Fiction provides us with pleasing examples of both with a certain amount of sex to spice things up.  Surprising as it may seem, Mr. Lister’s characters are funny and frankly likeable, even when they are being diabolical.  That is what most reminds me of Donald Westlake.  It is that which makes you want to draw out reading Mr. Lister’s book.  It’s a pleasure to come back to with all its ironic kinks, characters and plot, much like the Stephanie Plum novels by Janet Evanovich, which are so rightly popular. A little playful perversity brightens one’s day in a world that has so clearly gone wacko. 

So as we all face the grimly saccharine specter of the Holiday Season before us, I suggest you take a pleasant trip through Death by Fiction for its leavening effect.  The real winter will be here soon, and we might as well get ready with some murderous hilarity.





Deep Inside: Extreme Erotic FantasiesDeep Inside: Extreme Erotic Fantasies
By: Polly Frost
Tor Books
ISBN: 0765315874
May, 2007





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Polly Frost’s Deep Inside: Extreme Erotic Fantasies engages my attention in a way that is very unusual for the erotic genre. Fiction of any merit engages the reader, which is I think, why we read in the first place. Some authors take us into a different state of mind that is alternately exhilarating or dreamlike. Still others use the metaphorical nature of fiction to comment on the world we experience from day to day. A few can do both and Ms. Frost is one of them. Her stories are funny, clever, dark and often very disturbing.

Most erotica struggles to be genuine fiction very imperfectly because the author is using the story to get back to the subject of sex. Much of the stuff is redundant bilge in which we are invited to revisit the author’s obsessions through their grimly tireless lack of talent. The problem is not the sex, but that sex in itself is not inherently interesting as a mechanical catalogue of things done to and around various orifices. Sex by its very nature, comes from and leads to other things.

There is plenty of sex in Ms. Frost’s collection of stories, which runs the gamut of extremity from the ironic to the surreal. Sometimes it could be said that Ms. Frost writes one sexual stunt too many as opposed to making a few of them really shine. Men play a secondary role in these stories as does the penis. Dildos abound and some even have magical, very dangerous powers. Really hot sex here is between women who lick suck, spank and goose each other with relentless energy.

When she gets it right, her eroto-gymnastics are very sexy and imaginative. It does indeed leap off the edge of reality into the supernatural, but its sources are always from deep inside (as the title would suggest) the sexual wellsprings that make us human. Her first story, “The Threshold” gives us the erotic worldview of catholic schoolgirls. Schoolgirls are indeed the stuff of a long tradition of lurid fantasy in erotica.

It is almost a dismal cliché that the very school uniform that seeks to hide their sexual energy re-enforces its presence in the mind of the reader as well as the seedy, tweedy voyeur who is the customary protagonist. Frost, however, does not make her girls the object of sexual scrutiny. There is no aging voyeur. We are strictly in the world of teenage girls.

Frost allows her teenage dollies to use their allure as a means to their own satisfaction and near destruction. They are no more innocent than the old roué who usually appears in such fiction. We see the unvarnished sexual hunger, with its attendant adolescent ignorance, of teenage girls. They are cute girls, and they know it. Most of their energy, however, is strangely aimed at each other in a sort of savage sexual competition.

They are not romanticized. They are also not 50s teenage sluts. They are no nicer than they need to be to survive. They are often selfish and short-sighted like everyone else. Most of all, they are sexually curious, competitive, and as ripe as they will ever be. That is what makes them behave like vampires toward each other. It is also what allows them to deal with a real vampire who walks among them. They are Buffy without the Orange County sheen and the wisecracks.

A good part of "The Threshold" is positioned in the inner sanctum of the girl’s bathroom at the school. Frost does not serve up the usual hand-rubbing about the mysterious things girls “do in there.” Instead it becomes a place to strategize and compare notes in the search for satisfaction, whatever that may be, from the right lip gloss, to the ripest act of cannibalism. Now and then we get some maidenly masturbation, but it is in no way presented as anything other than getting off in a stall in a john.

Ms. Frost’s stories may not last beyond this era, but they speak to it uniquely well. Her characters are products of the arbitrary self-esteem movement. They have been encouraged to do what makes them feel good and to feel good about themselves. They speak and think in the half-formed idiom of a generation for whom part of the thought is enough. Unlike most authors, she does not treat them as not only vapid and selfish, but also as the ironic counter-result of exactly what their parents intended. They feel good, so why fight it? What is more they know it.

In "The Dominatrix Has a Career Crisis" we are presented with a young Ivy League grad who thought it would be chic to have a meteoric career as a woman who abuses those who worship her. After all, she has grown up abusing her dishrag of a mother who seems to yearn for ever more air-headed sadism. We are both horrified and amused to learn that Mom wants Katie (her daughter the domme) to, “move back home” when Katie is suspended for tardiness and sloppy work at her dungeon.

In truth, Katie knows there is something out of joint. Even as she surrounds herself with all her childhood medals, ribbons and awards, she knows there is a void in her being. She is as empty as her accolades since every kid in the class got the same awards to reduce their anxiety about being a loser. Is Katie a loser? Yes and no. She is so lazy that she cannot get to the dungeon on time even under threat of dismissal. She cannot deal with pressure to such an extent that she cannot give a good, hard, efficient beating to one of her gen-X female clients who works in the financial industry and is on a tight schedule. Is Katie simply a bum from the suburbs? It’s easy to say, “Yes!”, but frankly, no.

Katie is a perfectly awful person but so what? What she has going for her is that she understands that she is a walking set of mindless contradictions. She goes on a sort of eroto-rampage and does indeed wind up moving home where she temporarily pursues her career in sadism as a receptionist in a pilates parlor. Meanwhile she has decided to go to law school after which she can abuse people at her leisure and get well paid for it. As such, her gender and her skills at torture, may help her make partner all the sooner.

What is so appealing about all this is that Ms Frost is perfectly serious about her supernatural sex. These people are all so dreadful even they don’t know how awful they are, but the universe does. Her narrative context makes the stories truly funny, erotic and frightening. So much of sex takes the form of casual afterthoughts, deeper impulses that we could never admit except in the heat of passion. Yet they reveal so much about us.

The world of Ms Frost’s stories is one of seething chaos that bubbles beneath a Formica surface that is willfully and tiresomely humdrum. Her sense of the “She” pokes holes like a naughty teenager in that surface just to see how we will react, but it is not an exercise in vacant self-indulgence. Ms. Frost is an impudent eroto-anarchist in the grand tradition of American fiction that does not so much support anarchy as it accepts it as a fact of American life. She has not quite come to terms with that paradox. She has not learned the lessons of the master, Elmore Leonard, that one does not tsk and cluck over anarchy, you simply learn to use it. Thus she seems to be shaking a moral finger at us long after she has gone too far as an author to assume some sort of higher moral ground.

Her heroines are often bratty and self-serving, but they are neither saved nor corrected from that condition by some lover with hard thighs. They are often irritated and confused by themselves. They know they are hot stuff. They know how to get what they think they want, but none of it fits together when they get it. They may not have learned how to reflect and organize their thoughts, but they know that just scoring in some vague amorphous game is not enough. On the other hand, however dissatisfied they may be with the world, they know that it is a mess and that’s the way it is. Thus, whatever else, they are not suckers.

Ms. Frost is not the stylist she may one day become. She has not really found her own voice as yet as a writer. On the other hand, she has a truly remarkable ability to hear and create hyperbolic mimicry of the idiot idioms of our time. Whether it is the self-esteemers pushing vacant joy, or the tinsel thin aspirations of the latest Hollywood actress as in "Playing Karen Devere," Ms. Frost is a mistress of irony. She captures each crank pop idiom she tackles, from sci-fi to witchcraft to erotica with delicacy and surgical regard. She then uses plot to carry her stories one step further than the reader expects turning them into cautionary tales. In that sense she reminds one of Rod Serling at his best.





Deep Waters 2: Cruising the StripDeep Waters 2: Cruising the Strip
Contributions By: Radclyffe and Karin Kallmaker
Bold Stroke Books
ISBN: 1602820139
May 2008





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Cruising the Strip is a very entertaining anthology of lesbian lust stories by Karin Kallmaker and Radclyffe that take place on the Strip in Las Vegas.  Both authors are well known and widely published with a very loyal following. One can see why. It’s the sex, and the sex is good.  Vegas itself is largely incidental except for the occasional mention of gambling and an atmosphere of, “We’re here, so why not?”  It’s an attitude that gives presence and sass to many of the characters.

Otherwise the city is one big hotel that supplies some desultory bourgeois delights and some gambling.  That may be an apt description. These stories follow a fairly rigid formula of girl meets girl after which they encounter minor Plautine, collapsible obstacles.  These are soon overcome or ignored – it is Vegas after all -- and the lovers climb, fall, or throw each other lushly, wetly, hotly and sublimely into bed.  Well why not?  They’re on holiday in the city of sinless sin.

I am not going to cite individual stories.  These authors are not after narrative invention although Radclyffe is nominally better at it with her female lustlorn security guards, butch poker players, and lady lone-wolf anesthesiologists.  Kallmaker is more interested in the “pneumatic” female form – as John D. MacDonald used to call them – on lipstick lesbians, a term I first came upon in Robert Campbell’s detective series about Chicago.  I mention these two guys because they wrote to a formula too, and that was a great part of their appeal.  Their editors were a little better which I will come to shortly.

These stories have two strong points the first being that the sex is truly very sexy because all the mechanics are there, but the sex, more importantly, engages all the characters senses.  No matter how experienced they are, sex for these people is like the discoveries children make at the beach.  Everything tastes, sounds, feels and especially smells newly exciting.  So the authors get at the real chemistry of eroticism. 

That makes sense when you consider that you are reading your way through a delicious firmament of pussy and sundry other female body areas of delight.  The book is also instructive, up to a point, for the heterosexual male who yearns, as many of us do, for ever more information about how women’s bodies actually work,  It is an interesting counter to the inscrutable explanations most ladies supply. Apparently it is simpler than we all, women included, think.  It also involves a lot of stamina. These two writers should know given their lists of publications.

Over recent years of reading erotica/porn, I have come to the heretical conclusion that sex is pretty much sex.  The idea that gay sex, lesbian sex, bdsm sex, or sex with Austrian osteopaths is somehow different than other sex, is essentially nonsense except by degree.  The mind responds to another person, situation or thing that makes it go, “zing.”    Interest quickens and the body follows suit.   Then the mechanics may vary but the result is either satiety or not, which for the most part is in your head.

That is, I suppose, what makes lesbiana so erotic. I think women remain more aware during sex and so they are more attuned to their sensual tastes and possible variations to get there. As described in Cruising, they are numerous and lively, but they all lead back to orgasm which is no surprise, nor should it be.  Often that is affected by means of a prosthetic cock.  At times you get the impression that the authors feel men are simply an unsatisfactory version of women despite possessing these appendages.  The point is made early and often that a rubber, steel, wood, glass, or even latex lover does not get tired, go limp, or fall asleep after coming.  Of course the dildo never actually comes, but who cares?  It is an unusual view though.  I have never read a story where a gay man found a vagina to be a second-rate replacement for a male anus.

As Cruising the Strip shows, the cock is a shape, a thing, not a personality trait, as many men would like to believe of their own strutting members.  Thus the right shape in rubber, plastic, leather, or metal will do its job when wielded with the right knowing female authority especially if it is strapped firmly to her broad and luxurious hips. Whatever these authors think about male sexuality is unknown. as it never appears except in the form of an alien gender that exudes obsessive lust.  I will grant that male sexuality is more a matter of frenzied intoxication than female.  The male mind is overwhelmed by the senses. I am not sure that means that all humans with testicles are knuckle draggers. It doesn’t matter much here as men are not so much reviled as dismissed as irrelevant in these stories, which creates a rather odd version of the hairy, gold-chained, testeronic Las Vegas we come to know from the movies.

Having read a good deal of gay and lesbian erotica as well as other sexually 'specialized' fiction, the sex seems here just like vanilla hetero sex and its presentation is either good or bad depending on the insight and talent of the author as reflected in their sense of narrative structure and writing style.

Both authors – or their editors – have very distracting problems with indefinite antecedents to pronouns so that it is easy to lose track of what, ‘she is doing to her while she is doing something else to her and some other part of her.’  No sentence in the book is quite that bad but they come close at times.  This lack of mastery of basic English skills tends to doom a lot of erotica to a transient status even when authors have more to offer than their errors suggest.

I also worry about character names that are so pat that they ring as synthetic and thus inter-changeable like Amber, Pepper Keri, Marcie, Harmony, and Sally.  I was pleased to note that no one is named Kitty or Kitten amid all the talk about pussy.  On the other hand, Radclyffe has a female character whose first name is Saxon.  That shortens alarmingly to the phallic icon, Sax.  It seems to me that is exactly like naming your daughter Ostrogoth which then turns into “Ossy”.  Eek and Eiiiuuwww , it just doesn’t work.

All that apart, there is a lot of wonderful sex here that is absolutely enthusiastically female and well worth your time if that appeals.



Demon By DayDemon By Day
By: Helen E. H. Madden
Mojocastle Press
ISBN: 1601800614
May 2008





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Demon by Day, from the book's artwork, is an anime fantasy novel by Helen Madden published by Mojocastle Press. It starts with a demonic male on male pile driver of a buttfuck and goes upward from there with gleeful decadence. You don't have to be one of 'the boys' to find this scene quite steamy.  You may have to be a devotee of hard kink and rump riding, but is that really such a stretch for most modern eroto-sophisticates?

The plot is an outrageous fling into a demi-world of hot kink.  The demon characters -- though generally quite vile -- are sexy, haughty, supernatural folk who are so overdressed that they could model on Project Runway.  They remind you of Clive Barker's meaner vampires when they’re in a particularly putrid mood.  And why shouldn’t they be cranky?  The demons are a dying race.  Cursed with infertility, their upper caste cannot procreate. It doesn’t help that demons regularly torture and assassinate each other, and that anal sex between males is overwhelmingly the fuck of choice just ahead of backdoor fist fucking.

The hero, Orziel, a half-human and half-demon, bestrides this world and like everyone else conducts a campaign of subversion, betrayal, mayhem, and treason worthy of the Bush White House.  He has a personal penchant for twinks who he regards as possessions.  Twink A, the Demon Prince Asheru, proves that no amount of cute or sexual versatility can compensate for being a whiney bitch. Twink B, a mortal lap dancer, shows that loyalty in the face of bad temper and absurd odds can earn you a place in the heart of your abusive lover.  At times these relationships are hard to stomach, but they are more than compensated for by the novel’s action.

The subterranean world of the demons (who cannot stand sunlight) is reminiscent of the Silk Road in say the 1500s with a heavy dose of Star Wars.  There is multi-cultural (if not multi-species) flavor to this world’s genetically warped and skewed inhabitants.  Magic replaces reason, and power is the medium of exchange.         No one seems to want anything so much as to fuck someone else up, or to just fuck them. They are greedy, short-sighted, cynical egoists having a Neoconservative field day of self. Beyond that they have no objectives.

The dialogue has the 1930s ring of out-takes from Ming the Merciless as he is about to disembowel Buck Rogers.  Ming, who I always admired as a child for his hammy delivery, never had any luck undoing Buck, anally or otherwise, but he really could turn a tortured phrase.  Who doesn’t like a really stylish creep, be it Dracula or Hannibal Lecter?  In Demon by Day, when Prince Asheru is boldly manhandled by the dashing Orziel and threatened with all manner of rough sexual delights, he rejoins, “I’ll scream!” One can only mutter that he seems to have committed himself to a lifetime as a screamer.  Much of this is intended I suppose as camp, but it does not get there because the characters’ behavior is so repulsive. Characters who employ camp have to inspire affection to be forgiven their linguistic self-indulgences.

On the other hand, Demon by Day is fraught with no end of ingenious erotic torments, brandings, maimings, immolations, disembowelments, murders, and truly cutting remarks.  These delights frame a panoply of detailed deviant dalliances, insanely stretched sphincters, and fabulously ferocious fucks so that dainty literary and thematic concerns pale by comparison.

Ms. Madden’s top skill is her sense of pacing and action.  Most erotica, if it has any plot at all, shows a pathetic sense of narration.  “Just get to the fucking,” is the usual formula, and that can get redundant pretty fast.

Demon by Day has a wonderfully complex and engaging plot that leads us from battle to battle between the novel’s various factions in a thoroughly engaging way.  What is most unusual is that the author can actually write spellbinding action that reminds you a bit of Ian Fleming.  You cannot put down Dr. No while Bond works his way through No’s torture tunnel, and you cannot put down this book as the final series of events unfolds.



DerrièreDerrière
By: Julius Culdrose
Nexus
ISBN: 035234024X
May, 2006





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Derrière by Julius Culdrose is a memoir expressing “the height of bottom adoration” under the Nexus imprint. If there is any question as to what sort of bottom being adored, it is most definitely the female one at endless lengths and with the widest possible variety of approaches from ogling to patting proceeding onward to spanking and enemas not to omit group buggering and fondling.

Mr. Culdrose is an unabashed roué who has willingly spent his life by his own admission as a “lazy, irresponsible pervert.” It is a description that early on he accepted as his due given his relentless passion for female fannies and his ardent pursuit of them. In many cases, the protest was feigned according to his narrative, so that the femme would not lose face as she offered up her rear for their mutual pleasures. What is more he bases his behavior on the principle that those who have inhibitions about sex should keep them to themselves.

Whatever fantasy or curiosity about technique you may harbor about the wonders of the female bottom and anus, the full details are discussed here with a careful exposition of technique replete with anecdotes of every sort. One might feel that would become redundant at some point but there are two things that mitigate that.

First and foremost, Mr. Culdrose can actually write a fluid and engaging complex sentence in English which is very nearly impossible to find elsewhere these days. As a painter, he is an able imagist so the subject of girls’ bottoms -- while I suppose not completely inexhaustible -- holds up very nicely. I think he should be eligible for some sort of award given the variety and creativity of his descriptions of the texture, color, contours, and accessibility of the female anus. That circuitous route, oddly enough, brings us to his second virtue, which sustains the vitality of his book.

The truth is that Mr. Culdrose – though I am sure many feminists would clench with fierce objections here – truly likes women. What’s more, he likes them as they are. He has a rather odd take on their personalities as he always starts a relationship at the base of their spine. That may not be at all PC, but it’s where he starts, and given his passion that’s to be expected.

However, he never objectifies them (unless they want that sort of thing), demeans them, or regards them as anything but his most adored equals. He is not much for fidelity, but to hear him tell it, neither are his lovers. They stay until the thrill has dimmed and then brighten the world by backing into the lives of other men. Women are also presented as being different than men in the way they think and pursue sexual pleasure, which seems a simple truth. He does not present them as either victims or paragons of conventional virtue, which in this case is a form of respect.

His lovers come in all sizes, shapes and colors from as many cultures as he can seduce. And they come in every variety of individual from charming to cunning, conniving to clever, pleasant to pusillanimous, brilliant to just plain crazy. And while they all come to his attention on the strength of their rear ends, they are all regarded as individuals. So there is none of the Victorian hand-rubbing as the old lecher seduces yet another hapless maiden. These maidens all drop their knickers knowing full well where and how he intends to engage with them.

As an Englishman of the old style, both Culdrose’s prose and his languid Tory outlook are driven by the mental habits of another era. He writes like an Edwardian pornographer, in long and delightfully circuitous sentences as he describes his participation in the Swinging Sixties and hence to the present. You might not necessarily want him in your home, especially if your lady friend has a charming bottom and is growing tired of you. However, he is the sort of fellow you might very well enjoy – regardless of your gender – sharing a weekend of callipygian debauch. I suspect he has excellent taste in food and wine as well.

He narrowly avoids adopting the tone of Frank and I with no steamy references to creating a ‘snuggery’ and various methods of birching bouncy behinds. He certainly enjoys administering a sound spanking to a dainty darling, but he really likes their bottoms very much and has no intention of doing them any harm. What is more, they have all apparently asked for the spankings they receive.

Even if you find Mr. Culdrose an incorrigible rake, you have to admit that his book is upbeat, positive about his subject and life in general as well as guilt free. He believes that life is meant to be lived and, as he says, life to him is synonymous with pleasure. Such sybaritic sentiments may seem either out of date or immoral given the wretched state of the world. However, the moralizers do seem to make it ever more wretched by the day. So this epicurean attitude is refreshing in Derrière precisely because it is so unique.





Deviant Intent: ObsessionDeviant Intent: Obsession
By: Shakir Rashaan
Kemi-Ka Publishing
ISBN: B004478FQ6
February 2010





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Obsession by Shakir Rashaan is one of those books you wait for if you are an erotica reviewer.  The sex is hot and kinky with variants for all sorts of appetites and imaginations from the playful to the gruesome.  But better still is the fact that the author has taken us out of the grinding bourgeois redundancy of most erotica plots. His book is not about middle class ennui or angst.  It’s about “the flying underbelly’ -- as Amiri Baraka put it in Dutchman -- of Atlanta life. 

Atlanta is a city of diverse communities that negotiate a separate peace with each other.  Not surprisingly, the city reflects the deep racial divisions that pervade the state of Georgia, and an extreme disparity of wealth and poverty is inescapable to the visitor.  The very poor live in restive proximity to the most blatant conspicuous consumption.  The streets of the city of Atlanta are deserted of pedestrians after dark, and the feel of the place is like an uneasy truce.

“Obsession” presents that world well.  It’s hard to say precisely who is obsessed with what in this book as almost every character – kinky or vanilla -- has one or another absorbing compulsion. They are the denizens of the interior BDSM world of Atlanta, a city that seems bent on presenting itself as Scarlet O’Hara in a thong.   Thus Obsession is a pleasant relief from all that glossy coffee table hype. What’s more it is a truly grizzly detective novel of the old school before crime fiction was coerced into a long series of cozy Miss Marple clones.

To me the author most invokes the “alls-fair-in-love-and-crime” cheerful detachment of Phillip Marlowe created by the immortal mind of Raymond Chandler. His characters are fair-minded, but often brutal when necessary to make a point.  They are urban and hard, but accept the dynamics and limitations of other people. They are the best of what it is to be street smart.

Most of them are black and most of those characters are into kink of one sort or another. The author is scrupulously and effortlessly careful to circumscribe the kink world from the series of psychotic murders that drive the plot of the novel.  Here too, the author shows himself an able player.  He writes convincingly about cops and police procedure through the voice of the novel, an ex-cop turned PI who has a passion for domination.  The hero is also a caring, likable guy who is highly evolved in his perception of others as well as himself.

The best thing about the book is that it sorts out the various rule systems to which the hero has to conform, those being the law, the street, the cop world, and the inner hierarchy of the BDSM community.  Far from being inhibited by all these interlocking matrices, the hero seems to thrive on working through them.  As such, he is an urban American Renaissance man.

This novel is really an inspired act of invention in the field of erotica. The author captures both the view of the inner world of BDSM and the viewpoint of those who fear it, or simply don’t know what to make of it, on the outside.  The writing is competent and consistent, and the plot details scrupulously researched and detailed. Rashaan knows the world he is writing about at all its levels, and he tells a good story in the process.  If you miss the hard ass crime fiction for which Americans were once famous, you cannot go wrong with Obsession.





Dirty Words: Provocative Gay EroticaDirty Words: Provocative Gay Erotica
By: M. Christian
Lethe Press
ISBN: 1590211243
January 2009 (1st copyright Alyson Books 2001)





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Lethe Press very kindly directly sent me a copy of M. Christian’s Dirty Words, a collection of ruby red stories pulsing with extreme gay kink.  I am hugely pleased that they did.  The collection is a tour de force for Mr. Christian who says of his own book that, “It’s hard to write about a kink when it’s my own.”   Surely he cannot possibly share all the exotic penchants of this collection.  It would be far too exhausting for any single mortal.  On the other hand, his emotional and intellectual presence surges up constantly as you read along.  Dirty Words is an erotic celebration of Self – in this case Mr. Christian – and he totally gets away with it.  “Casey, the Bat” even gives us an auto-erotic fuck-off in which Casey (of former baseball legend) fucks himself into oblivion aided by a chorus of human fuck toys at his every orifice. 

Whether in the idiom of the surreal as with Casey, or that of the super-real in “The Harley”  (a competitive fuck for a hog between two monster bikers), Christian gives us an oleaginous world of glorified decadence, physiological rot, and steaming piles of depravity laced with homicidal madness.  Throughout, sex is the driving force behind the author’s boiling universe.  Love then becomes the gag or screech as a behemoth, unwashed cock is jammed full force down a strangled throat or up an un-lubricated ass.

Despite the fact that the book is heavily laden with typos and editing oversights, the prose poetry is remarkable as you can see here in the opening lines of “The Harley:

If they’d thought of BO, Mammoth would have kicked it over and tore out of there no problem.  Hands down, the fucker had the most righteous stench – one like a rap sheet (fucking bad and sticks to your ass for life): (sic) body reek, oil, farts, old blood, dog shit – the works.  But they didn’t think of stink to settle the issue. 

Just like the prose style, the book is densely packed with an overwhelming sense of unabashed homoerotic narcissism that makes each story a kind of figurative auto-performance given by the author.  The book has an arrogant smirk to it rather in the spirit of Norman Mailer in his prime (Advertisements for Myself).  Christian gives us gay lovers who are in fact sado-masochistic twins as in “Spike.”  In “Matches” we find ourselves with the hero who encounters his ideal lover only when he sees himself as dead.  The ardor of the coming together is celestial in feeling as we see here, “David’s asshole surged and sparked and twirled around his new cock like a particle accelerator.”

These doublings allow Christian to step in and visibly referee in his various bizarre, fictive contests of will.  His muscular freaks battle over territory, motorcycles, lovers, power, and even it seems over who and how will do the fighting itself.  The combatants are always worthy of their arena.  Christian has captured for our time what Henry Miller captured for his, the corporeal metaphor of post-modern relationships, brutal sexuality laced with anarchistic self-interest.  His Road Warrior is much more Agamemnon than Siegfried.  In fact his heroes at best are anarchist psychopaths.  From a rogue dwarf avenger to a vampire esthete, they are sub-political creatures feeding on social and economic weakness very often for the hell of it.

The murderer hero of “Blue Boy” speculates:

He thought about killing him: automatic and fully detailed.  The cop would be slow, since he was an icon:  easy to push him over his bike, simple to fumble his revolver out of his holster…. He supposed that the cop would soil his immaculate uniform with blue piss as he cried like a tortured baby.  He knew, fucking knew, that his head would explode with the first round, his face blooming forward against the shock wave of the bullet passing through his head, confined by the helmet.

Like de Sade, Christian has captured a unique level of putrescent deformity in his characters.  They are like monstrous fragments of the legendary Gilles de Rais who paddled through the entrails of his gutted murder victims for his sexual pleasure.  They are avowed nihilists and yet still fascinating, despite that fact.  They embody a truly new and scintillating foulness in literature. 

What separates them from the actual murderers, rapists, pederasts, and deviants that cruise along our streets is that, again -- like the old Marquis -- they are completely aware of what they are doing.  They taunt and jibe at us, goading us to face what is in them to do.  Do we have it in us as well?  Who knows?  Who cares?  As each story gathers force, Mr. Christian shines through as the puppet master and he is clearly challenging us with a satyr’s leer to look away.  We do not, caught as we are in his spell of the erotic unthinkable.



Discreet NeedsDiscreet Needs
By: David C. Morrow
Infinity Publishing
ISBN: 0741443848
January 2008





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Despite its odd and slightly lurid title, Discrete Needs by David C. Morrow is an authentic work of modern fiction of which the erotic is the key component.  The unseen protagonist is the shooter from the famous clock tower at the University of Texas campus in Austin.  He is the man who in 1967 blasted randomly away, killing and wounding a number of people. Mr. Morrow posits that one of those trapped in the crossfire is Stellara, the central figure of Discrete Needs who is driven to hide under a shrub in the sweltering Texas heat.  She is not physically wounded, but she is emotionally catapulted into an exploration of what she calls her “higher being” by the shooting. 

To his great credit, Mr. Morrow does not present the shooting as an epiphanal moment of recognition for Stellara, but rather as a catalyst that slowly reorders her understanding of the world around her.  The author and I are of an age, and it is refreshing to read someone who understands that the period from 1962 to 1969 was one of rational becoming for most of us rather than one of suddenly reversing some quasi-spiritual course.  The gurus came later and mostly they were there for the celebrities who paid them to arrive.

Stellara’s experience of the tower shooting seems one of those random spurs that life digs into our softer parts. They cause you, without fully realizing it, to wonder who you are; who it suits that you are that person; what you are doing; and why you are continuing to do it.  Having lived through the early sixties in the Midwest, I have a strong sense of empathy with the principal character as one of the males doing the gazing.  Kansas was much duller than Texas, but we also avoided Texas’ boundless supply of crack-brained assassins. 

Stellara is not Holden Caufield, ‘rebel without a thought’ from the 50s.   She is not angry, but discomfited and dissatisfied with the disconnection between the certitude of middle- American life and the facts of it.  The frame that brought her to young adulthood does not fit her perception of reality, and for her, especially after the shooting, that frame is incomplete. 

Like the hero of Dick Farina’s, Been Down So Long It Looks Like Up to Me, she searches out a new perspective through her senses, partly through sex and partly through drugs that range from tobacco and booze to caffeine and on to pot with a goodly measure of LSD.  She is not, we must understand, another feckless junkie escaping into the drugs.  She is using them.  She is building a larger understanding, as many did in the 60s, by both an interior exploration of ourselves, as well as re-examining the world around us that we had taken for granted.  That included other people.

That meant that you took other people on their own terms -- just as they chose to give themselves to you -- rather than the usual pigeonholing information.  Questions such as name, age, occupation, affiliations, cultural origins, belief systems etc. gave way to the more authentic discovery of who the other person was at the moment you encountered them.  Meeting people in the raw could be a disturbing revelation and that is what Stellara discovers about herself and others. 

What Stellara is leaving is the poofy, frilly, manufactured femininity that was (and still is), at once designed to be attractive to the standard stud male, and a bulwark against being truly revealed as a person.  I remember these simpering, eye-batting, fluffy girls from my own time at Milburn Junior High School.  They were utterly unknowable, much less attainable, and I fancy as nourishing as dry toast if you somehow got closer to them.  They were the sort of person Janis Joplin was constitutionally unable to be, a fact which drove her over the Texas border to wail on our inner minds.

Though the book revolves around the University of Texas, a nominally sound school at the time, Mr. Morrow presents us with no authentic students.  In that he has missed one of the two key resources that undergirded the Movement in the 1960s.  First, people may have rebelled against the established intellectual order of the Eisenhower Era, but they were passionate about learning.  Most people spoke and read foreign languages, traveled extensively on the cuff or by thumb, and read as voraciously as they partied.  Mr. Morrow’s characters do not.  They are the sullen kids at the back who don’t do the reading.  And like most dullards, they tend toward teenage suburban inertia.

Secondly, his characters possess no clear-headed, reasoned sense of politics. I grant that it is hard to write seriously about the 60s – especially now – without falling into harangue, but that is the burden of history for the author. The War, the Draft and many other points of American life made that impossible if you were attuned to the Movement, which some of Mr. Morrow’s characters claim to be.  Instead they declaim, in a druggy form of paranoia, about the Establishment in general.  The most ardent apologists finally come – through self-parody -- to make light of the women’s movement, perhaps the most lasting and powerful result of the 1960s. It is not so much that they espouse an alternate point of view.  They are disappointed by the world because they do not give it any serious attention.  Stellara is the exception though her consciousness never rises very far.

It is not that Stellara wants to be more than such a person, she simply is more, and she cannot escape the larger self within her.  Having been raised to seek the approval of bullish (very square) males and hide her more substantive self, she finds she cannot.  She denies politics in general and so cannot see that private acts can have political significance; Like it or not, her ultimate erotic choices give her a political voice.

All of that would be fine if Discrete Needs did not suffer from a lack of editing – or from the error of self-editing which cannot work with a complex novel such as this one.  I am perfectly content to put up with the author’s regional caprice in the face of standard English, but at times his writing seems to lose control and go mushy.  Someone needed to be asking, “What’s the point here?” and holding a blue pencil at the time.

Worse still are random passages that seem incoherent.  I submit the following:

“I want to get you as off.”
“Oh….oh okay.”

Who is speaking to whom about what is completely unknown.  It has no relevance to the passages before or after, and the first sentence is not in any form of intelligible English.

A recent New Yorker cartoon depicted a middle-aged woman noticing a large sign saying, “Meet the Author” taped askew in the window of a seedy adult bookstore.  The joke is, of course, who would want to meet (much less shake hands with) the author of an adult book?  Until we clean up the editing and utter (if not willful?) stylistic sloppiness of erotica, there will be no just claim for more respectful treatment, Anais Ninn or not.

Discrete Needs is a serious novel, worthy of serious critical attention even if making a close reading is infuriating at times for the reasons cited above.   Mr. Morrow knows his period, handles it well and he has a great deal of very creative insight into what that time has to give us now.  I hope he keeps writing.



DommemoirDommemoir
By: I. G. Frederick
Fanny Press
ISBN: 1603814183
August 2009





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Of late I have had the pleasure of reading several excellent books for Erotica Revealed. They showed insight about the possible meaning of sex and eroticism as well as a measure of literary invention, unique style and structural grace.  Dommemoir by I. G. Frederick is not one of them. 

Dommemoir is a fictional autobiography of a dominatrix interlaced in equal parts with that of her slaves.  The title itself is a clumsy construction in the mouth and a curious butchery of the French words from which it is cobbled. This structure of the book we presume is adopted to give us both ends of the lash, a convention that has been observed many times before.  The narrative leapfrogs back and forth through their evolution from farm team flagellants to their ascendancy to becoming one of the great dommes of Greater New York; and her slave, respectively.  This is Trumplike hyper-consumerism in the book’s effort to be trendy. An endless colloquy of details about branding the slaves supplements the plot.

If these amphibious leaps of focus from chapter to chapter were not annoying enough, we also get bulletins on her problems in acquiring suitably advantageous real estate deals in a bubble market.  Her narrating slave by contrast has the dour tone of Lurch, but lacks his sense of comic irony entirely.  He will lick anything he is told to lick but always with the same sense of unhygienic gloom.  No one here is having much fun sexually or otherwise, including the reader.

The entire work has a petit bourjeois air about it as of someone trying to look couture while shopping at Target.  The domme’s roots tend to show. As a headline it would read, ”Kinky Long Island Housewife Tells All.  Bear Market Buttocks Tremble!” or on TV, “The Real North Shore Housewives of Kink.”  That would be fine if the book had the deftness of camp, but it takes itself with the deadly earnestness of a community college creative writing class. The domme for lack of style comes off as a self-indulgent slob.

The simplest way to illustrate that is to quote Frederick who writes, “Lady threw back her head and laughed, reminding me of chimes tinkling together on a windy day. Kitty giggled. I just knelt in front of them, my hands trembling.”  No wonder the poor fellow is trembling.  He has spent quite some time licking pussy only to find himself surrounded by a roomful of hoary cliché’s.  The worst of these bromides is a woman who “throws back her head.”

Think about that image.  Either it is some sort of cornball gesticulation left over from the silent screen, or it is an activity best left to Ann Boleyn after the axe has fallen.  Ladies whose laughter reminds one of “chimes on a windy day” have some sort of throat disorder if you ask me.  Kitty quite rightly giggles at all this hammy stuff though it seems likely to cost her bottom some abuse; and the orally gifted slave?  He just sits there with his hands trembling?  Hands trembling?  Why? Is this some sort of cunnilingually induced palsy?

The book appears not to have been edited, as it is full of clumsy sentence structure and fumbled word choice.  The characters have no affective connection other than their sexual rituals and self-indulgent obsessions.  Fanny Press bills itself as “Erotica with an Edge!” but reading Dommemoir is a desultory chore.





Frenzy: 60 Stories of Sudden SexFrenzy: 60 Stories of Sudden Sex
Edited By: Alison Tyler
Cleis Press
ISBN: 157344331X
November 2008





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Frenzy: 60 Stories of Sudden Sex is an excellent anthology of short stories edited for Cleis Press by Alison Tyler.  The book revels in hot, quick sex.  Erotica is particularly suited to short forms because brevity can build a real sense of anticipation that would grow flaccid at greater length; witness Elspeth Potter’s “Unlimited Minutes” at not quite half a page. 

In fact, shorter is usually better for most erotica because the author can avoid those mechanical sexual descriptions that are so often interchangeable from one work to the next.  These descriptions present techno-matic sex.  They neither set up the reader for any real titillation, nor are they exciting in themselves.  Such descriptions are often excruciating searches for sufficiently exotic modifiers to make the penetration seem piquant even when it isn’t.

Whether erotica that is simply fucking is enough for you, would seem a matter of personal inclination.  I require more and this book delivers. Sometimes the pleasure of a fuck is its seedy location such as in D. L. King’s dank Brooklyn bar in “Hard Wet Silk.”  Or it is a moment in time as in Casey Ferguson’s “Field of (Day)dreams” that makes a dalliance sublime.  It seems to me that to be interesting as a subject for fiction, fucking needs to contain some element of play as one finds in Tara Alton’s brief but tasty “Mute Witness.” 

Otherwise fucking is very like mowing grass.  It is a good, hot, and even potentially productive exercise.  You make a lot of unusual noise, and probably sweat a lot. It’s satisfying when done.  But then you are ready to take a shower, have a cold beer, and think about something less exhausting.  You certainly don’t need to read about it.  Then again, being put on sexual hold can be a form of grinding but exquisite erotic torment as is the case in “Waiting” by Jen Cross.

In your twenties -- when you hardly know what is happening during sex -- much less remember much of it after it’s over, a book that gives you the details of what you just did might be both illuminating and get you ready for round two, or even three.  After thirty, you are supposed to know what you are doing, and you should by then have developed an entertaining line of patter to go with your “moves.”  By forty, most of us are contented with our own little depravities and enjoy them fully, as is the case in Carl Hose’s “Her Room” where the hero is cheerfully up to no good.

Frenzy suffers only occasionally from techno-matic sex.   When the short forms are used with éclat and real severity, they are bright and entertaining gems of understatement that create a much larger and more lush sense of authentic pleasure precisely because they excite by inference.  The obvious comparison is well-executed haiku, which leave the subtle imprint of nature in a few syllables.  Like Haiku, Nikki Magennis’s “Sweets” which makes short, but thorough, work of the erotic potential in sucrose.

Short forms make it impossible to hide literary flaws and stylistic laziness. They can be used to encrypt a deeper message so that what is really a very complex statement about the human experience, looks like a simple joke.  During the Soviet era, virtually all political humor in Eastern Europe was buried in sexual jokes.  Dirty jokes fit bad government when it is hard to tell who is fucking whom, and who is actually getting paid for what.  “Appetite” by Shanna Germain captures the pleasures of post-modern excess as the heroine embraces a new obsession with sex for her previous lust for carbs.  Such an excess of riches in a starving world, eh?

I don’t think it is going too far to say that the unflinching directness of Frenzy, as a product of the Bush era, shows that urgent search for balance between graphic “truth” and the galling lies of constant misdirection from the media, industry and government.  I site here Ann Rosenquist Fee’s “Cock Lobster” as an example.  However, if that is true of Frenzy, it is ghost effect.  Frenzy is primarily about fucking, and it is very good at sticking to the point.



He's On TopHe's On Top
Edited By: Rachel Kramer Bussel
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573442704
March, 2007





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Who's on Top?

Cleis Press has just come out with a paired edition of BDSM books entitled alternately, She’s on Top, and He’s on Top. They are edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel with her usual insouciance and élan vitale. We know her from her earlier Naughty Spanking Stories books, and it must be said that her international reputation is soundly earned in the area of erotic bare bottom discipline.

Her story selections for both books reflect the engaging tension humans feel between sex, affect, romance, pleasure and pain. That tension centers around whether we will, or even can, allow ourselves the joy of each other.

BDSM here is the ultimate test of our willingness to risk ourselves and trust others. It becomes a search for connection and richer self-understanding. Conventional notions of loyalty and bonding are literally stretched or stood on their head. They emerge the stronger for it in these stories. BDSM thus becomes the most poignant of sexual arenas in which to explore that willingness. The stories in these two books are for the most part readily up to that challenge.

Both books offer an edgy, hip, and, in some cases, techno view of BDSM, but the stories are generally in the vein of sophisticated dominance and submission (D/s). The authors keep their characters’ tongues -- among other things -- planted firmly, if damply, in their cheek. They are, however, never cynical or superficial.

There is a basic tension generally in erotica between meeting the readers’ desire to re-enter a familiar fictive world and one that stimulates them in new ways. BDSM by its nature tends to flirt with ritual more than other areas of sexual proclivity. The mastery of self often involves gaining the ability to endure beyond all patience, if for no other reason than to enhance the impact of the release when it is finally allowed.

The nature of an ordeal -- even one that is enjoyed -- tends to strip away the veneer of civilized disguises we need to get through life. It is very hard to be cool and detached while being given a long, hard spanking. The filtering is penetrated by pain and lust. In many cases that is why the characters are begging to be spanked, flogged, caned, pinched, bound, gagged and regularly find large objects moving relentlessly up their rearends.

Ms. Bussel has chosen an array of short, pithy stories for both books that focus on the action more than the atmosphere. They focus more on the choices characters make than characterization. That makes for a highly successful brisk style and pace. There is a point, however, at which I as a reader feel that I know what is coming next a bit too well. That is perhaps because as an author and critic, I see the erotic in erotica as a point of departure as much as a narrative destination. Mine is not the more widely held view, however, among readers and other writers of erotica.

These are anthologies and I can see no way of getting round giving a shopping list of brief comments about individual stories. Therefore I will just enjoy showing you a sample of what’s on offer here.

In He’s on Top, N.T. Morely’s “Not Until Dawn” captures beautifully the torture of a woman’s orgasm that is delayed for an entire night. The story concludes, as the title suggests, with a lovely, if shattering, sense of relief.

Lisabet Sarai’s “Incurable Romantic” carries away top honors for entering the male head successfully and winnowing out how the hero rethinks and comes to understand the meaning of loyalty and trust as he thrashes back and forth between his beloved’s bottom and his lover’s rear end. When you are beating two behinds, what are the rules of fidelity? What sort of vote do those getting thwacked have in this case? Ms. Sarai has thought this out carefully and renders her answer with very plausible tenderness. She is one of the best in the field of erotica without question.

Several stories reveal something about masculine priggish punctiliousness as in Mackenzie Cross’ “A Good Reference”. Men here are often presented as being more obsessed with rules and technique than with the sensations and sensuality of their relationships.

I must add that Lee Ash in my view emasculated “Boardroom Etiquette” by letting us know that the relationship we are observing -- which is so witty and piquant at first – is in fact a rehash of one the characters have had the night before. That makes it showy, but blandly safe. Risk, like good spankings, has to be real to amount to anything significant.

Amanda Earl’s “Brianna’s Fire” is surely one of the most amusing and enjoyable of the stories in this book with its narrative adagio on the discipline of the musical arts.

She’s on Top is billed in the editor’s preface as a companion to the male volume. However, it seems to me the juicier of the two. As Ms. Bussel writes, the female dominants revel in the visceral exercise of power over their boy toys with no girlish pretense of reticence. However, that in no way is to suggest that this is not a book about girls.

These characters are not moribund creatures who grimly fit the now-PC appellation, “Women.” In fiction that joyless label has come to sound like a legal grounds for institutionalization. These are big, highly dimensional, playful girls. They take charge and get things done to their liking regardless of their physical size. They have a lot of down and dirty fun doing it, regardless of who is left squealing and begging for mercy (gratefully) in the process.

“City Lights” by Kathleen Bradean is the story most like conventional femdom fiction. As such, it is guaranteed not to disappoint. A dominant woman spanks and canes her ultra handsome, successful man with voracious abandon after a hard day at the office. The story is far more than that though because it captures how much she also loves and depends on him in the peculiar ways of their relationship. She does not “wear the pants” in the family. She doesn’t need to because she decides when the pants get taken down.

The husband is presented as both an eager submissive and still a fully realized, if dumbly pretty, self-involved, male. That seems to be part of what she loves in him. He is her trophy boy toy, but that is only as a part of a larger, more complex and subtle relationship. Nonetheless her spankings are sincere, traditional, and enthusiastically executed. She genuinely takes charge and so her authority rings as genuine.

Kristina Wright’s “The Mistress Meets Her Match” is wonderfully original. A very able mistress encounters a man who wants to be authentically dominated with the highest skill and authority. So, through a process of tease and challenge, he educates her to the point where he is truly forced to submit. It is a complex dance and a refreshing change from the usual doleful, groveling submissives of this genre, who will settle for any sort of female attention as long as it is painful and delivered with scorn.

In fact, scorn is an element that is totally absent from either of these books. They are not about abusive rejection and hurt. They are about people searching for each other on the most demanding and rarified plane of sexual encounters. That is not a plug for BDSM, but rather for the best that erotica in general can achieve.

The best story is Ms. Bussel’s own, “His Just Rewards.” The title ironically conjures the dusty image of a dreary after school paddling, but the story is nothing of the sort. It presents us with a D/s Olympiad conducted by a mistress who shifts her attentions between people with symphonic, almost self-sacrificing, grace. It is one of those stories where you find yourself wanting her to get laid as a reward because she has worked so long and so hard and so well for the benefit of her naughty charges. How unselfish can a girl be?

What erotica can do is make the point that sex is just sex and just fine as that, but that it can be more; it can be a conveyance to another level of experience and attachment. For that to work, even if only in the comfort of reading a book, one must give oneself over to its inescapable attraction, rather like bondage. Once there, who wants to escape anyway? These stories capture the exciting risk of not knowing how your lover will use their power over you, and acquiescing to that. They show that far from being vacant brutes, those who dominate must be equal in skill, sensitivity, and sensibility to that role.

 





I Do--An anthology in support of marriage equalityI Do--An anthology in support of marriage equality
Edited By: Kris Jacen
MLR Press
ISBN: 1934531707
January 2009





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

The mark of a second rate culture is its willingness to create second-class citizens.  That is especially the case when it is done in the interest of advancing party supremacy, enforcing economic privilege, or institutionalizing religious humbug.  Starting with Reagan, we just completed thirty-plus years of that behavior.  If you are gay in America, you must be pretty fed up what with Prop 8 sitting in the middle of the brand new Obama vista.  Enter I Do, an anthology of stories about gay and lesbian coupling that in large part is both entertaining and should work well for its stated purpose as a way to raise funds to defeat Prop 8.

By and large these stories are entertaining, written well, and make a convincing agitprop case against Prop 8 and for the right to gay marriage.  The stories are sometimes truly subtle and articulate such as “The Lindorm Twin” by Tracey Pennington, which employs the device of the fairy tale to create a political parable about the destructive force of bigotry against gays, or anyone for that matter.  It has the sort of ironic insight one finds in Yevgheny Shvarts’s “The Dragon” in which myths of the normative both serve and distort human self-understanding. 

There are several stories that fit the best model of literary romance. In Lisabet Sarai’s “Making Memory,” two women achieve discovery and redemption in a brief, passionate encounter.  Each surrenders a part of herself to her lover, and in so giving, gains redemptive renewal. “Desire and Disguise” byAlex Beecroft is a warm-hearted story of a relationship that is simply growing stronger.  I am unable to say whether the pleasure of reading Beecroft’s story lies more in its generosity of spirit or in the author’s fluid and pleasant English.  At any rate the story shows a mastery of complex sentences, the subjunctive mood, and a command of compound tenses that one rarely sees in English prose these days.

Romance has come to mean fiction laced with conventional bourgeois sentiment in place of actual feeling.  It may dabble in swashbuckling and a sort of pristine prurience, but it is, finally, politically correct feeling leading toward a comfortable resolution of discord.   Everyone winds up with a lot of self-esteem. That sort of romance has its origins in the 18th century bourgeois novel, the plot of which was usually based on the misfortunes of a good-hearted, virtuous, and naive hero, like Oliver Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield, who suffers more than he deserves.  Rip all the bodices you like, the romance novel is simply a disguised form of its milder predecessor. Goldsmith, of course, did not have to compete with reality television.

The real meaning of romance is heroic love of such magnitude that it is redemptive.   We recognize the intrigues of As You Like It and Love’s Labour’s Lost, wherein the characters realize that love offers rewards beyond the mash notes and the first stolen kisses. In fact, romance need not be between lovers or spouses at all because the ultimate test of love in romance is sacrifice.  Hence, Miranda’s future is redeemed by Prospero’s surrender of his magic powers.  Cordelia is honored in death and defeat by Lear’s rediscovery of his love for her and their filial bond.  That bond is the true arc of romance, that the power of the relationship is greater than the sum of the lovers. 

“I Do” presents us with the kind of love that leads to marriage.  Marriage necessarily leads to continuity beyond death.  The point is that this sort of love is so great that even the inevitability of death is not an obstacle to its fruition.

As the stories in I Do grow steamier and less based in affect, they lose some of their energy.  That’s not because of the subject matter, though that does tend to become redundant -- how many ways can you swallow a mouthful of cum and still say something interesting about it?  The problem is the writing becomes rigid and unnatural. “Finally Forever” by Jeanne Barrack launches a story composed of lumpy badinage between two Jewish men preparing for their wedding.  That would be fine if the dialogue were not such an enforced exercise in merriment that you wind up gritting your teeth. Worse still, the characters find themselves cute.  These two guys would be delighted to stay locked in Stacy and Clinton’s 360-degree mirror for days on end. 

“Code of Honor” by Marequesate presents a different problem in which sentences are often as rigid and awkward as the principal characters, two lover-studs in the French Foreign Legion where being gay, we are told, is strictly forbidden. I understand on good authority that is indeed the case as in most military organizations for reasons of their own perceiving.  Given its enforced centrality to the story, however, this secrecy seems a literary contrivance of the sort that porn often employs for hyperbolic effect.

One can forgive a certain repetitive militancy among a portion of the stories, as the authors’ collective case is legitimate.  Nonetheless, one does have to ask oneself, “What is the cause here?” 

Like all political art, there is the danger of being arch rather than reaching for the profound. The net result is that the characters in some of these stories speechify about the condition of being gay almost as though it were an abstract moral state of being.  From there they move on to a fundamental error: they extrapolate to the rather pathological assumption that all gay people should want to be married and that, as such, they are not being true to themselves or their gayness if they don’t.  Whereas the real point is that all people, regardless of their particulars, should have the right to be married – with all attendant benefits and privileges – if they so desire.

The history of marriage is the history of property rights.  It was only an issue for the propertied classes because they had something to lose in matters of inheritance, and whose numbers grew exponentially from the beginning of the industrial revolution.  Thus what had been a system of feudal contracts for the nobles became a way of cementing financial relationships for the bourgeois.  The notion of romantic love connected with marriage is largely a literary conceit of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. 

While that all went on, Christianity attempted to annex sexuality/love even if it still finds these impulses carnal, distasteful, and spiritually degrading.  The marriage license was a rubber stamp for the soul by making sex legal.  Prior to modern psychology in the 20th century, everyone pretty much assumed sex was just inexplicably there in the human construct just as it is in rabbits.  It was probably clearer thinking and caused less general suffering than the average therapist, despite being far less profitable.  In short, marriage doesn’t make much sense beyond issues of property whether you are gay, straight, or somewhere in between.

Therefore, who and what is protected by making marriage the exclusive preserve of heterosexuals, is not only moot, but also inarguable tribal nonsense, a point which I Do makes well.  The stories assert that marriage should not exist as a weapon for class and economic exclusion.  What is more, being a married heterosexual should no more "give you the conch" in passing judgment about the sanctity of this or that sort of relationship than being homosexual should take it away.  In law, marriage is about on a par with the significance we attach to owning a house.  It is either one’s principal liability or asset depending on how you look at it.  To see it as more than that, clouds the issue.

We harm all Americans when some of us are legally reduced from being full citizens.  That is especially true when the majority winds up serving the peculiar economic aims and religious whims of factions like the Republican rightwing as they did with Prop 8.  When we make any class of citizens less than any other class of citizens, we all become less than we can be and therefore less than we should aspire to be.

The ultimate wrong done by Prop 8 is that it denies all Americans their rightful pursuit of liberty and justice.  What is just is neither absolute nor fixed.  Like our notion of liberty, it must evolve as our understanding of the world and others evolves.  Therefore, the sound claim against Prop 8 is not one of special pleading for a minority, for they alone are not the ones wronged.  It is at the heart our democracy that no man or woman is less than any other even if tradition has made it seem so. We grow by outgrowing our traditions, not by being slaves to them. 

Editor's Note:

As per the publisher, all proceeds from the sale of this anthology will be donated to the Lambda Legal Defense to fight Prop 8 in support of marriage equality for all.





In Sleeping Beauty's Bed: Erotic Fairy TalesIn Sleeping Beauty's Bed: Erotic Fairy Tales
By: Mitzi Szereto
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443670
September 2009





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Mitzi Szereto’s In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed is a handsome collection of fairy tales published by Cleis Press.  This is one of their best produced and edited books to date.  Traditional folk/fairy tales (and some authored stories) have been reworked by Ms. Szereto with her unique vision and sexual zest.  Each story is preceded by a brief literary history and interpretation of the original.  The book is highly eclectic and therefore both appealing to your naughty bits and intellectually engaging. 

From the outset, let me say that Szereto has a wonderfully creative and deft command of English.  She can elaborate where others merely complicate. That makes for a degree of sensual pleasure in reading her thoughts all on its own.  Equally important is the fact that she has seriously researched and thought about the fairy tale as erotic art.  I think writers of erotica have always felt a natural pull toward the folk tale because its themes seem as basic, organic and natural as the sex they want to explore in prose.

The fairy tale is not so easy a nut to crack though, and the insertion of sexual specifics can often seem a gratuitous appendage.  As any devotee of  “Fractured Fairy Tales” on Rocky and Bullwinkle can tell you, they work precisely because the original form has been so lovingly, but totally, ruptured in the form of a burlesque.  Szereto wants to hold onto the pungent earthiness of the originals and she pretty much gets there.

The folk tale is closest to the fable or parable, both of which are closed forms that are intended as instruction, rather than a more lyric form of literary engagement.  You don’t argue with Aesop; you get it or you don’t.  Sometimes, like “Hansel and Gretel” the lesson is about very hard truths of a bitter and greedy world that can reduce its inhabitants to cannibals. So in its original form, the folktale is often far more suited to the theatre of Bertolt Brecht than Walt Disney.

Following 19th century efforts to bowdlerize folk tales into what we now think of as fairy tales, Disney leaves in a lot of sexual innuendo, but cuts out the actual sexual contact.  He relies on the adolescent shiver of frustration rather than the mature sigh of satisfaction after orgasm. The result is that I am still trying to see up Tinkerbelle’s skirt, as I was when I was eight.  What a little tease she is, don’t you think?  And what gives with Snow White of the plunging neckline and her seven little friends in tight pants?  They must have gotten a lot tighter mooning over her glass “coffin.”  Disney is the master of the bloodless, odorless, crankyless menstrual cycle. It’s not that easy to do either, but it can also make for rather creepy and unnatural images of human relations.

Every culture has its folk/fairy tale tradition and Szereto has searched a lot of them in compiling her wonderful book. What she so clearly understands is that these forms are the way that people in an every day world deal with the things that frighten them, entice them and/or both.  They are the stories of the power we fear most because it is beyond our control, and of deep sexual yearnings that are in us all. They are there even when sometimes we do not realize they are there.  Fairly tales deal with our common, deep sense of truth.

My favorite story in the book is “The Swineherd” which she has adapted from Hans Christian Andersen. Her analysis is original, insightful and thought provoking.  Her reworking of his story is a charming and very exciting game of sexual provocation.  The low seduce the high in a most clever and sensual way.  That power is then subsumed by the high mastering the low in the form of mutually willing and delicious BDSM play.  It hardly fails to please that during this erotic struggle, handmaidens are regularly spanked and caned as pretty princess feet are stamped in feminine frustration.  Szereto can even make girlish pouting sexy, which is no small accomplishment.

Of late my reading tastes have lead me back to the 19th century if only because writers of that time were not afraid of words as a medium for complex feelings, and by extension, exploring the complexity of love and eroticism that words can reveal.  Szereto will not seem like a museum piece to any of her readers, but she is gifted with the sort of eye that sees many facets on a jewel.

The other thing that I truly love about this book is that it is in no way cynical, but it makes no attempt to idealize the human condition.  People are not presented as trolls, but even princesses can have eager little hands that are too bent upon sheer acquisition.  Gadgets, toys and shiny baubles can blind them to true love’s ardor.  In Szereto’s world the scales are often lifted from their eyes, by the brisk application of a male palm to their luscious bottoms.  Thus balance – even a rough, country balance – is restored.  Men in Szereto’s world do seem to think with their dicks, but she does not mind that quality in them.  Actually from her descriptions of them, she seems quite fond of dicks herself.  We are thus relieved of the boring burden of political correctness, which is by its nature antithetical to art.  People are not designed to think about sex in one sanitized way, and art is about giving people a route to what they really think.

I have to applaud this book as a milestone in a very difficult area of literature.  If for no other reason, folk tales have been perfected to their uses like well worn steps that so many people have traveled in an ancient staircase.  For a single author to make her own rendition of them requires a unique level of talent and respect for the original.





It's Supposed to Hurt: The Best of the Corporal ConsultantIt's Supposed to Hurt: The Best of the Corporal Consultant
By: Cassandra Park
CreateSpace
ISBN: 145281466X
May 2010





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

As many will attest, it is no idle sentiment when Cassandra Park says, “It’s supposed to hurt,” which serves as the title for her new collection of stories and essays by the same name.  Be forewarned that Ms. Park has created some genuinely painful images of strict spanking.  At the same time, she is good-natured about it and clearly has a sense of humor about herself and the service she provides that is both caring and respectful from her description.  She, as the principal character of her book, seems devoted to giving only what the spankee needs and wants.  In fact, she gives over a fair amount of her text to the nurturing effects of a good, hard spanking including when it is applied to her own bottom.

It is worth pointing out here that Cassandra Park is not only a member of the BDSM community in New York City.  She is one of New York’s divas of domestic discipline with a particular passion for the spanking, strapping, paddling and caning arts.  She often appears as a featured player at most of Gotham’s spanking parties and other events.   Her fiction appears in print elsewhere such as the recently published Logical Lust volume, Spank!

Thus Ms. Park has not earned her reputation through mere show, but through the diligent application of learned detail from having adjusted the behavior of hundreds, if not thousands, of wayward bare bottoms. Her book, It’s Supposed to Hurt, is a composite of stories and brief essays in which the two forms tend to merge.  That is to say that some of the stories clearly feel as though they are based on personal experience while many of the essays are so intense that they acquire the otherworld feel of fiction.  It is an interesting approach to an increasingly narrow field of fiction.

Interspersed in and among the longer pieces are photographs, each sporting a short reflective caption that reflects the spanking significance of each image.  Many of the essays end in a question about the merits of what the author reports, rather like Camus’s Stranger wondering reflectively about his own thoughts, feelings and reactions.

Her stories and descriptions sometimes contain elements that will seem extreme to some readers such as a young lady who is given a long, hard paddling OTK [over the knee] with a bath brush.  In response to that extremity, we are invited by Ms. Park’s book to remember two things.  First, that it is the character’s choice to be thus soundly spanked, and secondly that it is the author’s fantasy, not necessarily an experience she wants or recommends for others.  The book pleasantly invokes the reader to think about what they really want from BDSM and life in general.

Erotica of late has taken on a more and more formulaic approach -- as writers look for more sure-fire plotting for submissions -- and publishers seek out niche audiences for both actual books and online publications.  Perhaps the profound instability of our times makes the idea of a guaranteed happy ending more attractive.  For those who seek more than simple comfort from their reading, Ms. Park has potentially created a new mode of erotic art, in which expression is neither confessional nor instructional, but designed specifically to deliver the sensual experience of the moment.  Thus It’s Supposed to Hurt offers the reader a refreshing immediacy.



Like A Corset UndoneLike A Corset Undone
Edited By: J. Blackmore
Circlet Press
ISBN: 978-1885865878
September 2009





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Like a Corset Undone is an anthology of steampunk erotica that has the undeniably lush, pungent, laciness of upper crust Victorian stroke fiction a la The Pearl.  A fair number of quasi-feminist buckles are swashed as ladies in stays and bloomers get the upper hand over lubricious tumescent men. Male readers, however, will not feel either slighted or abused by their dainty victories. The sex here is as steamy as the era it represents, one in which the superhuman power of gargantuan machines still dazzled enough to make the mechanistic release of steam feel orgasmic.

 Some of the ladies as in “Adventures Underground” by Cartmine Bligh connive prettily to suffer the lash, as is their secret wont, and there is a general sense of extremely naughty, if not piratical, fun about the entire book.  These stories are to my mind more Edwardian than Victorian.  They take place after the actual Industrial Revolution when people began to contemplate the larger meaning and possible refinement of machines, not just to create more of them.  The prose style is universally suited to about the year 1900, and as such is usually a cut above our contemporary grunt and scratch style of the early 21st century.  These writers know about gerundives and the complex sentence.  So basically, the news for readers is good.

This is my first adventure in steampunk. The challenge of this new and rather unformed genre is that the author is obliged to create a double anachronism.  Some concept of present or future technology has been displaced into the past prior to its actual creation or refinement.  Thus airships (dirigibles?) may dominate the skies in the hands of cross-dressing pirates who use electric pistols, (which seem to be sort of hyper stun guns) as in “The Sky Dancer” by R. E. Bond and “Skyway Robbery” by Angelia Sparrow and Naomi Brooks.

This latter story has a Munchausen quality in that Robin Hood’s descendent has taken up piracy in an air ship as he battles the Edisonians, another corps of techno-pirates.  Once a raid on the enemy airship is successfully completed, Robin hungrily falls to a lengthy and detailed rimming and buggering of Will (Scarlet?).  That happy event is interrupted by the entrance of Robin’s girlfriend, Marian. She intrudes upon the scene in drag, nether parts still dripping from the excitement of the fray.  Thus she is ready to join in celebrating the Captain’s captivating cock.  It is reported in fact to be larger than Little John’s fighting staff – a likely story, eh, girls?

The trick of doing steampunk well is to make all these temporal collisions both necessary to the story, and exciting inclusions.  Steam engines per se are pretty dull unless you get off on such things, no matter what they are attached to or whatever bizarre function they are set to perform.  The danger lies in simply writing Victorian porn with some murky science fiction thrown in for effect or to meet the editors’ Call for Submissions.  Good and bad examples appear in this volume.

Then too all these airships and sundry other machinery that populate these fictive skies must be belching massive quantities of carbon fuel exhaust, a problem that seems not to trouble these authors at all.  In short, it is as though they find the Industrial Age a sort of divine intervention in human affairs, with none of the demonic effects we now know to be the case.  They forget that it took half of the 20th century to clean up a fair portion of the soot left in Europe from the 19th.

One area that seems particularly irksome is the tendency to explain all sorts of anomalies by the fact that character X is from an alternate universe and thus able to do and think all sorts of things ordinary Victorians do not.  Without some explanation of how or why this person is around, the effect is that of a bad deus ex machina, a simple cheat to get the problem off stage.

The other pitfall of steampunk is applying the mental habits of the late 20th Century to that of the late 19th.  Few of these writers seem to have made it to the 21st. While I am perfectly willing to accept the post-modern dictum that history is not the study of group think, I am also aware that economic conditions and oppressions of empire impel people into certain point’s of view.  I am all for the exception in such matters but the author has to justify his/her choices, not just post them like surprise counterindications about the past.  It’s a tricky problem.

Some authors here solve the anamolies very well, like Roxy Katt, who describes her voluptuous female characters as the literal embodiment of the zeppelin in “The Zeppelin Raiders””

Ah, but the feature of the suit that had immediately arrested Constance’s attention was not the voluptuousness of breast and buttock, nor the claustrophobic cocooning of the suit’s design, but the tightly armored groin covering which was a kind of metal dome  or codpiece – an enormous one – tightly fastened to the form fitting suit.  “Mother ,”Constance had said, “if I may be so bold, “ she gestured between the legs of the suit not quite managing  to suppress an involuntary giggle, “What on earth…? 

Probably the best way to look at these stories is as outsized fantasy – erotic fairy tales -- with a nod to science fiction for the fun of it.  I don’t see how anyone can go wrong with Like a Corset Undone as the title alone is an invitation to the most luscious fantasy. It just requires that the reader take it as that, and not demand too much in the way of actual history or science as its basis.





Lust in SpaceLust in Space
By: Lisa Lane
Ravenous Romance
ISBN: 978-1607771326
January 2009





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

He held himself inside her until she went still.

He pulled out, and then turned to the last woman, who now patiently lay on her back, her legs spread wide.

“Nesvi olef,” she said, her voice low and husky.

Now you show me the ever-ready young space cadet who can turn down a low and husky, “Nesvi olef!” and I’ll show you a wuss.  What’s more, there are no limp dicks in Lisa Lane’s flying corner of the cosmos!

Lust in Space owes very little to the 60s series, Lost in Space, but only by contrast.  No one is lost on board Pandora’s Hope as it sets off on its space-bending exploration of other planets, horny humanoid species, and an infinite number of ways to fuck with and among ET’s.   A far better parallel is Star Trek in that everyone does this fucking with a reckless abandon that boldly goes where none has fucked before.  A couple of blood tests for terrestrial STDs and all pants are off.   No one is bored on Pandora’s Hope!

That’s fine given that this book dances on the edge of an inter-galactic disco fantasy.  As such it is enormously good fun.  The book is divided into a trail of bizarre erotic episodes across the cosmos.  These are both interesting and entertaining in themselves if you are not too fussy about the level of the science that comes with your stroke fiction.  Nor is it totally outrageous to the point of being silly.  Captain Nora – for, as we know, all captains must be statuesque females these days – is a bit neurotic with a depressive predilection for tequila. It makes sense if you think about it.  How easy is it going to be to find executive staff who want to spend most of their adult lives fucking on a giant piece of flying hardware? 

Needless to say, Nora has boy trouble, or thinks she does.  That’s because sinister aliens start cloning into the form of her boyfriend even as sympathetic other (teeny, erotic) aliens ferret out the frauds.  These little guys and gals have a lot of Disney Tinker Bell in them.  Cute as buttons, they hum or buzz or vibrate when aroused which can be handy when wrapped around a full sized clit.  Sounds silly?  Well, it’s sexier than you think. They are impish little critters with a randy sense of humor and miniscule provocative attire.  Unzip and clap your hands if you believe.  Who wouldn’t?

I found myself reading this book very slowly because it was so much fun at bed time to come back to its lively and imaginative adventures that sometimes remind you of Rocky and Bullwinkle.  It may help that my other reading is the modern history of the Middle East and a biography of J. P. Morgan.  But still, you get to liking these characters a lot.  They are sexy with a naïve sense of right and wrong just like bad boy, Captain Kirk.  The secret is that Ms. Lane has been able to harness all the cliché’s of TV Scifi, and tease them out to an entertaining place between parody and homage.  Lust in Space provides a lot of fun.  It gives good lift off. 





Magic University: The Tower and the TearsMagic University: The Tower and the Tears
By: Cecilia Tan
Ravenous Romance
ISBN: 159003211X
April 2010





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Cecilia Tan has changed the direction of erotica with her stewardship of Circlet Press, her leadership with events like the Fetish Flea, and her own writing.  She has raised the bar of erotic literacy through her editing, and as a publisher opened the door to erotica that is highly sensual and sexual but still more than a platform to talk about sex.  In addition she has brought about a genuine interest in the execution and advancement of literary style.  No other current publisher can make those claims, and few authors have been able to write as well as undertake such achievements.

It’s challenging then to review her work as an author in The Tower and the Tears. To begin with, this novel is a work of erotic play bedded in an array of manufactured magical lore and practice.  It is utterly impossible to read The Tower and the Tears without saying, “Wait a minute!  This is Harry Potter goes to college…in America…and gets laid a lot more often that he did when he was English, right?”

Such questions are fair given that brooms are raced with rakish élan, spells are cast and the hero tends to ignore the theoretical side of his studies drawing his higher magical understanding from experience itself.   He, like Harry, is a chosen one of the gods.

Tan’s hero, Kyle, attends a sort of alternate/clone/wizardry school called Veritas that is the doppelganger of the more pedestrian Harvard.  In fact, Harvard gets quite a lot of play in this novel in its two forms as a bastion of crypto-self-importance. One gets the impression that the elect who are admitted to either school can choose which to attend. The Tower and the Tears is the second volume in The Magic University series by Ms. Tan. 

For those who don’t know -- if there is anyone who doesn’t -- “veritas” (the Latin word for “truth,”) is the unpretentious motto of Harvard University.  So it all fits together…sort of…or as least as much as Harry Potter fits into semi-detached suburban Britain when not playing with his broom at Hogwarts. Tan’s hero is not the Henry V figure that Harry is, which is something of a relief.   Kyle does have to deal with a fairly standard apocalypse, which I shall leave to your attentions as a reader.

Tan’s hero occupies a romance novel set at Veritas/Harvard where freshmen are given totems of their magical futures and the careerism starts early.   Presumably the muggles at Harvard just get a large wallet, which they are to imagine stuffing.

Ms. Tan’s story is bouncy, sexy and fun.  Her commentary is dry, deeply submerged and totally ignorable if you don’t care to get it.  In this novel, her characters are a trifle wispy, if not to say papery, not unlike Ms. Kagan who wants a place on the High Court based on never having had a public thought about the law.  Who are these people? Who cares?

There are moments in the book where the reader is tempted to snort with disdain:

"They're all virgins, though," Kyle said, not wanting to sound too whiny about it. But part of him didn't want a repeat of the year with Jess; he didn't want to pressure anyone whose virginity might need to be preserved for magical reasons.

Oh please. He’s a guy, right? But it is all a tease.  Penetration is not thwarted by the confabulation of prestidigitation as they might say around the Quad at Veritas.  Once the fucking gets underway, it is very creatively described giving one an extremely detailed, tasty account of how an orgasm actually gets accomplished.  Plus there is all sorts of fucking between and among genders which spices things up.  Ms. Tan has thought a great deal and very intensely about the anatomy of sex.

There are moments when we cringe if one more undergraduate expostulates, “By Circe’s tit!” as a measure of their wonder and frustration.  Why can’t they have another epithet, or even an oath or two?  I guess there are only so many magical goddesses with great boobs.  “By Ishtar’s slit!” has some appeal, but nothing works with Astarte I have to admit.  A faculty member does say, “Baudelaire’s blood,” which in my view is reaching. 

This is very definitely a novel with something for everyone.  There is even a faculty member named Professor Hart from the Esoteric Studies Department.  He doesn’t say much, and that’s perhaps as it should be.

 





Marianne!: A Journey Round A Golden SunMarianne!: A Journey Round A Golden Sun
By: Simon Lowrie
CreateSpace
ISBN: 1449521479
September 2009





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Marianne starts off as the kind of book that readers quietly hunger to read because it promises relationships on the stumbling level of real human beings.  It manages many complex themes in reasonably fluid English, and deftly knits them all together.  They include the basis for polyamory; the day-to-day workings of male dominated BDSM relationships; the problem of literal versus intuitive communication and the deep differences between the genders.

I am up for all that, and the first third of Marianne engages us with a plausible, funny, articulate relationship between Simon and Marianne that is at once necessary and impossible for both.  What the characters lack is that essential individual moral consciousness that rises above their immediate appetites, and worse, their vanity.  That absence appears with the arrival of Mark and Sophie. More about all these folk anon.

To my relief there are no grandly erectile aliens, futuristic sex contraptions set in the past, amorous lycanthropes, cozy wormholes, boy band vampires, or other paranormal paraphernalia of the contemporary hip erotica scene in Marianne. People have sex, and the boys spank the girls. 

There are one or two belts and a paddle as well as one butt plug. There is also one suspiciously oversized penis, but that may just be wishful thinking. Ordinary furniture stands in for infernal hydraulic spanking benches that seize the unwary maiden while exposing her bottom to the lash. The girls take down their own pants when told to do so.  The task for the author is therefore that much harder because he cannot rely on special effects. He has to write about people. He can too, but he falls down when his characters trap him in a thematic cul de sac.

Even so, this book is an authentic modern romance without any of the usual artificial psychobabble, hair-tearing and adolescent angst of most contemporary romance fiction. The first third deals with unraveling Marianne from her knotted self.   She discovers her true nature as a submissive, which resolves much of her internal conflicts and thus her unhappiness. 

That part of Marianne is a romance that reveals the subtle evolution and deepening of a relationship with Simon based on dominance and submission.  Marianne is the submissive who can command any and all sorts of glittering attention from anyone in most of her life. In love she needs a truly dominant male lover along with the occasional bottom-searing spanking to keep her balanced and happy.  Simon learns about himself as she grows.

The moments of humor between them are genuinely funny and authentically odd in the way conversation is between people who venture into new emotional territory in the name of love.  For them, the risk of embarrassment by sounding nutty or being silly is far outweighed by the possibilities created by reaching beyond such concerns. 

Isn’t that what we all want from our lover?  Don’t we yearn for them to go beyond their own boundaries of comfort? Don’t we want them to risk themselves because they want us so badly?  Isn’t that why in the actual literature of romance, the lovers are heroic?  Shakespeare is full of people who he often conjured from medieval romances. Implicitly, however, that love is unselfish like Berowne’s in “Love’s Labour’s Lost” and harkens to an enduring larger human order.  It’s not just filling a greedy appetite for sexual power.

Then we are introduced to Mark and Sophie at which point the novel takes a distinct turn for the worse as it seems to argue, perhaps by default, that BDSM is a rationale for male cruelty – both physical and psychological—toward women. Marianne thus adds to the popular myth that the practice of BDSM is limited to brutal anarchists and the depraved of all sorts and classes.

If that weren’t enough, the ensuing complex adventures give the impression that insensitive brutality is the proof of a really strong -- and therefore hot -- man. Have we not had enough of Sergeant Slaughter and Blackwater? Most offensive is the curious theme that men seem to rule women by some toffee-nosed public school notion of divine right. All these themes are served up in rather windy, wandering prose that a passable editor could have either incised or eliminated. 

To his credit, the author makes his themes organic to his characters’ collective and individual nature. They have, sadly, the mindset of Thatcherite Sloane Rangers with a Neo-con worldview that is still widely shared, if slightly tempered by the crash of 2008. Greed is still good.

Sophie is pathetic not because she is an extreme submissive, but because she wants to abnegate herself and Simon will oblige. She is a long suffering admirer of Simon who agrees to take her on as his household slave only after he has repeatedly rubbed it in that he loves only Marianne, not her. Sophie wants her mind drubbed into ‘off’ mode through sterile obedience.

As she says:

Oh Simon! I appreciate every single minute that you spend with me, every word you say! They're like presents to me, every one of them, special presents! All I want to do is earn them all I can and make sure that you stay happy with me.

What person really wants that unbroken flow of automatism? Simon gasses on about his cruelty to Sophie with Marianne as though Sophie’s suffering were some act of Providence. He is but the hapless agent of “the grace of God” as follows:

You've put yourself in Sophie's place [Marianne], that's what. Most girls – ninety nine percent I'd say – couldn't even stretch their brains that far. They'd just grandly say 'oh I could never be as weak as her' or 'there's no way I'd ever let myself get into that position' - like people ever get to choose which form of the monster-virus known as love attacks them. . . .[Editor’s deletion]. Fact is, we’re all just cobwebs in the wind. Before I met you, I'd have said not me and couldn't happen with the best of them, and before she met me, I daresay Sophie would have said the same things too. We're all too dumb and proud to really know that there but for the grace of God go any of us anywhere at any time at all.

Marianne is herself a spoiled upper middle class brat whose only regret for her appalling bad manners and neurotic behavior is that no one has beaten her senseless to set her straight.  Objectively, she certainly has a point, but that has nothing to do with the merits or failings of BDSM.  She is just selfish and thus repulsive.  She does, however, finally tell Mark, her Ubermensch boyfriend, that he is a “self-righteous arrogant pig.” It almost redeems her because, if anything, Mark is most certainly that and worse.

Mark seems a Titan of the City or what Americans now laughingly – if ruefully -- call a Master of the Universe.  He is actually an inarticulate thug who through his physical size and strength intimidates people.  If you don’t like what he says, he hits you.  When annoyed with women, he drags them around by their hair.

Because he makes a great deal of money intimidating people in the financial industry, he grants himself a mysterious moral authority. He is often described as a combination of “an ogre and Prince Charming,” when in fact he’s a natural-born fascist.  If he didn’t have hair, he’d be a skinhead in a 2000-pound suit.

Simon is the classic public school twit rather like Bertie Wooster, a man who never ceases intoning his moral superiority while unable to put on his socks unless aided by a serf.  He takes the long view of his own obsessive wheedling for Marianne, his moral cowardice with Mark and emotional cruelty to Sophie by pointing them out, and in so doing, abrogating their importance.  Humbert Humbert has more of a moral compass.  

We yearn for a Bolshevik with a small caliber pistol to interrupt his flow of modest, Tory self-approbation. He oozes out his unquestioned expectation that it is the confusing but necessary burden of men to rule women by some right destined by Providence.

This writer has real talent and Marianne has promise, but Mr. Lowrie cannot yet control his themes and thus his characters wind up being perverse.





Naughty Spanking Stories From A to Z, Volume 2Naughty Spanking Stories From A to Z, Volume 2
Edited By: Rachel Kramer Bussel
Pretty Things Press
ISBN: 1576122700
October, 2006





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

There can be no question that this book is about spanking and that it gets at this activity with a serious intensity from as many angles and techniques as possible. As Rachel Kramer Bussel points out in her introduction, the spankings in this anthology explore a range of passions including, “love, anger, sublimation, awakening, desire, fulfillment, foreplay, fun, prodding, patience, surrender, exhibitionism, demand, pride, want, lust, punishment, reward, humiliation, power, surprise, daring, learning, lessons, teasing, and goodbye.” Phew! And I thought I was fond of lists.

For reasons best illuminated by the editor in the book’s introduction, more female bottoms are bared and smacked in this volume than male ones. That may seem a disappointment to some femdom devotees, but a fair amount of jockey shorts are jerked down, as well as arrogant butts unboxered. They are punished at length by an assortment of unforgiving female hands, whether equipped with an implement or descending by their own domme momentum.

What makes this book essentially a success is its frank, seriously painful, salivating, and intense focus on spanking the adult bare bottom for whatever reason or rationalization that pops into the spanker’s head. There are no excuses or half-witted psychologizing here. What’s more, a good, hard spanking is worth its weight in several volumes of blabbering romance novels. Spanking is the ultimate hanky panky as Madonna once observed, and it makes sense. Done right it is a complex form of love play while filling many other aspects of one’s life where appropriate. What more can love do?

There are three types of stories in this anthology all of them oriented to a very broad stripe of spanking tastes. The first is the dungeon spanking. Characters inhabit these stories in exotic outfits made of leather or rubber that would make most of us look like hopeless mistakes from central casting. You have to hit the gym twice daily to strut well in skin-tight. “Outing Isolde” by Anne Blakely is one of these. The spankings are delivered with high ceremony during which doms say things like, “Prepare yourself.” They are described while cropping a girl’s bottom as, “pushing her as he punished her, letting her show off the strength that she had within.”

Despite the dangling preposition, there is a place for these stories as the dream vision of those who attend BDSM clubs, or wish they did. All this Star Trek sort of gear and talk makes up for the desultory reality of such establishments. I find them so scripted that I am inclined to mutter to myself, “I can’t hold her, Captain, she’s going to blow!” with a Scots burr as I read them, even though I am not quite sure what I mean when I say it.

In the second type of story, shiny and polished characters looking (and sounding) like models glitter and squeal as the palm, brush, and cane lands. These are the perfect people of an earlier era of porn/erotica. They talk like some bizarre combination of Mary Worth and Danielle Steele. The plots are thin by design. The clothes always fit and cover super sexy underwear. We all wear that to the office every day, right? No grey jockeys here, or safety pinned panties marked “Thursday.”

The circumstances are improbable. How often do you think a Human Resources manager summons her male assistant to her office because she is desperately – if reluctantly -- in need of a very hard spanking? Kristina Wright’s story regards this scenario as one of the “Perks of the Job.” It’s a lovely thought. Who has not thought of spanking their pretty, overbearing, cranky little boss? Or better still, being spanked by her? How would she broach the subject of giving you, her strapping assistant, a dose of the strap? Out of sheer bossiness, one would hope.

The third variety of story is one that fixates on spanking as experience. One might call it la obsession rouge, for the redder the bottoms get, the more deeply the passion runs to further redden them to a deep aubergine. The strongest of these stories, not surprisingly, is Ms. Kramer Bussel’s own, “Queuing Up.” It is no surprise that it is a femme spanko’s heated confession of how she will gladly wait in line for ever more vigorous spanking accompanied by every sort of lubricious delight to heighten the experience of having her bottom blistered time and again. As the narrator says at the zenith of her ecstasy, “Our asses could take on the world,” which given the vigor and intensity of the story seems a reasonable assertion, if a rather disconcerting image.

This sort of story done well is like the litany of sexual delights that Wilde’s Salome offers Herod in payment for the head of John the Baptist. Another excellent example is Ashley Lister’s “Chippendale Library Chair” wherein an otherwise subdued couple test the merits of a particularly sturdy antique chair as spanking furniture. They do so in the recesses of an antique shop, which activity proves no end of delight to the proprietor who joins in on the spanking fun. Mr. Lister’s story is far more serene than “Queuing Up,” but that does not mean that the behind being so soundly spanked is not equally sore, or the pleasure any less intense.

Given that there are 30 stories in this volume, there is most certainly something for every spankophilic taste, need, desire, lust, and peculiar enthusiasm. They are not all of equal merit and so in the weaker cases, stories that focus on spanking as an activity can turn into a redundant list of whackings. Character and plot are never much of an issue here, but the book is clearly about naughty spankings so it endeavors to ‘get to the good part’ straight away. In fact the selection seems to eschew anything that might provide deeper context or character perhaps by design.

I think the key to this book lies in Ms. Kramer Bussel’s introduction to this volume, which speaks to her admirable dedication to spanking in her own life. She says, “In fact, right now as I write this, my ass bears bruises from my most recent spanking session, and I feel that special soreness every time I sit down. Editing this volume has only increased my interest in this topic.” One can only admire such a frank expression of appetite that is clearly reflected in her editing and writing. It is hard not to be drawn into such genuine enthusiasm. It is provocative, evocative and stimulating without apology.





Night's Kiss: Lesbian EroticaNight's Kiss: Lesbian Erotica
By: Catherine Lundoff
Lethe Press
ISBN: 1590210344
February 2009





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Much has been made of the fact that hetero males are captivated by lesbian images and behavior. You bet.  I would add that I am particularly captivated when it comes to a collection of stories like Night’s Kiss by Catherine Lundoff.  No one could fail to be charmed by at least half of these stories, which are rich with authentic flirtatiousness.  In other cases, you may find yourself not only fascinated as well as disgusted – in the most pleasurably disgusting sorts of ways – by some of the gamier ones. 

On the other hand, when her characters want to be charming they are positively and genuinely cute.  As any girl will tell you, genuine cute is not easy to do, nor does it undermine strength of character. The total package in this little book is a series of often strange and unusual settings replete with the most convincing and appetizing sex.

In fact it would be reasonable to assume that there won’t be a dry pair of panties, drawers, or thongs on anyone in the house where this book is read, regardless of the gender of the readers.  There is truly someone or someTHING for everyone -- in this regrettably slim volume -- from hot vamps to vampires and even an entity that may have beamed down from hitherto undiscovered parts of the solar system.  There is even a zaftig pirate-lady complete with bad breath, who engages in pratfalls while subduing her wayward lover.  Well, don’t all pirates have bad breath?

Ms. Lundoff has two important gifts that make her work exceptional. The first is that she builds a real sense of environmental atmosphere whether she writes about the streets of Florence, the weather in Paris, the surreal tackiness of Vegas, or some sewage-strewn alley in 19th century London.  The smells, tastes, and sights of the world shape her characters’ responses to their environment so that we experience them too.  That draws us into the romantic/erotic/sexual event whether it proves to be arousing, appalling or, as is often the case here, both. 

When she tackles Jack the Ripper in “An Incident in Whitechapel” the dripping foulness of London at the time is captured wonderfully as a source and a surrounding to the bloody doings.  In such a context, the lesbian flogging that takes place seems to fit right in to the slimy slum-hideousness of the whole.  It’s very sexy if you like that sort of thing. 

And the thing you like most about Ms. Lundoff’s work is that it is not half-hearted sex.  It is not manipulative sex.  It is not politically correct sex.  The description is neither gauzy not mechanistic, but organic to the fictive world she creates.  Perhaps the best (?) of these is a little number she calls “Phone, Sex, Chocolate” in which the narrator is obsessed with inserting bits of chocolate in her orifices (all of them, mind you) as she engages in the grossest sort of fantasy phone sex with her reluctant lady lover.  Even at it’s most off putting, the result is a highly authentic release.  Unconscious obsession becomes the hot, fluid stink of sex.  Getting off for the narrator is like a suppurating wound expelling pus.

Secondly, Ms. Lundoff has a real sensibility to the sensual landscape of the female body and the way in which it arouses both sexes, which I think it does.  The female body is the object of desire, just as it is the focus of the erotic gaze and in story after story here we are invited to travel over that smooth, tactile terrain in the most exacting detail through the hungry eyes of the narrators.  Generally they are the pursuer rather than the pursued, the punisher rather than the punished, but not always.  In any case they are alive to the sensuality of the female aura even if it comes to them in the last moment of their lives.

I don’t see how anyone could fail to have a good time with Night’s Kiss, though it could do with a few more spankings.  Yes, a few more sound spankings would be nice…and described at greater length.  Mmmmmm….  Thumbs up and as far as they can go, too.



ObsessionObsession
By: Jean Roberta
Eternal Press
ISBN: 0
March, 2008





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Obsession is the topic and the title of Jean Roberta’s new collection of short stories.  She has got the title right, but the book does not deal with sexual obsession as I suppose most of us think of it.  It is not a book about sexual fixation.  It is  about obsession as a state of being of which sex is a key part.  Her principal characters fasten onto others in sexually obsessive ways but they want more from them than an orgasm.  It is not at all certain they will get whatever it is, nor should one be too confident that fulfilling their desires is the best fate for them.  In that sense, they are much like many of Shakespeare’s characters who yearn for some possession, conquest, or revenge in the name of completing themselves.  That is often as much a flaw as it is an objective.

The best example of sexual obsession in Shakespeare is Lord Angelo in Measure for Measure.   He has an uncontrollable desire to sexually possess Isabella, a votary in the strict order of St. Claire.  It is precisely unyielding chastity which draws him on to her. He is completely aware of that, but he cannot help himself.  Like many of Ms. Roberta’s characters, Angelo’s mania is driven by the fact that what he desires is what he would otherwise never allow himself.   What is more, he would never have been possessed by that need if fate had not thrust the object of his desire in front of him.

In Jean Roberta’s world, obsession is most often the result of existential disconnection, a sense of drift that the characters feel more than they see and sense more than they articulate.  It is the low level uncertainty that I believe all modern people feel as we are barraged by irrational bits of information and formless disorder.  Sex does not fulfill her characters as it gives them a way to define themselves, regardless of whether they like the picture that forms or not.

Her characters’ problems cross all the lines of age, gender, and sexual proclivity.  We may all be very different people in her mind, but we all come to the same dumb obstructions and forced turns in life. Her stories include gay and lesbian couples as well as straight sex.  There is a fair amount of D/s and BDSM that is ranges from the overt to the symbolic. The greatest strength of these stories is the authenticity of the sexual play. 

It is not that Roberta’s writing is unusually graphic or clinical.  They are not, even though the sex is often earthy, often mildly comic, and hotly detailed.  Her sense of the erotic is highly sensual and she has a remarkable sensitivity to the emotional impact of scent, taste and touch.  You feel the presence of a lover’s body in these stories as a source of power, attachment, arousal and comfort.  She uses sex as a deeply human form of faltering connection in an unreliable and harsh world.

The better stories in Obsession penetrate the superficially banal lives of middle-class Canadians. The stories range from incidents of the moment to broad political themes, but the resolution is never more than partial by design.  Roberta is not trying to dig out the nasty – and tedious -- secrets of the bourgeois. She seems to me rather more interested in the ways in which the condition of being – and sexual being – evokes the conflicts that we can never fully understand or escape inside ourselves.  That extends from erotic punishment in the form of racy spankings to the results of procreation, having children. 

What do these things mean?  They surely mean something, but what?  We will never fully know.  In that sense, sex in these stories defines itself as the medium of passion and affection.  Why do we love and make love as we do?  It is because that is who we are.  I believe this passage from “Taste” reflects that very well :

“I wished I could tell Simone about my latest dreams and hear about hers, but that kind of exchange hadn’t happened between us for years, and now it just didn’t seem possible.  Despite her attitude, her values, her portfolio and her apartment, she still seemed like a child in many ways.  How much could she know about the kind of need that is too strong for politeness, discretion, or remorse?  Ironically, she was the result of that kind of need, as perhaps all children are.  Nonetheless, they rarely seem to understand it in themselves, let alone in us.”

Overtly this story is about the abrasion created by the difference of a mother and daughter’s sense of taste in such banalities as clothing.  Unlike other authors, Roberta does not use the quotidian as a clue to the deeper self.  Here the mother deeply understands that their differences of taste deeply express the difference of their sense of the sensual and thus their view of the world. It is very moving to read because these are two intelligent likeable women speaking across an uncrossable gulf.

Ms. Roberta’s style varies in quality.  In a few cases, her writing becomes stiff if not rather starchy, as though she were over-explaining some nuance of literary irony to a class of dunderheaded undergraduates.   As one can see though, the passage quoted above has a wonderful sense of flow and insight.  It is nearly poetic.  She sometimes has a hard time with dialogue.  The nature of dialogue is that people do not say things when they talk.  They talk to discover what they are saying.

“The Hungry Earth” is a about the Serlingesque misadventures of a gay couple in a cornfield.  As any casual fan of sci-fi will tell you, grain is menacing stuff especially when it is still on the stalk.    In this case, the narrator feels compelled to tell us that having abandoned the “liquid flesh” of his former wife, he sought, “to discover the good solid earth of another man.”  If the image were not painful enough, what he ends up with seems to be a twink who sweetly inquires, “I want to go to the farm today.  Will you take me in a wheat field?”  Apparently the old rake will because he replies, “My dirty boy.  You sure you don’t want a date with a sheep?” Heady stuff, eh?

“The Hungry Earth,” however is the exception in this collection. I can only imagine that this story is as it is because it is so far from direct experience.  She clearly does best with narrative environments that are based in the concrete and recognizable.  It is in such places that her characters seem able to discover and expand their awareness, which is the reason Roberta sets them before us in the first place.

Just as Measure for Measure ends in shady resolution, many of Roberta’s stories end in uncertainty. In some ways the stories remind one of “The Graduate” wherein there is a happy ending of sorts, but it is hard to say just what it is and what will become of the characters. The people of Roberta’s world may well be perfectly comfortable with their fate; but the reader is hardly reassured, and we are not meant to be. What we do know is that the world of the characters has been shaken and disturbed by deep, obsessive tremors of eroticism.

*Jean Roberta is a regular critic for Erotica Revealed.





On the BareOn the Bare
By: Fiona Locke
Virgin Nexus
ISBN: 0352345152
April 2009 (UK) June 2009 (US)





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

On the Bare, is a collection of M/f spanking stories by expert metaphorical fustigator, Fiona Locke.  It re-energizes that old-fashioned spirit of bare bottom domestic justice for wayward young ladies while also leaving them sighing with very soggy knickers.  I must confess to strong sympathies for those better days when gentlemen took it as their duty  -- as well as their pleasure -- to spank their female enamorata. 

In point of fact, I am equally sure that just as many, or more, male behinds were discretely disciplined with relish by stern ladies.  No one gets spanked enough these days if you ask me, and I cannot imagine anyone who would not benefit by a visit to Ms. Locke’s spanking world.

Ms Locke’s spankers in On the Bare apply palms, canes, paddles and other implements to the smooth, round, firm, warm (though soon to be warmer) luscious rears of girls, Ms Locke being something of a cheek connoisseur.  It’s not so much her description of the targets for punishment, as the way their owners feel about having them bared and spanked.  In “Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter” a girl is caned while wearing a pair of boy’s trousers that she donned as a disguise.  Clearly the pants give her as much of a charge under her dashing lieutenant’s discipline as the caning itself.

 As Locke’s story “The Woodshed” illustrates, she even has a deadpan sense of humor about spanking equipment. Her bratty heroine finds herself on a shopping expedition to a garden center.  Her master needs her to test just the right sort of birch trees to put in at his estate. Locke has created a lush treasury of disciplinary dalliance.  It is a world in which the old balance between male and female seems decisively one-sided.  As a feminist, however, I can say there is nothing here to protest.

First, the spankings may not always “look” consensual at first blush, but in all cases the lady has engineered her situation to wind up studying the carpet next to her lover’s knee. In “Damsel in Distress” the central character devotes endless amounts of time and energy getting the spanking she very much deserves even if the punishment is a bit more than she expected.  Well, a spanking should be, shouldn’t it? Likewise, when a character in the story “The Good Old Days” must be caned on national television for her role in a historical series, she is delighted to take her stripes as they mark the rise in her acting career.  After all Britons are itching to bring back the cane and birch, aren’t they?

More to the point, what is really outstanding about “On the Bare” is that every single spanking is unique. Each story has its own sensibility from the grim futurist story “The Improvement Session” to “Just Another Story” about an authoress of kink who finally admits she wants to be spanked as “research.”  Some of the spankees feel guilty while others are just plain horny for some slap and tickle.  For some it’s a rite of passage whereas others get the ordeal they expect plus something more.  That something is a new erotic choice, getting spanked.  Ms. Locke seems to say, “Try it…what could it hurt?”  What indeed?

Her wonderfully detailed descriptions suggest that Ms. Locke is clearly a devoted recipient of the lingering burn and deep throb from the spank and cane. I presume so because she so ably describes the throb of a large red handprint on a girlish bottom cheek.  What is more, she has a real sense of humor about all this recreational/correctional/educational/sensual spanking that is genuinely funny while at no time reducing the sharp sting of each truly hard, well-deserved smack.

Ms. Locke writes in a clear, agile, effortless English that is a joy to read.  Like most authors of BDSM erotica, her dialogue is a tiny bit stiff. Then again perhaps she is appealing to a broader readership given that the vanilla world seems to think spanking enthusiasts actually talk in this sort of schoolmarmese between bottom blisterings. I am very sure Ms Locke knows better from direct experience.

The publisher, Nexus, has given us many breathtaking views of the female nether regions both inside and outside their book covers.  Few can compare though with the round, firm, muscular and yet plump bottom that appears on the front of On the Bare.  It is one of those truly fine selections that is the mark of a genuinely thoughtful and stimulating libidinous publication. 



Oysters & Chocolate: Erotic Stories of Every FlavorOysters & Chocolate: Erotic Stories of Every Flavor
Edited By: Jordan La Rousse
Contributions By: Samantha Sade
NAL Trade
ISBN: 0451226828
May 2009





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Reading Oysters and Chocolate edited by Jordan LaRousse and Samantha Sade makes me think of Paris.  The French have a peculiarly vivid understanding of how, why and when you should put things in your mouth.  These stories are bonbons, those being the plump round candies that are filled with assorted lush, sweet, mysterious flavors.  They are designed to surprise and intoxicate one a little. 

The bonbon – like each of these stories -- is made with French chocolate, which, unlike any other country’s chocolate, has a deeply complex, unique flavor invoking a wide range of tastes and senses.  It is not simply sweet, but arrogant in its defiance of the usual Nestle’s.  It is unapologetically a little bitter and can even bring a sensual sort of remorse for too much pleasure, while remaining inescapably delectable. Such is the nature of this book.  If you are not an epicure of sex, you might feel a little guilty for reading it.  If your erotic palate is cultivated, why then chow down, I say, with vigor.

Each story stands like a solitary oyster; it’s promise is discovered by the unraveling of its deep, moist, slippery folds.  They may have a familiar literary structure, but the saucy treatment is always unique.  The oyster at its best has the tangy bite of the sea and glides carelessly – if not recklessly – over the tongue on its way down the throat. Anyone cultivated in the eating of oysters will tell you that this unpredictable, slightly wild, eagerness adds greatly to the allure of consuming them.  These stories often finish with a fillip of unexpected spice.

The book is organized in a series of alternating narrative themes so that each presents itself to the reader as an unpredictable, but tasty erotic amuse-gueule of its own particular sort – gay, SM, lesbian even straight, what have you.  They all contain a highly charged level of genuinely artful sexiness which is made all the more appetizing by the presence of some small, subtle but powerful degree of irony.  The editors have made reading this book a delicious act of play very much like the experience of slow and patient dining with a lover.  Each heated thrust, spank, kiss and slurp is moistened by dewy grace notes of authentic wit.  Thus we may say of Oysters and Chocolate that we have here an offering for the erotic pallet that is truly for once, original.

One might venture to guess that part of that is the fact that the table of contents is populated by so many new voices in our sub-genre. Better still, we have what appears to be a new imprint on the scene in “Heat” from Penquin Books.  Those little well-dressed birds know what they are doing.





Playing With Fire: Taboo EroticaPlaying With Fire: Taboo Erotica
Edited By: Alison Tyler
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443484
April 2009





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Sexual heat can run from a small, warm flame of comfortable arousal to a raging form of pyromania.  The point is not so much that one is crazy for love or even for the sex that may go with it.  It’s the heat itself that drives you nuts, the mad lust for warmth that centers your mind and body on immolation by sensual sensation.

Playing with Fire anthologized by Allison Tyler offers a brisk array of relatively short, hot stories on that theme.  They are not so much about the lust for fire itself, as they are narratives about the heat lust creates.  That theme is frequently interposed with the temptations of sinful sex, which includes the perverse, the self-denigrating, the adulterous, and the masochistic.  As every good Christian knows, fire is a moral purgative, or so they believe.  It cleanses the soul while excoriating the body by punishing wayward flesh.

Ergo, we get this sort of statement fairly often from characters who wish to expunge one act of sensual misbehavior through another.  Here is an example from “Trial by Fire” by Bella Dean:

I wait for Sean to order me and I do what he asks.  His tongue is foreign. Broader than my husband’s.  Wet and sweet and forbidden.  I am entering the territory of whore, leaving saint behind.  I broaden my stance and let him suck my clit until I grab his shoulders to keep from falling.  I come in a rush of shame and redemption.

Her husband it seems, who is now looking on, is both elated and exhausted judging from his audible exhalations.  It is hot stuff to be sure, but what it really has to do with purgations, whores and saints is decidedly unclear.  As in many of these stories, the characters are really playing fire games with each other because it gets them off.  They like the illusion of punishment along with the bounce of coming extra hard.

These stories work that notion very well, and I can’t see anyone but an authentic sourpuss niggling over the moral dichotomy between what the characters are telling themselves and what they are actually doing.  It would be like telling a geek in a funny suit at a Trekkie convention that he is not really going to, “boldly go where no man has gone before.”  He knows that.  He is getting off on the hype.

Some of these stories artfully allow the characters themselves to become wisps of erotic fire as in “White Heat, White Light” by Shanna Germain.  Her character describes herself thus:

I travel with the speed of light on winged sandals until I am there. In from of him, fierce and free in my summer dress.  In the wind, my hair whips around my head.  It makes untamable snakes with pretty patterns.

She is an ephemeral thing of passion that will quickly disappear as the fire in her abates. 

In matters of style this book ranges from the lustful to the lurid.  I am at a loss to know how you can be “fierce” in your summer dress, but “fierce” is a word that seems to have been co-opted of late by PC cant.  Kristina Wright in “Where There’s Smoke,” on the other hand, makes wonderful ironic use of erotic confession, where the outcome is a tasty reversal of the tiresome reconciliation we had at first anticipated.  The give away is that this possessive but less than thrilling male comes home early from the golf course.  How can men pursue this dreary polyester amusement when this amazing female furnace of delights is spread wide for him at home on the Barcalounger?  Short forms are used well here, the best of which is “Texas Hot” by A.D.R. Forte whose hot and humid effort is really one paragraph.

The balance of the stories are clit-stroking, cum-choking, hot and smoking fucking with an inordinate amount of cock sucking. One does wonder with all the complaining one hears these days about the politics of sucking cock and particularly swallowing cum, that it is so prominent and detailed a feature of these stories.  Nonetheless, all that suction does make for lively reading even if the outcome is always the same. That’s all perfectly fine, making Playing with Fire both steamy and fiery, as promised.



Rough CaressRough Caress
By: Lisabet Sarai
Eternal Press
ISBN:
April 2008





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Rough Caress by Lisabet Sarai is an entertaining e-collection of her BDSM stories that shift the dominant role from gender to gender as well as between the same ones.  Thus there is a whacking good time for all. What makes the book particularly entertaining is that the stories are not simply S/M.  They are based in the way that I think people fantasize about the excruciating sexual adventures they would like to have.  The net result is that a lot of these characters, such as the protagonist in “Poker Night,” take a great deal of bottom blistering punishment that a beer quickly repairs.  Better still, the abuse always leads to what would be a skull splitting orgasm, and yet no one ever seems to want an Excedrin afterwards. 

I can’t fault Ms. Sarai for taking this surreal route with her stories as they become a refreshing relief from the usual tormented souls in S/M erotica who seem so overwrought by the fact that they have any sexual urges at all.  Worse still, are the truly mindless examples of erotic fiction in which sex is on the characters’ brains 24/7 to the exclusion of all else.  Someone has to take out the garbage after all, and let in the guy who reads the meter.  In my experience he or she is not often the sort you want to throttle and carry into your bed once she/he’s collected their data for your gas bill. 

Waking fantasy then deserves its rightful place in the world of erotica and nowhere else is that more justified than in the sexual realm of BDSM.  Such relationships are complicated and they require a lot of forethought as well as insight to turn a session of love-making into more than the esthetic equivalent of beating a rug and then pissing on it. 

Make no mistake, Rough Caress contains more than its share of vigorous, graphic, and lively beating and punitive pissing.  Yet for the most part, it succeeds in rising above the usual trap of being a list of repetitive, icky-sounding activities.

That is a function of two things that Ms. Sarai does very well.  The first is that she is unusually good at entering into the minds of her characters so that their perception of each stroke, lick, finger, and poke is realized in a way that is plausible to the imagination.  You don’t care so much about what is going on as you do about how much the character is enjoying it, even if, at times, they are howling and peeing from the excess of sensation as they do so. 

The second strong weapon in Ms. Sarai’s delivery is her sensibility to local atmosphere.  She is not quite given to Hemingway’s dictum that one should always describe the weather in any fictional account of a place.  However, she understands, as so few do these days, that every city has its own atmosphere, and within it, districts and denizens who respond to the demands of circumstance. 

The best example of this is a brooding murder story called “Bangkok Noir”that carries the reader through the steamy streets of that city’s red light district.  We make the trip through the eyes of a good-hearted, street-wise Lesbian S/M madam whose supply of fetching mistresses is being depleted by a serial killer.  A stickler for authenticity and quality, the madam recruits only the best and the killer is hacking into her profits not to mention her lovelife. 

All of that is balanced off by a stiff-necked Thai policeman who, though eminently corruptible on some levels, resists mightily being sexually bound to the madam’s harsh attentions.  The atmosphere is so rich that it is impossible to put the story down as much for one’s curiosity about the outcome of the plot, as the lyrical turns of sexual play that Ms. Sarai spells out in the text.

If I were going to fault this collection in any way it is that sometimes the writing style is not quite the equal of the task it assays.  “House of Shadows” is the prime example.  A wealthy woman of the Edwardian era yearns to be whipped and otherwise roughly mastered by a domineering male.  The problem is: how does a respectable lady of the upper crust go about getting her jollies without ruining her pristine public façade?  Her perfect husband seems utterly clueless about her desires, and propriety would never tolerate such appetites among the upper echelon in any case.  It might be perfectly fine to spank your wife soundly for some impudence or flaw, but neither one of you had better admit to enjoying it. Thus she finds her way to the underground pleasure dome of the House of Shadows.

Well, okay, that’s fine, but the trouble is that Ms. Sarai cannot manage the languid idiom of Henry James much less the titillating indecorousness of Frank Harris.  Edwardians were masters of subtle indirection, which strove to make the lurid appear commonplace amid the banal.  One thinks of Aubrey Beardsley here, and even more so, his imitators in the home décor field.

Ms. Sarai’s heroine instead affects a stubbornly blind sexual naiveté that becomes plain silly after a while.  This lady knows perfectly well what she wants, and no matter how hopelessly she romanticizes her appetites, they remain brutally clear to her mind and body.  The only person who seems unable to accept that, is she.  The resulting story is a strangely unsatisfying whipping romance.

On the other hand, I defy anyone to fault the style and atmosphere of “Wednesday Night at Rocky’s Ace Hardware Store”in which a rollicking BDSM couple test drive all sorts of handy home gear for all sorts of daily chores in the realm of bondage and discipline.  The Mrs. is bound, bent, bared, and beaten in the aisle next to the ladders with a wide range of gear and gadgets that is helpfully made available because, “Ace is the place for the helpful hardware man.” Indeed he is, and without question, he is a genuine believer in the Do It Yourself disciplined approach to regular home maintenance. 

You may not fantasize at the Home Depot about being spanked by your lover.  But I am willing to bet that, given the level of tedium most ladies experience in waiting for their other half to decide between two identical buckets of plaster, they have a wild assortment of fantasies up and down the aisles from here to plumbing supplies and on to small appliances.

The point is that Ms. Sarai understands the imagination and how it can pick up little things and turn them into day-long adventures of sensational, decadent, throbbing sexual fantasies. That after all, would seem a good explanation of why we need fiction in the first place.



Sex For America: Politically Inspired EroticaSex For America: Politically Inspired Erotica
Edited By: Stephen Elliott
Harper Perennial
ISBN: 0061351210
January, 2008





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Politics and the Body

This critique of Sex for America: Politically Inspired Erotica edited by Stephen Elliott is a long essay because that is the only way to do justice to a book as important as this one. It is a complex collection of short stories published by Harper Perennial. For those made impatient by length, this anthology is a definite thumbs up. For those who want to know why it is, the answer is neither simple nor brief. Let me say that I don’t always agree with the politics articulated in this book, but in the main I find the authors’ vision compelling if not haunting.

These stories are not charged by any standard ideology. The premises that fire these authors reflect the breadth of our time against the backdrop of art and culture. The stories rise from the deep passion, irony and thought that under-girds good polity. All the writers show genuine intellectual depth. It is revealed through deeply felt, organic insight rather than rhetoric or slogans. Their work resonates with myriad aspects of popular culture from music, comics, tattoo parlors, science fiction, romance novels, pornography, the ‘new’ journalism, and the sleazy Times Square sex shops with their sticky floors before they were made into shilling stations for hard core Disney. We are reminded that real democracy is messy.

At the same time these stories employ imagery evocative of artists such as Lichtenstein and Rauschenberg, or writers like Joe Orton, Kafka, Dick Farina, Margaret Atwood, and Dostoyevsky. Some of these stories sing with the enigmatic pull of Bessie Smith, Tom Waits, or Bob Dylan. They reach that far into the psyche because they explicate sexual behavior as a direct parallel to the way we treat each other as social beings. That juxtaposition is the natural fulcrum of politics. Sex for America is an absolutely unique work of political art, and demonstrates what is so sadly lacking in much of what passes for art now.

As such these stories may represent the first important American fiction of the 21st Century because they are written with the terrible clarity of writers who will allow themselves nothing less than to look at our wounded nation each day with new and open eyes. What they see is mostly a future landscape of betrayal, crime, and depravity brought about by the dominant political philosophy of the last thirty years. Yet they attack their work as writers with deliberately abrasive and deft humor, gritty acceptance, cynical hope, and a sardonic willingness to face the real perversity of modern America: tyranny.

No author here holds themselves as the righteous superior of the America around them. These are not Birkenstock liberals. That is the special power of these stories for they do not excoriate those in power without freely admitting that their characters put these leaders in charge and abetted them by their own indifference and timidity. In that sense, this is a very unforgiving book, and from my point of view, it’s about time. Unlike almost all other American erotica, it is not a retreat from reality but a brutal and imaginative advance into it. It is as hard and relentless as the people who made America what it has become.

All twenty-five stories have strength and strong merit. The quality of the writing varies but the presence of insight does not. Some of the writers are far better masters of style, but none is less than gifted. In some cases you can see that their talent has not yet fully caught up with their complex vision, or that their ideas have not gelled to full resolution. We have a right to expect such clarity from short forms, even if the story must resolve into ambiguity. On the other hand, these writers are tackling a complex task.

Complexity is the touchstone of this collection. The first story by Jerry Stahl, “Li’l Dickens,” is a grimly hilarious confession of a man who is hopelessly drawn to have anal sex with Dick Cheney in the backroom of a rural gun shop. In nauseating detail the narrator describes his arousal over the various aged, sagging parts and dysfunctional peculiarities of the Vice President’s body and mind. He is hypnotized by Cheney’s delusional will to power compared with the unprepossessing facts of who and what the Vice President really is. Cheney here is a Nietzschean monster – a clown version of Reinhard Heydrich -- obsessed with his own mythic destiny and his psychosexual right to control the fate of others. By the end of the story, the narrator is as awed by Cheney’s ‘testosteronic’ magnetism as he is revolted at having ever touched the Vice President with his fingers, much less his cock.

These stories are filled with necessary blood sacrifice, some sexual and some apocalyptic. In the recent film “Pan’s Labyrinth” we saw that once Fascism had taken root in the body politic of Spain, there would be no escape from the suffering of scouring out the disease. Like “Pan’s Labyrinth,” Sex for America shows that aim is not simply achieved. Mr. Elliott’s anthology delicately reminds us to be careful so that in killing a political monster we do not become him. Justice and honor cannot be conveniently set aside in the name of justice and honor. The Second World War led a generation to that elegant and terrible truth. Though we apparently learned nothing from Viet Nam, we may be getting the idea at last in Iraq.

In this book, the two wars in Iraq make clear that innocence, faith, hope, integrity, youth, courage, and honor cannot simply wash away the corrupting power of imperialism. Anthony Swofford’s, “Escape and Evasion” presents us with a gay Marine who is inexplicably compelled to rape other men because he has the skill, the training and the physical power to do so. He is charming, straightforward and even likeable as he recites his crimes with a fatalistic sense of inevitability. He does what he does because he can.

He in no way claims he is a victim, nor does he give the impression that he ever possessed the power to divert his own sexual violence. What he lacks is any awareness of the proportions of his crimes. He does not understand his moral violation of another’s individuality. He has turned his comrades in arms into his toys and targets.

Would he be this person had he not joined the Marines? Who knows? But the nature of war and soldiering certainly enabled him to become what he is. What is the basic political lie here? What we want of soldiers in war is not restored order. That is most particularly the case in wars of conquest. We want enough directed, ferocious anarchy to win. Justice is irrelevant. Those at home -- especially those in power -- deny this by sentimentalizing war. Those doing the fighting know otherwise, or they are the first to die. Victory washes away the victors’ sins.

All of these stories anatomize the growing American tendency toward fascism. Fascism rests on sentimental nationalism bolstered by unreason. That usually takes the form of Dr. Goebbels’s Big Lie, or one of such magnitude and arrogance that it is the hardest to refute. Witness for example, “Mission accomplished.” Fascism favors a glorious, mythic past that must be restored. It calls for heroic sacrifice so that we will ignore the unsatisfactory present. Fascism rides on dark mysteries and rituals that only the select are permitted to understand. Secrecy becomes the heart of national security. The aim of the individual is to be accepted by the few in power. The price of acceptance is intellectual submission, so the system builds on itself.

In Jami Attenberg’s “Victory Garden” we meet a teenage couple who are driven by a post apocalyptic system of bizarre totalitarian legal codes for social and sexual conduct. The background of the story is one of ruin and decay in which the fondest memory of the young, no matter how dimly understood or even remembered, is the gas driven automobile. It is the sacred totem symbolizing life. Like the boys worshipping the rotting pig skull in Lord of the Flies, it is utterly feckless, nihilistic misdirection.

Fascism is either evil because it is mindless, or mindless because it is evil. Either way it makes no difference on the ground. One thing this book makes clear is that fascism does not have to wear its name and bear its runes and sigils to be what it is. It can in fact be quite homespun and banal if not good fodder for comedy a la “Spring Time for Hitler.” Drums and martial threats may enhance Fascism, but it works by embracing unreason as an excuse to control even the most intimate regions of the body. As Beria and Karl Rove always knew, authority gains far more power from under your bed than from the bully pulpit.

Mr. Elliott’s anthology of short stories is a landmark of erotic art. It reveals the organic nature of our government’s erosion of our freedom and our constitution. The free market has replaced the social contract. Competition is virtue while cooperation is suspect. Iconic ideologies (religion, advertising, creationism, globalization, capitalism etc.) are held up as systems of moral ‘truth’ in order to obscure the meaning of truth itself.

The most damaging part of that cycle is self-delusion. “Measure A or B, or Me?” by Alison Tyler is told from the perspective of a politically indifferent wife who wants her local-issues obsessed husband to fuck her. They make a wager -- which she loses (or wins) and he hammers her with iron enthusiasm up the ass. It is a little more than she bargained for but a very lively fuck, and so they make another round of bets to keep on fucking. It is a disarming, playful piece.

However, Mr. Elliott follows it immediately with “The Candidate’s Wife” by James Frey in which a young liberal Capitol Hill staffer cannot resist fucking the wife of a right wing Republican in the reeking men’s room of the staffer’s local tavern. Even when it is clear that they are both in bed with their own personal devils, she will not break it off. She returns to the bar for more screwing to the tune of the urinals. Yet it is she, no matter how driven, who clearly has the upper hand. With each fuck she compromises him by the force of her awareness. Coercion is an easy by-product of her satisfaction. It is a useful bonus. He is rendered a moral cipher, a thing of pure appetite, a consumer.

The two stories together illustrate that innocence is no defense in politics precisely because it is self-delusion. What you don’t know can hurt you, and so not knowing is no excuse. Thus we are all responsible for the way things are. No matter how passive we may be; no matter how naïvely hedonistic, we are all guilty when we allow tyranny to overtake reason and obedience to transcend debate. Eventually, it is the nature of Fascism to demand control of our bodies, our passions, our thoughts and perhaps worst of all our dreams.

These stories make various responses to that demand. Rick Moody’s “Notes on Redevelopment” posits an America that is divided by secessionists between those who want the narrow sexual confines of Christian fundamentalism versus those who seem to be driven to organized debauchery. Both are examples of the price of extremity, which twists the natural impulses of our sexuality into ideological tics and quirks.

Michelle Raymond’s “Milk” presents us with a woman who suckles enemy guerillas in a sweating jungle hut. She is a covert operative of the American government. She is feeding them poison milk from her own breasts, an act that gives her deep sexual satisfaction. In doing so she is also poisoning both them and herself. Her body has become a perverse sexual instrument of foreign policy.

She feels herself ennobled as a vessel of disease. Like Salome in Oskar Panizza’s play “The Council of Love,” her deep erotic appeal has been turned into a source of infection. Her seductive power is based on an emblematic maternalism. Ms. Raymond has created an excruciating take on “Mother, Home, and Apple Pie.” It is a relief that she blows aside some of the fog of sentimental nonsense, because it clears the way to see our lives anew.

In politics as in love and art, we are not the sum of what we have been, or even what we are. We are only and entirely what we can become. Thus we are limited essentially by what we can imagine. Those who glorify war and conquest become masters of empire. Thus those who would fulfill a fictive national destiny find the rule of law an intolerable encumbrance. They plead that only disloyal malcontents object, when the fulfillment of that destiny reaches beyond civilized or humane behavior.

Once tyranny takes control, the easiest course for most of us has been to turn away from the social contract, and -- emulating our masters -- become creatures of dumb appetite. Tyranny uses fear and isolation to produce cringing obedience and a smothering silence. One good way to do that is to harass the free expression of sexuality as the Bush Administration has religiously done. At the same time, they issue tacit permission to those who cooperate to indulge themselves as they like. Those are the methods of gangsters, pimps and insider traders. The individual simply disappears into the system.

Nowhere have I seen that better illustrated than in Nick Flynn’s “A Crystal Formed Entirely of Holes.” The premise of the story is that in some future dystopia, a cure is found for all the ills of the body from cancer to the bits of yourself you just don’t like. They can be literally erased by a crystal composed entirely of holes. The presence of this absence moves from a medical treatment to a mass fetish until the ultimate sexual charge is to be pierced through in so many ways that daylight shines through you. Your allure is the degree to which you are not there. You are no longer a body with various enticing and useful, sensual, fuckable holes. You are at last a hole surrounded by the remnants of your being.

No doubt Mr. Flynn is playing with the current fashion for piercing and hacking at ourselves to create erotic mutilation, Flynn’s story goes well beyond that. His characters engage in erotic worship of their lover’s disappearance, as well as their own. The less they exist, the more they love themselves. Visible corporeal beings have gone out of fashion. What more could a dictator want than a nation of the disappeared? They are still able to work and to breed, but essentially they are phantoms suited only to serve his/her narcissistic fantasies. What the tyrant really loves most is himself and by extension, the absolute imposition of his world view.

In “A Crystal Made Entirely of Holes,” penetration – not orgasm or procreation – becomes the ultimate sexual experience. Thus the most basic thrust is a celebration of annihilation. It is ritualized into inflicting a ceremonial wound, and it can be repeated again and again and again in the presence of your lover’s yielding absence.

In another age, these themes would have been better treated in a novel, but Sex for America makes use of the short story as the medium of delivery for our time. Erotica lends itself to short forms by its intense nature. Beyond that, however, this is a book of coherent but extremely jarring fragments. It presents American society as a horrific downward journey that began with Richard Nixon’s election. An obscene circus emerges populated by lies and distortions, blunders and crimes, until we have become the freak circus clowns dancing around the center ring at the end of Federico Fellinni’s “8 1/2.” A constant diet of unreason and artificial sentiment lead to total disconnection from reality.

It is at that point that we are tempted to say, “Ah, fuck it.” Why not just relax, service your own flesh, and get out of it what you can? Is it even possible to be worse than George W. Bush? Less articulate? More desensitized? Yes, of course it is, but it is hard to imagine. Like the authors of this book, it takes active thought and a fair amount of energy.

They show us that no matter how much you get used to the threats, bullying, terrorism, and constrictions of tyrants, their grip can always get tighter. Unopposed, those in power wrap their hands around the core of our being and slip their fingers into the secret places that make us who and what we are. They penetrate and violate what makes us human. We realize that we are disappearing as surely as our appetites and dreams have been coerced and perverted. We can, however, change the world. You can start by reading Sex for America.





Sex in the City: ParisSex in the City: Paris
Edited By: Maxim Jakubowski
Accent Press
ISBN: 1907016252
May 2010





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

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.





Sex, Blood And Rock 'n' Roll Sex, Blood And Rock 'n' Roll
By: Kimberly Warner-Cohen
Ig Publishing
ISBN: 0977197212
June, 2006





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

A Sexual Portrait Of Exquisite Loathing

Sex, Blood and Rock and Roll by Kimberly Warner-Cohen is an erotic novel of genuine metaphoric depth and consequence. Its sleazy parodistic title reveals how the book takes hold of a moment in time -- The East Village in the 90s -- to tweak its icons and symbols. The results lay open a hidden, infectious core. It is a novel about eroticism, and the author is in no way detached from that even if the central character sometimes appears to be. Sex is artfully applied like fetid icing so that it drools, drips, bleeds, exudes, extrudes, sweats, reeks, and soaks the indelicate fabric of this work. That is so much the case that -- what at first seems to be ironic and perhaps slightly comic – grimly transmutes into the humdrum daily toil of accelerating, sadistic serial murders.

Warner-Cohen, who is herself a professional dominatrix in NYC, does not so much embrace the ambiguity of sex; she enters into it. We constantly feel her vibrant, erotic presence in the attitudes, reactions and thoughts of the protagonist, Carrie Chambers. That is not to say this book is in any way a tell-all neurasthenic confessional. At times it verges on satire in the sense that Warner-Cohen assumes a moral high ground in regard to her characters and a clear intellectual superiority to Cassie. That is not to say these murders are not serious erotic business. They are snuff films without the camera.

Nor are these murders the operatic doings of Sweeney Todd. They are hardcore slaughter set in the Meat Packing District of Manhattan’s West Village. What Warner-Cohen does so very well is to emotionally engage with the S&M moments of her novel so that they are incredibly vivid and sexually immediate even as Carrie’s blade penetrates the anus of a lovely young man. Other aspects of this first novel are not equally strong, but it holds up extremely well in style, narrative interest, thematic depth and a high degree of poetic insight.

Sex, Blood and Rock and Roll presents us with Cassie Chambers, a brutal, sexually riven protagonist. Though intellectually lazy, she is both calculating and deliberate in living her life and especially in dispatching her victims. She is the perfect, sexy, carefully scruffy beauty to work the fashionably skuzzy East Village of the early 90s. It is a place of sham that already sported decadence by the metered hour and a dull bourgeois future. Cassie is youth from the sticks in search of opportunity in the Big City. She is not doing this along the lines of Horatio Alger, or perhaps in the modern truth of capitalism, she is.

Cassie adorns this shabby world with her own pretty-girl mask of decadence. She is a clothes horse of the bizarre and a rock club addict. She has carefully cultivated her persona as a weapon and a defense. Her laborious childhood reads like a third-rate therapist’s file filled with vacant sex, grubby drugs, even a dollop of veiled child abuse, and the general mind-grinding tedium of suburban America. Yes, yes, we know it’s dull out there, but why not try reading?

More interesting is that her name is short for Cassandra, the captive Trojan concubine/princess of Agamemnon. Cassandra can see into the doomed future, but no one will believe her. Cassie clearly feels a voiceless impotence because the very prettiness that gets her wrapped attention also voids her ability to be heard and taken seriously. If this seems like a PC cliché, it is; but the point is that it’s a cliché in which Cassie believes.

Without revealing too much of the plot, suffice it to say that Warner-Cohen is aware of this Homeric allusion and it fits her Cassie well. When Cassie’s frustration peaks, she takes up a career as a dominatrix in a salon de vice Anglais, which is most notable for its steady drone of advertisement. The hardened proprietress, Evelyn, exhibits an almost Dickensian obsession with punctuality over concerns of style. To her one ass is as good as another. They are all commodities whether being flashed in leather thongs at the customers or being beaten bloody. Business is business and pussies are interchangeable. She perfunctorily gives Cassie the domme stage name, Averna (the Roman Goddess of the Dead).

We soon learn the name fits. Cassie likes her work. Despite the refinements of her own superego, she signs, signifies and semaphores quite ferociously that she is one angry babe. What is more, that reek of feral appetite is the basis of her deeply hypnotic, and literally overpowering attraction to her clients and lovers, both male and female. By the end of the book the Lizard Id has taken over, and she is not so much a bitch on wheels, as a Cunt on a Hummer Half-track. She is a very scary lady in this role, and one wonders if at times Warner-Cohen is flirting with writing a cautionary tale.

She largely succeeds in presenting Cassie as murderous id and absolutely nothing more. She is not crazy. She is not an evil genius. She is mortally angry and has sexual power that she uses to get what she wants which is generalized revenge on humanity. Cassie is like a horse or cow in a pasture who walks around the fence restlessly arriving back where she started which is at herself. She is no thinker, and her mind never reaches far beyond the end of her nose even at that.

If she were a hair dumber and more self-possessed, she would be a comic weakling like many of her client/victims who are literally asking for it. If she were somewhat brighter, she would turn into the ever-adorable Hannibal Lecter with his cultivated palette and creative cookery. As is, she is that kinky, luscious, leggy monster with a cute ass you can see any day of the week on the East Side Manhattan Local No. 6 Train. She is the girl every guy knows he will never get, and what a relief that is.

Cassie despises her clients because they are old in her eyes and richer than she. Their bodies show their growing imperfection. Thus, unlike her, they can no longer get what they want and need sexually through guile, charm, pathological obsession and looks. However, the novel asks if perhaps the cost is less in simply paying for such things rather than the feckless give and take of false affect at which Cassie is so very good. Cassie’s clients are less deluded than she is in many ways.

Like Erica Jong’s vampire, Cassie offers a zipless fuck. She believes that as long as her cunt is strapped shut in vinyl or leather, that fact makes her superior not only to her clients, but to other whores and other people in general. It is how she holds herself together by being apart and above other people. She wants to believe she is not a whore because she is never entered, though she does a lot of entering herself, especially with large dildoes inserted in male anuses, the 90s gambit of choice it would seem.

What she thinks she sells is the denial of intimacy, the tease, the cranking up of yearning through suffering. But that is a lie, for what she sells is an illusion -- which, as Walt Disney knows, however affecting and deeply felt -- is still only a commodity. It’s not the sale that makes her a whore; it’s the self-delusion about the difference.

In fact she is a bundle of injured self-esteem without the education to have any perspective on the insignificance of that. She is also curiously Euripidean in her similarity to Medea. She uses and exploits love, passion, sex, and even her own fertility as an excuse to kill because it gratifies her ego to do so. That is what the Athenians found unacceptably ‘masculine’ and ‘perverse’ about Medea. In Cassie, it makes her the poster girl for the self-indulgent 90s that would usher in the present era of numbing lawless greed. Cassie horrifies us because we realize that she is consciously using her misfortunes and alienation as a springboard for her atavistic appetites.

In fact one of the novel’s two flaws is that Cassie/Averna has more axes to grind than Paul Bunyan, and she wields much nastier weapons. Much of this complaint is larded onto dialogue that seeks to explain her condition as though we thought that necessary. We don’t, and what’s more, the explanations given are hollow at best. Cassie is a murderous force of nature. Enough said. At base, every single instance where she cries foul as an adult is entirely and completely the product of her own doing. Her childhood was perverse and corrupt but we are given to believe, not much more than anyone else’s. Her boyfriend is a gorgeous twit who always wants to ‘talk” but has nothing to say. He’s pretty but dumb and dull, which hardly seems grounds for murdering a large swathe of the population.

Curiously the second flaw is the mechanics of the murders themselves. Cassie smokes, drinks, takes drugs, stays out all night, and eats nothing of the slightest nutritional benefit. She never goes to the gym and at best her idea of exercise consists of walking between administering floggings. She delivers about ten or twelve of those a week to various bottoms which seems a lot, but it really adds up to only and hour or two of stationary exercise. We are to suppose that in her mid 20s, the signs of neglect have not begun to show disrepair, which in itself is nonsense, but more importantly she has these bursts of implausible prolonged super human strength.

As anyone who has seen Wertmuller’s “Seven Beauties” can tell you, dead bodies are a large, unwieldy problem. You can hack ‘em up, but they bleed all over the place and blood, even with bleach, does not wash up that well. It stains grout and wood. Bodies contain upwards of nine quarts of the stuff. Drop a quart of milk in your kitchen and you will see one quart is quite a mess. Cassie slices and dices her victims at a luxuriant pace which means she would be up to her stilettos in gore by the time she had gotten her jollies. It’s annoying that she seems to solve this with a few paper towels and some Clorox.

Dead bodies are heavy and awkward because they have no muscle tone. Warner-Cohen has Cassie stuff full-grown middle-aged male corpses into a shopping cart and blithely toss them off the old West Side piers into the Hudson. I buy the destination but not the trip. It just would not be possible, as the Mafia will tell you, to do anything of the sort without rearranging their joints with a sledge hammer. Even then, the weight would require two trips if only to keep the cart steady. So now you need a chain saw or at least an axe. It’s a big production and time-consuming too.

Worse still, Cassie is fond of slow strangulation. As any executioner will explain, the body, especially when strangled, opens its bowels and bladder releasing the contents en mass as part of the process of dying. That is why professional hangmen and electrocutionists always pack the rectums of their clients with batting so as not to offend the sensibilities of the audience at such state-sanctioned dispatchings. Why do these details matter? It’s simple.

This is a novel that rests on exquisite hyper-realism. If the characterization wobbles at times, the key events are written with a sensual precision that is truly to be admired. If sex is the novel’s vehicle, murder is its subject. We are brought time and again within the rank breathing space of the victims’ bloody, groaning, struggling, excruciating death. Thus it is a serious problem when the cleanup seems an exercise in amateurish speculation. Furthermore, murder is a messy business and, on one level or another, leaves you up to your elbows in shit. Warner-Cohen needs to do more research.

On the other hand, you are missing something if you do not read this novel. Sex, Blood and Rock and Roll is one of the few books to actually look at sex in America to see what we have done to it and with it. Warner-Cohen is a gifted writer and thinker who we hope will keep at it, whatever ‘it’ might be…within limits. If you like gruesome, this is your dish of blood.





She's on TopShe's on Top
Edited By: Rachel Kramer Bussel
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573442690
March, 2007





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Who's on Top?

Cleis Press has just come out with a paired edition of BDSM books entitled alternately, She’s on Top, and He’s on Top. They are edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel with her usual insouciance and élan vitale. We know her from her earlier Naughty Spanking Stories books, and it must be said that her international reputation is soundly earned in the area of erotic bare bottom discipline.

Her story selections for both books reflect the engaging tension humans feel between sex, affect, romance, pleasure and pain. That tension centers around whether we will, or even can, allow ourselves the joy of each other.

BDSM here is the ultimate test of our willingness to risk ourselves and trust others. It becomes a search for connection and richer self-understanding. Conventional notions of loyalty and bonding are literally stretched or stood on their head. They emerge the stronger for it in these stories. BDSM thus becomes the most poignant of sexual arenas in which to explore that willingness. The stories in these two books are for the most part readily up to that challenge.

Both books offer an edgy, hip, and, in some cases, techno view of BDSM, but the stories are generally in the vein of sophisticated dominance and submission (D/s). The authors keep their characters’ tongues -- among other things -- planted firmly, if damply, in their cheek. They are, however, never cynical or superficial.

There is a basic tension generally in erotica between meeting the readers’ desire to re-enter a familiar fictive world and one that stimulates them in new ways. BDSM by its nature tends to flirt with ritual more than other areas of sexual proclivity. The mastery of self often involves gaining the ability to endure beyond all patience, if for no other reason than to enhance the impact of the release when it is finally allowed.

The nature of an ordeal -- even one that is enjoyed -- tends to strip away the veneer of civilized disguises we need to get through life. It is very hard to be cool and detached while being given a long, hard spanking. The filtering is penetrated by pain and lust. In many cases that is why the characters are begging to be spanked, flogged, caned, pinched, bound, gagged and regularly find large objects moving relentlessly up their rearends.

Ms. Bussel has chosen an array of short, pithy stories for both books that focus on the action more than the atmosphere. They focus more on the choices characters make than characterization. That makes for a highly successful brisk style and pace. There is a point, however, at which I as a reader feel that I know what is coming next a bit too well. That is perhaps because as an author and critic, I see the erotic in erotica as a point of departure as much as a narrative destination. Mine is not the more widely held view, however, among readers and other writers of erotica.

These are anthologies and I can see no way of getting round giving a shopping list of brief comments about individual stories. Therefore I will just enjoy showing you a sample of what’s on offer here.

In He’s on Top, N.T. Morely’s “Not Until Dawn” captures beautifully the torture of a woman’s orgasm that is delayed for an entire night. The story concludes, as the title suggests, with a lovely, if shattering, sense of relief.

Lisabet Sarai’s “Incurable Romantic” carries away top honors for entering the male head successfully and winnowing out how the hero rethinks and comes to understand the meaning of loyalty and trust as he thrashes back and forth between his beloved’s bottom and his lover’s rear end. When you are beating two behinds, what are the rules of fidelity? What sort of vote do those getting thwacked have in this case? Ms. Sarai has thought this out carefully and renders her answer with very plausible tenderness. She is one of the best in the field of erotica without question.

Several stories reveal something about masculine priggish punctiliousness as in Mackenzie Cross’ “A Good Reference”. Men here are often presented as being more obsessed with rules and technique than with the sensations and sensuality of their relationships.

I must add that Lee Ash in my view emasculated “Boardroom Etiquette” by letting us know that the relationship we are observing -- which is so witty and piquant at first – is in fact a rehash of one the characters have had the night before. That makes it showy, but blandly safe. Risk, like good spankings, has to be real to amount to anything significant.

Amanda Earl’s “Brianna’s Fire” is surely one of the most amusing and enjoyable of the stories in this book with its narrative adagio on the discipline of the musical arts.

She’s on Top is billed in the editor’s preface as a companion to the male volume. However, it seems to me the juicier of the two. As Ms. Bussel writes, the female dominants revel in the visceral exercise of power over their boy toys with no girlish pretense of reticence. However, that in no way is to suggest that this is not a book about girls.

These characters are not moribund creatures who grimly fit the now-PC appellation, “Women.” In fiction that joyless label has come to sound like a legal grounds for institutionalization. These are big, highly dimensional, playful girls. They take charge and get things done to their liking regardless of their physical size. They have a lot of down and dirty fun doing it, regardless of who is left squealing and begging for mercy (gratefully) in the process.

“City Lights” by Kathleen Bradean is the story most like conventional femdom fiction. As such, it is guaranteed not to disappoint. A dominant woman spanks and canes her ultra handsome, successful man with voracious abandon after a hard day at the office. The story is far more than that though because it captures how much she also loves and depends on him in the peculiar ways of their relationship. She does not “wear the pants” in the family. She doesn’t need to because she decides when the pants get taken down.

The husband is presented as both an eager submissive and still a fully realized, if dumbly pretty, self-involved, male. That seems to be part of what she loves in him. He is her trophy boy toy, but that is only as a part of a larger, more complex and subtle relationship. Nonetheless her spankings are sincere, traditional, and enthusiastically executed. She genuinely takes charge and so her authority rings as genuine.

Kristina Wright’s “The Mistress Meets Her Match” is wonderfully original. A very able mistress encounters a man who wants to be authentically dominated with the highest skill and authority. So, through a process of tease and challenge, he educates her to the point where he is truly forced to submit. It is a complex dance and a refreshing change from the usual doleful, groveling submissives of this genre, who will settle for any sort of female attention as long as it is painful and delivered with scorn.

In fact, scorn is an element that is totally absent from either of these books. They are not about abusive rejection and hurt. They are about people searching for each other on the most demanding and rarified plane of sexual encounters. That is not a plug for BDSM, but rather for the best that erotica in general can achieve.

The best story is Ms. Bussel’s own, “His Just Rewards.” The title ironically conjures the dusty image of a dreary after school paddling, but the story is nothing of the sort. It presents us with a D/s Olympiad conducted by a mistress who shifts her attentions between people with symphonic, almost self-sacrificing, grace. It is one of those stories where you find yourself wanting her to get laid as a reward because she has worked so long and so hard and so well for the benefit of her naughty charges. How unselfish can a girl be?

What erotica can do is make the point that sex is just sex and just fine as that, but that it can be more; it can be a conveyance to another level of experience and attachment. For that to work, even if only in the comfort of reading a book, one must give oneself over to its inescapable attraction, rather like bondage. Once there, who wants to escape anyway? These stories capture the exciting risk of not knowing how your lover will use their power over you, and acquiescing to that. They show that far from being vacant brutes, those who dominate must be equal in skill, sensitivity, and sensibility to that role.

 





Spark My MomentSpark My Moment
By: Jeremy Edwards
Xcite Books
ISBN: B003STD3Y0
June 2010





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Spark My Moment is the odd title of a collection of stories by the redoubtable Jeremy Edwards who, seems to me, is a master of erotica for the male reader, though I am sure women would enjoy this book too.  It is a collection of stories, as the title suggests, about the moment when an erotic impulse catches flame.  

Sometimes Edwards goes on to describe the ensuing fire in these stories, but at times he very successfully leaves us with no more than a paragraph or two as the whole story.  What makes these stories so successful is their unapologetic zest for his subject and for the maleness of his perspective.

Yes, his characters are unabashedly aroused by particular female body parts like bottoms and breasts. Yes, their minds tend to boggle at the endless pleasure to be had in the caress and curve of panties as they snug up to the female nether regions. Yes, he does not idealize female beauty the way that women and the fashion industry tend to do.  He wants women built, as nature usually makes them, rounded and ripe, not wan and anorexic.

Even better are his male characters from whose perspective most of these stories are told. They are not losers, nor are they beefcake. They are not lunk-head frat boys or heroes of the gridiron.  They are the second stringers of the male sex, the guys like most of us, who keep things going in the world.  This book’s for you, to paraphrase the old beer ad, and there is precious little of this sort of writing in erotica.

You might start off with this book thinking it is upscale porn, but then you see that these guys really like sex, they are not just obsessed with it.  What’s more, they really like women as people, friends, and companions as well as lovers. That is in my experience, non-existent in porn where women either drool a lot or are battery powered.

Another scintillating feature of this book is that all of these men have a real voice, and it sounds like an actual guy. Some of them are even highly articulate if not poetic, while others are mannered and stuffy in the way of academics (a world Mr. Edwards seems to know well).  All of them are enthusiastically horny in the way that men are, and why the hell not?  

Mr. Edwards is often having a laugh at that phenomenon, and I think most men will find their own sexual compulsions pretty well catalogued here.  However, unlike the latest summer frat flick, he is not sneering at that as a weakness or blind addiction.  He is revealing his sense of exuberance about life from the male point of view.

Another very appealing part of this book is that in Spark My Moment, short stories are authentically short.  They are not ideas for novels that have been boiled down and still born, as is often the case with erotica. That does not mean that they are not complete within themselves with a narrative arc and nicely developed characters.

Part of the charm of this book is that he allows his characters a measure of self-doubt and uncertainty.  Often they are lead to the bed of pleasure by more sure and confident female hands, which is at once, a way to make a story charming, and a fantasy that many men harbor all their lives.  Who, after all, doesn’t want to be fussed over? Who doesn’t want at times to be the center of attention and the object of desire?  No one, of course, even among men who find that attention makes them feel awkward when it is first lavished upon them.

As I’ve said, the title of the book seems odd to me.  Yes, it does indeed deal with the spark at the key moment of arousal.  Mr. Edwards is very good at finding that in the tiny nooks and crannies of human behavior.  While his sexual scenes are painted with a broad stroke, the moments that initiate them are often very subtly revealed with grace and humor.

What strikes me as odd is the “My” because no one in this book ever seems selfish, much less self possessed, and that is perhaps part of what makes it feel so refreshing.  His male heroes may not be stud muffins, but they are not just nice guys either. They are men who can be loving and generous in bed as well as elsewhere. Therefore you can’t miss with Spark My Moment.





The Art of MelinoeThe Art of Melinoe
By: D. L. King
Renaissance E Books
ISBN: 978-1600891717
October, 2007





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

D. L. King has drafted a fairly horrifying but still amusing work of BDSM fiction that runs the gamut from ridiculous sexual desperation to low-level criminal coercion. This novel is perhaps best characterized as eroto-medical science fantasy. It is as though one had entered the rarefied world of TV advertising. Everything is very sexy, form fitting, and all the equipment works.

I am obliged to point out here that King is the editor of Erotica Revealed and a colleague. As you will see, that has not hampered either my judgment or my frankness in looking at this novel. Erotica is a small world and those who write for this site should have the use – as well as the abuse – of its services. There is as yet no other site that offers literary criticism of erotica at this level. Call that vanity if you like, but the comment arises from several decades of experience as a published critic and editor in the arts.

The clinical research for King’s book seems careful and intensely precise. Each anal adjustment and scrotal manipulation is defined in close anatomical detail. Indeed, the Greek goddess, Melinoe, whose function was to terrorize humans, seems to have reached institutional form here. Amid the occasional old style flogging, far more advanced and exquisite punishments are employed by these pleasure/pain-obsessed femdoms. At the same time, The Art of Melinoe owes much to the horror theatre of the Grand Guignol enhanced by a lot of odd emotional detachment. Despite that, or perhaps because of it, everyone is constantly fairly happy at Club Melinoe, because all conflict has been erased. Those who do not measure up – literally or figuratively – are simply dispatched back to the ‘real’ world.

It is a perfectly integrated book that seamlessly presents a world of serio-comic agony enhanced by techno-clinical bliss. The narrative is very powerful in its ability to hold you. For me that is, in part, a function of how profoundly unnerving the book is; and then too, the ways in which delicate male body parts get forcibly held. We are gratefully spared the usual nonsensical rationale of female domination with its tedious diatribe about female superiority. These women are in charge because they want to be, and so do their boy toys. It gives them a chance to accommodate their sadistic tastes. Femdom rhetoric be damned; they are having fun.

In The Art of Melinoe, We again meet Ray, a diffident and malleable photographer who was the focus of King's first novel, The Melinoe Project. The setting is the mythical Club Melinoe, a femdom haven that is part residence, part resort, and part amusement park with very exotic rides. It has some resonance with the giddy island in Exit to Eden, but where that is a monochrome exercise in erotic fantasy, King uses her locale as a mirror – and at times a parody – of the world the novel creates. Like The Marrying Kind, King again uses an isolated female dominated community full of oddball amenities suited to female tastes, coupled with a great use of deadpan humor.

At times you get the feeling at Club Melinoe that Harriet (and ozzie, under close discipline and instruction) have set up a BDSM holiday camp. At other moments, you find yourself wondering if both Huxley and Orwell would not be freaked out by the soft-spoken, ham-fisted minxes who run this joint. It is not their gender per se that makes these femdoms scary. It is rather their state of mind, which could be characterized as a state of abandon. The people in charge at “Camp” Melinoe never ever doubt themselves. They shove in the well-greased, ever-larger butt plugs and turn up the electrodes. Then they go off – all playful girls together -- to the club breakfast bar for a fruit smoothie.

King's fiction is embedded in subtle humor; characters who are out of sync with conventional reality; and high tech, wacko hyper-sex. In the femdom world of Club Melinoe, the ladies are so fascinated with their advanced gear that they lose all sense of ethical proportion. In the case of one Melinoe psychologist, Dr. Westgate, sexual power leads her to criminal assault. She is brought up short by the leadership of Melinoe, hut the reader wonders why she is not beaten to death fairly slowly with a shovel on ethical grounds. In the Mafia, she would be. Her actions not only threaten the whole artifice of Club Melinoe, they are right up there with waterboarding and other such crimes.

It does not, and should not, matter if the males enjoy the abuse they suffer at Club Melinoe. Clearly they do, and that is their sexual right, but at this club men have lost the capacity to say ‘no.’ Even if they have abdicated that right as a choice, the ethics of such an arrangement are indefensible among conscious people. On the other hand, the point of having the club seems in part to remove the obligation to choose. That is a pleasure many modern people crave in the myriad of meaningless choices we confront every day. In that sense King is walking an edge of ambiguity that at once makes the club inviting and terrifying. It is free of the anxiety of choice and it is filled with the pleasure of fulfilled impulse. If you feel like it, do it.

The larger abstract issues of the club’s ethos – sexual and personal -- have all been worked out at the top, set down and articulated in a set of rules. It should be perfectly efficient, but of course it is not. Such tactics never are perfect, because they cannot be. It is impossible, as the instance of Dr. Westgate shows. D. L. King’s novel asks if a conscious being can fully and actually submit to another to realize their sexual desires? Can we ever fully suspend free will in favor of pleasure? How do we really discern the line between play and coercion especially if part of the pleasure is being coerced? For those who really want to be sexually enslaved, is it possible in a rational society? When does deeply committed play become the abdication of personhood?

These are unobtrusively insinuated inquiries. King does not stop the flow of the hermetic narrative to invite an outside eye to question. It is that very seamlessness that invokes the reader to ask, “Hunh, what the hell is going on here? What are these people really doing to each other? Where’s the referee?” In that sense King may have bested Huxley and Orwell.

The true distancing factor in King’s narrative is humor, which is very low key in addressing the frequent ironies of life at the club. For example, the staff of male slaves (stud muffins all) are recreational equipment for women who are often vain, vacant, arrogant, brutish, or downright stupid. These ‘Feminitrices’ of the club are, however, always presented outwardly as perfect, and none doubts that she is – ever – anything less. They may natter about the details of life, but they do not question themselves. It is only after witnessing their antics that the reader asks questions and draws conclusions. We ask the questions that the characters do not.

Ray winds up in the loving arms of his mistress, the perky and ebullient Sunny. He also becomes bejeweled and mutilated male version of O. O finally stands as a mute work of art – and possessed object -- in her owl mask. Ray is a marked trophy and happy to be so. One wonders about his fate when his looks and sexual powers begin to flag. He does not. He has embraced a cheery, mindless serfdom to Sunny with stimulating massage, balanced nutrition and all the ejaculations he can muster on command.

In that sense, the sex, BDSM, and raison d'etre of this book have no direct reflection of the reader's experience of these things in life. They are instead nightmarishly muted dream images of such things. The characters inhabit the strange dimensionality of comics like the paintings of Lichtenstein. The book is a satirist’s take on the fantasy worlds of BDSM porn. What would happen if the world of Exit to Eden were rendered into physical and sociopolitical fact? How many dimensions could it have, and what would it be like?

The novel defines gender in its own unique way. All Melinoe males speak in the manner of hale-fellow well-met undergraduates who eschew the peculiar refinements of their mistresses' speech. They are buddies and fellow inmates of an underclass. They are all just, good-hearted 'regular guys' who enjoy being bound, whipped, stretched, tyrannized and electrocuted. Hey, Dude, whatever floats your boat, right? These men have a trained indifference to their abuse and, one wonders, to their abusers. They often seem on the verge of such bromides as, 'no pain, no gain.' They are not quite macho because they are so submissive, and yet not quite stupid either in their impish defiance.

At times they seem to wink at the whole deal when the women are not around. Their emotional connection to these women is so rote, regimented, and refined that one wonders how any real attachment could form. Everyone is centered on the male erogenous anatomy as equipment, particularly the penis and anus, in order to derive the maximum pleasure from their use. Male thoughts are disposable dross. Thus men are conditioned to stay tumescent for at least all their waking hours in case a hard dick is needed as toy or an appliance. One hopes these men are not subject to embolisms.

It is the equivalent of keeping an anus or vagina ready, lubed and pried open for constant readiness and instantaneous use, rather like a greased tool. That would seem to apply whether the surrounding person is awake, willing, or aware of what’s “up.” As vessels of female pleasure, these men are all young, pretty and fit. Like the Playboy mansion of old, no one bothers to read much at this club. Who has time? Ray, at one point, reels in exhaustion when faced with the intellectual challenges of watching daytime talk shows.

It’s not that these male or female Melinoans are characteristically dumb, but that their lives are so hermetic that they feel no need for reflection much less independent thought. Ray instantly apologizes any time he finds that his cerebrum has accidentally engaged, and he has come to a contradictory thought to what Sunny has laid down as policy.

There is no question of rape here. These men consent to their lot eagerly whether they understand it or not. The issue of free will, however, is both perplexing and deeply disturbing. The art of Melinoe rests on a consensus of submission. It is a regimen of gently enforced, seductive vacancy. Ray, the 'hero' is afraid of the staff psychologist, Dr Westgate. He deeply distrusts her. His trepidation is regarded as aberrant and merely symptomatic like a skittish animal. The ladies know best. The Art of Melinoe is a nightmare explication of American Momism.

How does that cohere with a work of rollicking super-enemas and gaily electrified testicles? The dark side of this book is key to the book's humor, which has genuine menace to it. The Marx brothers are only funny if they teeter at the edge of the pathological. How much mayhem might Harpo really commit? It's important that we never really know his limits; and what's more, neither does he. The Art of Melinoe constantly tweaks our credulity with whatever gross expulsion or ecstatic torment is next. If Harriet Marwood is the supreme mistress of intimate personal and protracted suffering, the Ladies of Melinoe are scary because, like the legendary governess, they are equally full of themselves.

Melinoe is also a trifle silly. Stripped of its stainless steel glitter, it is a league of secret sexual obligation among this band of beautiful and effortlessly wealthy female sadists. It is also a form of the Elks Club or Skull and Bones. Their standing as women and their sisterly bond takes precedence before their common obligation to reason and humanity. These women do not have or need ethics; they have each other. One wonders if there is a secret handshake like the Raccoon Lodge.

Girls are tidier than boys so the excess shit and cum are flushed nicely away, but the quotidian burdens of power remain. The ladies are compelled to guide, maneuver and patronize the males like five year olds. They often sound as much like baby sitters as whip wielding high tech dommes. And why not, given that they seem to enjoy that role just as much.

As an example, early on in the book, Ray finds himself trapped in a chastity device put on him by Sunny. It's aim is to make tumescence excruciating, a practice the Melinoe ladies find highly amusing despite the obvious danger of killing the interest altogether. Ray finds himself with a towering erection that puts him in such agony that he is reduced to pounding on his own caged dick to reduce his suffering, but alas, to no avail. The scene is as ridiculous as it is hopeless, but once endured, Ray confesses his attempt to ejaculate to Sunny and raises no objection to the device. Instead he confesses his earlier discomfort with adolescent shyness as though his predicament had been somehow self-inflicted. Sunny benignly forgives him for suffering, and domestic bliss settles over them like a deep impenetrable fog once again.

D.L. King has a subtle and exacting sense of humor, which we have seen in her other works. Sexual compliance in King's world is always more than you bargained for. It is juxtaposed between a velvet trap and a grueling seduction. Her characters tend to occupy her world with a circumspect, comic ambivalence. Doubt is not much of an issue, but one is always a little on guard. Doubt at Melinoe is what our psychologists now call 'inappropriate behavior' which in reality stands for 'inconvenient dissent.'

In King's world, the mistress is always right and the measure of that is the satisfaction of the vagina by all means physical and psychological.





The Low RoadThe Low Road
By: James Lear
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443646
September 2009





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

In the movie, “Noise”, a girl tells the hero that she wants him to make her come by making her do things she doesn’t want to do. It’s a very sexy moment because on the one hand, she really wants to come, but on the other hand, she doesn’t want (sort of) to do the things that will get her there. She wants him to take her some place new that involves the feel, at least, of risk. In other words, the film industry can make a major feature film that contains non-consensual sex scenes. That is because people want to have sex at times in a way that they might otherwise not have the nerve to try. It’s sexual surrender carried to the limit, which is why it’s so erotic.

We, in erotica, are stuck with weird socio-babble jargon like “sex positive,” which could mean that we are positive about sex…sex is a positive thing…we are positive that it is sex…or we are positive that we want it to be about sex, or sexy, whatever it is. That really means that in order to get along with the sexual hysteria of the Clinton Administration in the 90s, we have made a practical deal with the devil to be on the Internet. The trouble is we have also sold out the possible maturation of erotica as a literary genre that really discusses the human experience, which includes all kinds of sex.

Which brings us to The Low Road by James Lear, a novel in which the turning point of the action is the young hero’s abduction by privateers who proceed to humiliate, beat, strip, strap, fuck and piss on him in about four pages. There is nothing consensual about any of this sex, but how many pirates do you know who ask you if you want to be fucked in the ass? It’s just not a pirate thing to do. Mr. Lear is clearly unruffled about that probably thinking that we all have to learn to do things we don’t like as part of growing up like being gang raped. Hmmmm…. life is such a mystery, isn’t it?

It has to be said that the hero, a Scots nobleman, doesn’t mind any of this intimate abuse at all, except that such behavior is hitherto unfamiliar to him. In fact he is fairly kinky that way throughout the book. Then again, bathing is also not a big part of his life until he is on shipboard, and considering his tastes and habits, one does go “Ieeeeewwwwww” from time to time. Mr. Lear is having fun, I conjecture, with accelerated hyperbole in his pirate scene. And why not? What is grimmer than politically correct sex? And the answer is of course, sex positive erotica.

In the course of the hero’s sexually arduous, not-to-mention harrowing, sojourn at sea, all this degradation actually serves to—one might say—make a man out of him. One would have to have one’s tongue in one’s cheek given that the characters’ tongues have been there as well as every other conceivable location on the male body, but he does enough to yearn for cozy domesticity by the novel’s end. That’s good, because the ancestral keep is in need of redecorating by then.

The Low Road is a reasonably entertaining send up of Robert Lewis Stephenson’s, Kidnapped (sort of). That means we have a twenty-first century parody of a nineteenth century novel on a subject from the middle of the eighteenth century. To wit, the Jacobite failed attempt to re-establish the Stuart Monarchy in England in the corporeal form of James II (also James VII of Scotland). Okay, so are you still with me here? Hang on. This gets better because instead of a picaresque venture during which the hero gains maturity and enlightenment—the 18th century serio-comic novel best recognized in works like Fieldings’ Tom JonesThe Low Road is a non-stop gay romp from rump to rump where the evolution has as much to do with vamping skills as gaining a mature perspective. Oh well, it’s fun.

It is the first novel by James Lear that I have read, but I think I understand his popularity. His work sails right into being pornographic with piratical gusto from the start. It’s sort of “Yo ho ho and a gay boy’s bum! Fifteen men on queen’s hard cock!” The Low Road is a scrupulously detailed catalogue of cock sucking, butt fucking, swash buckling and some plot here and there as an extender. Hygiene is frequently absent and there is rather too much hardy laughter at ponderous innuendo.

To some extent we are invited to take The Low Road as a parody or satire of Kidnapped when in fact, by intent or default, it is a burlesque of the 18th century picaresque novel. Lear is making fun of the picaresque idea rather than Stephenson’s novel. The hero, Charles Gordon, is bold, delightfully naïve, and deliciously amiable to all—and we do mean all—males in his vicinity. What’s more, Scotland seems to be almost entirely populated by gay men in this novel. There are hets who do not “lack the imagination,” as the author says, to have sex with other men when it suits the occasion. One wonders at times how Scotland has managed to continue if every man in that society is a devotee of such pleasures. However, one is even more inclined to say to oneself, “Tut tut, that’s not the point. See, he’s bent over with his pants down again. Here we go!” And indeed the hero once has two cocks up his ass at the same time. Remarkable perhaps, but you do learn new things from living with pirates.

Interspersed with all this is a certain amount of plot that, from a literary point of view, has its ups and downs. A largely irrelevant subplot is included allowing for a lot more cock sucking and butt fucking in dank places. We do understand that Gordon has this profound loyalty to the cause of the Stuart monarchy in exile, but why is less clear. In fact his political concerns seem more born out of some murky resentment of the English like the people of the American South who cannot abide Yankees for reasons they have forgotten. Gordon is still fighting the Battle of Culloden—at which his father apparently fell—long after it was done and the Jacobite cause was lost to the Scots. However, he seems hardly to have known this father.

What we have here is a picaresque journey to a particular sort of gay manhood. It is given weight and force by his tendency to learn the skills of the supposed gay subculture of the 18th Century. That’s a tricky notion given that Lear depicts this as a cultural constant through all levels of Scottish and British society. I suspect such practices were freely undertaken only among the very rich and the very rural, and even then only in secret. That is not to say that there were not gay people having relationships, but roving bands of gay men indulging in gangbangs of young nobility seems a bit far fetched for the time.

If you have the sort of credulity that is easily elasticized, The Low Road is an enjoyable work that conjures the notion of an operetta in drag with arias to rimming and synchronized ass-fucking. It is certainly that more than an adventure novel, as Kidnapped was intended. What it does very well is show that we have to get over our anal retentive fetishes about what sort of sex is appropriate for erotic fiction. More importantly we have to realize that sex is sex and it can be transformative in all sorts of ways, regardless of who is doing what to whom and what either gets out of it. That is a reasonable basis for fiction, which Mr. Lear has achieved here.

[Editor's note: The Low Road is a Finalist for the 2009 Lambda Literary Award in Gay Erotica.]





The Mistress and the MouseThe Mistress and the Mouse
By: J. J. Giles
Loveyoudivine
ISBN: 1600540562
March, 2007





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

I want to like JJ Giles’, The Mistress and the Mouse. I do, or at any rate I want to forgive the novel its shortcomings. It has such a great title for example. How provocative is the idea of a mistress and her mouse? It’s hot stuff. Giles shows a real ability at endless plot complication creating a narrative line that literally winds wheels in various directions within wheels like string theory. Basically, we are introduced to a family of super-mega-rich billionaire deviants who do and undo each other through and between their generations. They pay for this life style with the ill-gotten gains of “old money” leveraged rapaciously by the family investment bank.

Never mind that such institutions are creatures of the 1980s. This one has been doing arbitrage since 1900 or before, and they have the creepy family portraits to prove it. Never mind that Grandpa was also, as everyone calls him, “the Spawn of Satan.” We are up to a new generation who beat and malign each other with such ferocity that the hospital is the logical end to a chic night on the town. Better still, the characters all share one genuine belief, which is that the rich are entitled to it all. What’s more, Giles seems to agree.

However loathsome these people become, their credit rating places them above the unwashed. In fact, when they want revenge, they either literally kill you, or, worse still, destroy your credit rating. When they are not doing that, they are pawing through their endless supply of psychosexual torture devices. This novel is an amazing catalogue of S/M practices, personality traits, appliances, rituals, toys, games, furniture, hand tools, incidental gear, and couture. One wonders at times why there is not a catalogue of Internet suppliers at the back to tell you where to buy all this stuff. You could wear it while you read on and on and on.

There is no method of testicular twist untried, no anal invasion omitted, no vaginal dilation or osculation deleted from this lengthy exploration of what the two genders, separately and together, can insert, impale, irrigate, penetrate, strike down, and gin up in painful extremis. If that were not enough, necrophilia and incest as well as a heavy larding of imaginative, exquisitely manic “sex therapy,” all find their way into the book.

The downside, or sides, of The Mistress and the Mouse are two: paper thin characterization and an appalling mastery of literary style. Oddly enough, the style seems to be responsible for the weak characterization, and Giles is not the only offender there.

Simple examples include a character who is “ruptured” by his orgasm. A guy, having lured the object of his desire into his “habitat” finds her presence has “thrilled him beyond repair.” Everyone in the sex therapist’s clutches is subject to her “furious punishment,” and that’s a carload of people. The thought of some sexual humiliation to one of her rich clients causes her to “swell with laughter.” All these jarring blunders in diction are made worse because they seem quite intentional. They are offered to enhance the pseudo-medical atmosphere of this book. The worst of these is a man who experiences “affixiation” during orgasm.

Affixiation is carbon monoxide poisoning which produces extreme weakness, nausea, paralysis, and other painful symptoms. It’s not that romantic and produces a very unpleasant death from say, sucking on car exhaust. What Giles means is “asphyxiation.” That is the reduction of oxygen to the brain, which in some people enhances their experience of orgasm. It’s not much more alluring to me, but it sure beats nausea and death.

Once you get used to all these redundancies and malapropisms, you are left wondering about the editing. Any sentence structure or awkward elaboration of tense is not only there but seemingly encouraged. Is it sexier to be tangled in the sheets in a mangled version of the pluperfect subjunctive? Apparently so to Giles, but I have to ask, “Where was the editor here?” Giles is not talentless and the people at LYD publishing have shelled out more than a few bucks to make this a handsome and readable book.

At over six hundred pages, it is a daunting thing to read much less edit, because you soon become aware that you will never sort out the plot but why bother? Still an editor with any craft could have caught the obvious, ham-fisted clunkers and paired away a large measure of the ineptitude of what clearly seems to be a first novel, or novels, crammed between the covers of the book. In short, it does not need to be 600 plus pages long and would be better without almost half of that.

The primary sign of that is that Giles introduces a new character or plot twist during every French scene in the first hundred pages. What’s more, most of those scenes are very short. The tweaks tend to come back for embellishment, but the characters never sustain any growth.

Who are these people? Who knows? They live in some place that is a couple of hours from Lake Erie, but it also seems to be as sunny as LA and has a gaudy hotel called the Fontainbleau a la Miami Beach. They have the sensibilities of Vegas right-to-work pit bosses, and the tastes of the cretins in Dallas. They fuck on one set of sheets and then have to change beds so they are not sullied by their own erotic effluvia in order to sleep or fuck some more.

At base they are down home, redneck, I-don’t-know-nothin’ DUMB. They are part of no culture other than one of endless, pointless, acquisition. They seem to be illiterate and have no interest in anything but a relentless, feckless obsession with themselves. Intellectually cemented into their sense of entitlement, they are beyond redemption. In short these are the aristocrats that Robespierre confronted. He had the good sense to cut the discussion short by cutting them a foot shorter, and you long for that to happen to most of these leather-clad dorks. One can see them insisting on designer tumbrels to ride to their own executions.

The center of this novel is Morgan McFaye, the sex therapist, hooker, and sometime maniac around whom the novel oozes. The author is forever flirting with this name as a variation of Morgan Le Faye, the scheming witch in “Le Morte D’arthur.” The medieval figure was the half-sister of Arthur who was forever engaged in assorted schemes and manipulations. Giles has only the dimmest understanding of the attendant literary tradition to that character...and none at all of literature in general.

Morgan McFaye intones interminably about the paltry wits of the heterosexual male who is so easily manipulated. In the time-honored tradition of third rate S/M fiction, she goes on about how easily males are struck dumb by a nice ass, or a handsome pair of tits or, better still, the right feminine toss of the hair, or piercing look of startling ferocity. It is to yawn.

“Men,” Morgan thinks to herself, “How easy it is to turn them into babbling babies ready to acquiesce to every desire.” Ponderous alliteration left aside, Morgan has exchanged nasty, shallow prejudice for insight. Whereas her chief male client/slave says, “How horribly subtle women can be,” the operative word here being ‘horrible.’ Some men are paralyzed by pussy. That’s true, but not all of them. What Morgan believes is that men are struck dumb and helpless by female sexual power. What she misses completely is that men can think about more than one thing at a time, and they are not patient.

Yes, men are struck dumb by their attraction to women and, in the case of bisexuals, to each other. What’s to talk about, anyway? They look and imagine the possibilities. On the other hand, they have other things to do, and if nothing is going to come of this flirtatious exchange, they move on. Why not? More importantly, no matter how hot a woman may look, if she is dumb, mean, or dumb and mean, it’s not worth the trouble after a man passes the age of 17. Men don’t move on because they have short attention spans. They don’t like to waste time, and they just don’t get fixated as easily as Morgan would like to believe.

How did Morgan arrive at these professional beliefs? She learned to be a sex therapist of course. How? “I went to California for a year.” Enough said, yes, California, the mythic home of the plastic blonde, with the brain from the Pleistocene era. In fiction of this sort California is always the source of credentials for the latest form of psycho-blabber. What is more, this novel is riddled with psychological catch phrases and assorted flimflam that displaces, the author hopes, any need for a real explanation of why these characters think and behave the way they do. Therapy here, as it often is in reality, is that dark, humid, bio-fungal place between the poles of art and science, where nothing of much use grows.

However much one may disdain Marcel Proust, the difference between his long eroto-decadant portrait of bourgeois life in the 1890s and The Mistress and the Mouse, is simple. His epic is based on the reportage of nuance that shows a deep appreciation of the senses and the thoughts they separately evoke in his many characters. The body, with its attendant sexual drives and yearnings, is the filter of what is real.

Proust’s entire prose edifice is built upon the taste of a Madeleine, a butter cookie. A Madeleine is a fragile thing that is at once a combination of freshly baked butter and a background whiff of lemon. Fresh and hot from the oven, it is as sexy as anything in human life because it is so fully there in all its elegant simplicity upon the tongue. Like flowers, they do not keep. When cold and forced, they are dry and disgusting.

Inside The Mistress and the Mouse, there is a novel and an interesting one. But writing is not mass production. It is not a trade, nor is it a craft. It is an art form. It demands that you must know what has come before you, which Giles does not. You may accept or reject that heritage, but you cannot supplant it with gimmickry from trumped up disciplines like sex therapy. More importantly, you must know and say something of the world, and that perforce means the world that extends beyond the hermetic environs of excessive and abusive privilege.





The VoyeurThe Voyeur
By: Michael T. Luongo
Alyson Books
ISBN: 1593500173
April, 2007





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

The Voyeur by Michael Luongo is an excellent first novel. It is fine erotica and many other engaging things to think about as well. Luongo takes a look at the days when Giuliani was Mayor of New York, and when AIDS was an undiscovered and unwanted frontier in public policy.

Luongo’s hero is a man named Jason who is doing some sort of Ph.D. in behavioral sciences. He also happens to be gay which in a large sense is incidental to the discoveries the novel offers the reader. I say that, despite the fact that the subject of the novel is his evolution as a gay man at a time when the very forces of nature seem bent against that state of being. Still, he perseveres, stumbling often and falling into his own shortsightedness. If anyone thinks that is not an experience we all share, then they are probably in junior high school and shouldn’t be reading this anyway.

The novel also presents us with the state of social science as an intellectual discipline, demonstrating once again that “social science,” as it is usually applied, is an oxymoron. The only person who ever fully understands that paradox in this book is Jason himself. He learns from the bizarre and often prurient self-interests of his investigative colleagues. He learns it from the sleazy means by which the research is being funded and conducted. Most of all, he learns it from himself as he slowly confronts the operations of his own mind. It galls me to say it, but he is actually a very sweet person, and I believe I am intended to feel that way. He is also very annoying at times, but you can’t help liking him. He has courage, brains, and a sense of integrity. Best of all, he is only dimly aware of his virtues.

The Voyeur is obviously about the observer, Jason, and the French meaning of the word is fully realized. Jason observes as a detached investigator. He is also hopelessly overpowered by his penis, which rises to the occasion when he is spanked, simply ogling or helplessly fantasizing during his researches. He is fascinated and aroused by situations and people he would otherwise have thought repellant. He is no connoisseur of gay sex, but more a tourist. He is almost never, for example, dressed right for the occasion and feels awkward when he is, even when the event calls for no more than a towel.

He does not observe from an amused and knowing distance like some figure in Huysmans, Balzac or Proust. He wishes he could be more detached as he tours the bathhouses, gay night clubs, bars, street corners, and shrubbery of gay amour in the 90s. His job is to look for HIV positive men to interview about their sexual practices. It occurs to no one that the fact that the subjects are being paid skews the study, but that is because the people in charge are looking for lurid anecdotes in order to support renewed and larger funding. His vocation is some sort of search for purity that is quite impossible.

Jason, like the Jason of myth, is not sure where he is going, how to deal with what he finds when he gets there, and who can be trusted to help him sort through it. Ultimately, his struggle for detachment puts him at odds with his lover. It is really from that point that the scales begin to fall from his eyes, and he begins to see sex less as a unique mystery but a part of the larger conundrum of being. The question is are you living your life, if you are observing it at the same time?

If there is a flaw in this novel it is that Jason is presented as a slightly nerdy and naïve idealist. That rings false given the New York of the 90s, a city he has chosen for his Mecca of gay culture. He may live with his lover in Plainfield, NJ, but he longs for New York’s answer to the Marais, Chelsea. It would seem he is not quite up to scratch for that. The demands of the local chic; his physical height; the very fact that he is taking a Ph.D.; all brand him. As he sees himself, he will never be the equal of those who can charm the world effortlessly on their looks alone. What’s more, he knows it, so there is an element of discontinuity in then making him naïve.

He is up to his elbows all day and night in sex whether in the abstract, or in the sleaziest of fact. The disconnection between his perception and the world he is seeing is not always very plausible especially when he is enjoying the view. I believe Luongo has created Jason this way so that he can go through the long descent of self-discovery that the character makes. At times, this soul-searching gets windy because like most people who wish to think of themselves as naïve idealists, they are tiresomely egocentric.

On balance, however, that is a small flaw given the constant round of genuine insights about human nature and perception that the book offers. The book provokes a groan with a prologue, which presents Jason’s mother as a sex-hating, imperious myrmidon, and we fear for a moment that the next line will be, “My mother made me a homosexual,” with or without the usual punch line. However, Jason’s journeys through his various relationships are always revelations and never what you expect they might be. That is very much the case in the way that Luongo concludes Jason’s relationship with his mother.

Mr. Luongo’s great strength is that his writing is uncompromisingly human. By that I mean, he presents the problems before Jason as neither romantically hopeless nor easily tractable. Life is a pain in the ass. The key is learning to live with yourself. From that well of integrity springs a truly poetic style in many parts of this novel. He writes about sex in a way that is both lyrical and passionate while avoiding none of the essential details.

I wish he would indulge his sense of humor more and his angst less, but nothing in this novel is dishonest or contrived. It is well worth your time. I will leave you with part of a very nicely done passage from the book about seduction:

"No, this leather was soft, seductive, sexy, with a touch of hairiness that tickled gently, and caressed and lulled one into its power, making the observer part of it, not commanding him to pay attention to it. Yet, the choice was still no choice, there was no way to resist something this enticing. Jason was forced to draw nearer."

The Voyeur, p. 191.





What Happens to Naughty Girls?What Happens to Naughty Girls?
By: Erica Scott
Lulu
ISBN: Lulu ID: 940940
2007





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

The answer to the title of Erica Scott’s collection of stories, What Happens to Naughty Girls? is quite obvious, and that is perfectly all right. They get spanked, of course, after consciously or unconsciously, or semi-consciously having worked themselves over the knee of some firm but luscious hunk.

Ms. Scott’s book is amiably clear about what she is doing and the results are charming, sexy, earthy and direct. She includes fourteen stories that are semi-autobiographical fantasies about spankings that she claims to have been given or thought about getting. Given the spanking details, we are pretty sure she has done just that. The stories are the lively, no-nonsense misadventures of more or less the same girl/woman getting her bottom warmed. In fact they are pretty much the same story with different window dressings, but she makes no pretensions to doing otherwise. Thus finding out what happens to naughty girls is a predictable, effortless jaunt if you feel a spanking is what they need most. She certainly thinks so.

The femme figure is always naughty, cheeky, arrogant in an adolescent sort of way, and/or bratty, often has bad judgment or is possibly drunk, but she is never mean or tiresome. She may well be cranky, horny, or just in the mood to make trouble. Her characters discover that they think spanking is sexy despite their suffering derrieres.

On the other hand she wants the spankings to lead to sex after genuine punishment for being naughty. Okay. Fair enough. In fact, the spankings often seem pretty extreme as they extend from the lengthy application of an enraged male palm to more alarming use of a hairbrush or strap. We worry about her poor bottom. Still, both Erica and her behind soldier on bravely until her body betrays her arousal. Then of course the focus shifts to a sort of gauzy, romantic sex. That’s fine too.

In short, Erica, in all her various forms, gets what she wants and her pussy does too, even though she complains that it damply betrays her inner feelings when being spanked. It does just that and we are not unhappy about it. Just how naughty can such a girl be after all? Having worked that hard to get spanked, she really deserves some more tender attention.

Ms. Scott is a very straightforward, likeable writer though her work discloses nothing much about the inner life of her characters or, by extension, herself. Her men are all paternal, clearly very hot numbers to her way of thinking (and why not?), and beyond that largely ciphers. They do what she wants which is to be very dominating for an hour or two, spank her soundly, screw her attentively, and then hit the road.

As such What Happens to Naughty Girls? is an oddly feminist work. Nothing that happens in it is beyond the control of the female characters all of whom provoke and orchestrate the action. The Ken-doll spankers hardly seem to sense they are being manipulated even when they are told as much. So what one likes about this book is that while all these spankings must be very painful, they are exactly in the form she wants them. She is never in any danger, never truly bullied more than she wants, and she retains throughout the attitude of a darling little wise ass – who really ought to be spanked.





Where the Girls Are: Urban Lesbian EroticaWhere the Girls Are: Urban Lesbian Erotica
Edited By: D. L. King
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443530
July 2009





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

Where the Girls Are is a smooth and delightful entertainment that is as slick and slippery as a three-card Monte pitch on 42nd St in the heyday of the real Times Square.  This book is an anthology of urban legends created from the authors’ lesbian fantasies (or perhaps memories?) -- both lipstick and butch -- of far-flung cities.  I should point out here that D. L. King, founder and publisher of Erotica Revealed, edited Where the Girls Are.  Much as it pains me to suck up to authority, I am bound to say that it is very ably put together and presents us with an engaging mix of settings and tastes.

While the issue of which city is the more felicitous for Sapphic adventures may remain moot, Where the Girls Are presents us with a seemingly endless array of possibilities from the most romantic to hard-edged BDSM.  Indeed there is something for every taste as long as you don’t want a dick, or at least that you will allow that a fine, fat dildo will do in its stead. 

There is a seamless flow to this book as one story elides nicely – with exotic variations – to the next.  It makes the experience of reading the book rather dreamy in a one-handed sort of way.  I will grant that I have some particular favorites beginning with the very first story, “The Critic,” by Charlotte Dare.  “The Critic” is a truly wonderful example of erotic irony: you may get everything you wished for, but it may not be what you wanted. I am loath to spoil the plot by saying more, but it is worth noting that her style of writing is deliciously bemused and graced with subtle humor.

Top honors here go to Jacqueline Applebee’s “Old London Town” for her ability to create the voice of a real lifelong city dweller who finds fresh eyes for her surroundings by sharing them with a girl from out of town.  San Francisco not surprisingly gets a lot of play in these stories among the best of which is Rachel Kramer Bussel’s “My First Play Party” where she is long and thoroughly spanked and otherwise ravished by a group of playfully stern erotic disciplinarians.

Further spankings and a dose of Gallic humiliation is administered in Andrea Dales’ “Come to my Window,” a sort of coming of age story filled with revelations and humiliations while having one’s bottom pleasantly blistered.  In fact these stories contain an unusually high number of forcibly reddened rear cheeks not to mention anuses spread to the limit by dildos and sundry forms of restraint.  It is a juicy array of possibilities.

The best use of the urban environment must go to Sommer Marsden in “Hot Child in the City.”  She takes full advantage of Baltimore’s soggy, suffocating summer heat to set up a hot encounter between two equally hot denizens of that city’s sweltering streets.  This story is especially pleasing because it is one of the few in the book where the urban environment and climate really do effect the characters’ choices and behavior as indeed they do in real life.  The genuine grit of the narrative contrasts with the lust that allows a measure of escape.  It is a form of self-preservation.

Best of all though is an absolutely steamy and utterly hilarious encounter between a cowgirl from Alberta and a wanna-be horse (girl) from Toronto.  Though they meet in the sophisticate’s home city, it is clearly the country girl who has the upper hand in the outstanding story, “The City Pony” by Roxy Katt.  Not the least of this story’s many virtues is the dialogue.  It is genuinely witty, delightfully absurd and absolutely authentic in the way it captures the curious non-sequiturs of human discourse especially in the jittery throes of sexual arousal.

At times the ‘pony’ seems a bit unsure if she is not actually a cow of some sort.  The cowgirl often has to race to keep up with the innuendo the ‘pony’ is tossing to her as the would-be equine tries to maintain the illusion of a subordinate position.  After all, she is the pony, right?  When at last she is brought to tether, the experience is really a good deal more humiliating and exciting than she had expected. 

Where the Girls Are offers something for everyone including an aging hetero male like myself although the street wisdom is that we compose a large part of the audience for lesbian erotica.  At any rate anyone can have a good time finding out where the girls are, and indeed, what they are up to between the sheets.





WhippedWhipped
Edited By: Carol Queen
Chamberlain Bros
ISBN: 1596090464
November, 2005





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

There is a dividing line in erotica between two treatments of fiction. One is the announcement of sex in detail. It is often archly introspective and deals with sex as a world of its own, or in which it is the core of the fictive world. All else is merely symptoms leading to sex. The other assumes that sex resides in the context of feeling and intellect, events and environment, age and wellbeing.

Whipped is the kind of anthology that makes you feel you may have traveled back in time. This volume was published in 2005 under the editorship of Carol Queen. Some of the stories even deal with the post –apocalyptic neoconservative world we now occupy. Nonetheless it feels like a collection of older works from the seventies which seeks to present us with a bold new vision of BDSM -- particularly female domination -- that is neither new nor in any sense very surprising. It seems in fact an anachronism.

I am supported in this view by a DVD, which is attached to the book as a part of the ride. It is meant to entice, but the content is all too familiar and fairly drab. We are informed, for example, that there is a group of people who meet in a chain hotel in some dreary town in North Jersey to live out their fetishes and flog their various fannies. Well okay, so what?

A couple of ladies form the spokespeople and featured players of this poorly made and edited DVD. The footage looks old given that the hotel in Jersey has assorted monster gas guzzlers from the seventies tooling up to its front door. A motley array of persons try to seem relaxed in the video. They seem very doubtful in making the case for SM as ‘normal’ and why bother? They are in fact more in the vein of the walking wounded than the boldly original, and so the DVD works counter to its own intentions. It’s a throw-in that is just grossly out of date and badly produced.

But what of the book, Whipped, itself? There are 19 crisply short stories, the first seven of which are also highly formulaic and grimly determined to exploit technical detail. The book starts off with "I Am Your Kitten" by Bianca James. Apparently the central character and voice of the narrative has a fetish about being treated like a cat, or more properly like a kitten who is graduating in her slavedom to the status of a cat. However, anyone who knows a cat well will know that no cat is ever enslaved to any human. Pussies may get a zing out of bottoming, but genuine felines don’t roll over for anyone if they are not in the mood. It is always the reverse.

Ms. James’ lugubrious style, viz. “I am your kitten, Mistress Marthe, that is all.” sounds like a public service announcement in a subway station. Like the writing in many of these stories, it is a laborious slog. That is because the style attempts to make obsession feel plausible as though that ought to come as a surprise to us. Who in the hell isn’t obsessed with something these days? Obsession, a la “Bolero,” may be to your taste but these stories read more like “how to” anecdotes than sources of erotic stimulation.

The eighth story, "The Rubber Chicken Scene" by Greta Christina, is a romp about the terrors of being tormented by bad comedy by clowns as a form of erotica. It’s silly and it’s meant to be, which is thoroughly refreshing. The same may be said for Marcy Sheiner’s, "Down in the Cinders," in which the hapless Cinderella is tweaked to the point of squeaking in front of the once wimpy Prince with the happy result that his resolve is stiffened.

"A Recent Favorite" by Violet Blue presents us with a very engaging bit of lesbiana that involves a most convincing, erotic spanking followed by the anal application of a strap-on. The detail is good but what is better is the way Ms. Blue allows the spankee to torment and tease the spanker into giving her a very attentive round of intimate discipline. In other words, there is some irony here at long last, and it is most welcome.

The other stories vary by degrees of intensity and sexual complexity. Many of them contain the now obligatory sneering at and detestation of men especially those who seek out the services of a professional dominatrix. Much of that takes the form of grousing about the seediness of the spanking and discipline business, which is somehow construed to be the fault of the men who patronize it. The female clients escape this opprobrium because they are among the downtrodden, and thus justified in wanting nipple clips and a hot, red, rear end as eco-political solace. Such stuff is not the feminism of politics, aesthetics, or even gender. It’s just bitching.

Some of these stories are much better than others, and I think on the whole that this book did itself a great disservice by including the DVD. Therein lies a clue. The problem lies perhaps in the narrowness of the editing. Sasha Waters bills herself as, “co-creator of the documentary, Whipped” (reviewer’s punctuation). I take that to actually mean “co-editor” as I assume Ms. Waters did not have a hand in writing these stories.

Ms. Waters has worked in the world of the pro domme herself and the editorial stance of the anthology is revealed to me in this paragraph which follows:

“Our dominatrix charade allowed Iana and me to connect in low-key, socializing, just-us-girls-hanging-out kind of way with several women in the professional S&M world. We learned that underlying the mystique of this kind of sex work, beyond the required confidentiality and secrecy, the masks and stage names and elaborate costuming, there is a great deal that is merely humdrum. We spent hours with the pro doms, in-between clients on slow nights, hearing about the most elaborate or unusual requests they had ever heard (or granted), painting our nails and ordering in pizza and chicken fingers. In this respect, professional domination is a job like any other, a business that requires advertising and promotion and security and supplies (especially cleaning supplies).”

In short much of the point of view of the editing seems to come from people who are either tired of the subject as indicated above, or they have a sort of grim pecuniary enthusiasm like the introduction by Ms. Queen. It reads like the hand-rubbing prose of the self-help genre. It is as though she were saying that now we too can learn the ins and outs of the S&M trade at practically no cost right in our own homes, in our spare time. As she says, “I bet every reader will find something eye-opening here,” and well they might, but often it may be the editors’ inept struggles with run-on sentences and muddled punctuation.





Yes Ma'am: Erotic Stories of Male SubmissionYes Ma'am: Erotic Stories of Male Submission
Edited By: Rachel Kramer Bussel
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443093
March 2008





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

“But from the moment he ties her, she’s gone.  No pleasure, no pain, just emptiness.
He sighs and unties her.
She looks up, stunned at his defeat.  ‘Tell me, and I’ll do it.’
But he shakes his head.”

From “Ribbons” by Kathryn O’Halloran, Yes, Sir.

I have two basic responses to the stories in the new companion volumes, Yes, Ma’am and Yes Sir, from Cleis Press.  My reactions range between intense fascination and the inability to continue reading without falling asleep.  Both books have two distinct sets of stories.  The first group deals with bdsm as a sexual proclivity that gives the characters unique insight.  As such they make discoveries and enhance their sensitivities through bdsm.  Sometimes that happens in spite of themselves, which lends these stories irony, and even pathos, at no cost to the sensual pleasure of reading them.  The quotation above from “Ribbons” embodies all those qualities in a few short, crafted sentences.

The second are essentially formula S/M plots that constitute mechanical instructions on how to practice this or that form of BDSM.  They all seem to begin with the dom/domme calling, saying, writing, and even text messaging their submissive some instruction that sets them all a twitter.  The orders are followed, the submissive is punished anyway and a good time is had by all at least in theory.  These stories are written to a deceptively simple formula that can either be a springboard for the writer or an iron cage of banality. 

The formula stories each have the same plot and, in these two volumes, for some reason, they often have an artificially appended upbeat ending.  What is troubling is that these endings are so often entirely out of context with the rest of the story.  Neither life nor fiction, always lead to a closed denouement.  As the quote from Ms. O’Halloran illustrates, it’s not what you do that matters nearly as much in all aspects of sex, but the spirit it invokes in both the doer and doee.  The results may be indeterminate.

The first group, which I shall call stories of discovery, have some absolutely first-rate examples in both books.  At the very top of that list is Lisette Ashton’s “Sitting on Ice Cream” in Yes, Sir about a stage struck young woman who longs to be spanked by the house manager of the theatre in which she works as a lowly, but comely, usher.  The title itself seems like a delightful rationale of punishment for the fairly naughty and that is what makes Ms Ashton’s style so unique.  She understands naughty as a form of flirtation for which an arousing spanking is a just and winning reward.  The irony is of course that the young lady is truly being rewarded with exactly what she wants. Now she knows how to get it the next time.  Like all truly gifted authors, Ms Ashton’s humor flows naturally from her style and that in turn reflects the playful worldview of the story. 

Not to be outdone, is Lee Ash’s story “Tea for Three” in Yes, Ma’am which is an absolutely hilarious high comic romp in the vein of Noel Coward, a man who would, I believe, have understood the benefits of a whacking good time.  The happily submissive husband in the story is asked if he would like a threesome.  He replies demurely, after serving his wife tea, that, “Yes, please, I’d very much like a threesome.”  His sleek wife replies, “A threesome?  That’s very assertive, isn’t it?” 

It is impossible not to be charmed by these people.  That is not because of what they do sexually so much as how they respond to each other.  Nonetheless, “Tea for Three” is one of the sexiest stories in the two books. These people are genuinely subtle, playfully indirect, and truly witty.  They have the brains and style to be interesting. Best of all they are extremely sensitive to each other.  The husband is not rebelling against his wife. He is flourishing under her control.  She knows in turn just how much to tighten the screws to make their play as piquant as possible thus leading the couple into continuing the discussion between elegant and irresistible segments of hot sex. Mr. Ash can even make the feel of fabric read in a way that is truly sexy, but his real talent is word play.  It is the sort of badinage that Thorne Smith created in Turnabout.

As a work of literature, Stephen Elliott’s, “It’s Cold Outside” in Yes, Ma’am is the finest piece in both collections.  He uses irony in the totally opposite direction from Mr. Ash.  Here the central character is ostensibly male, but he is so much diminished by his life of being a display item in a traveling sex show that he is more of an androgyne.  He is what his booking agents, clients, audiences and even his friends want to imagine him to be to suit their appetites and their superior notions of themselves.  He not only wants but needs their exploitation. 

The pain and arousal he gets from bondage is the one stimulus that reasserts his personhood.  He is the ultimate free market commodity, the willing thing that is whatever you want it to be for a price and totally disposable thereafter.  It is poignant to note that his ultimate abuser is a woman psychoanalyst.  The analyst, among all other dominants in both books, is a horrifying creature.  She is so in need of something that feels like empathy that she has passed beyond the erotic to blatant cruelty.  As a merchant of the mental healthy industry, she spouts banalities even as she gets off with numb and deliberate authentic sadism.  She is after all a certified professional and thus has a right to her special brand of insensitivity and a lack of ethics in exploiting others.

What many writers and publishers of erotica have yet to grasp is that sex may be at best a temporary route to easing, or at least blurring, suffering in a bitter world.  It is then potentially more than an escape from life or some ultimate form of fulfillment, as Mr. Elliott’s story illustrates.  Erotica has slowly begun to mature in the last few years beyond the limited forms of the romance novel and simple pornography.  That is partly a function of the growing paranoia and repression surrounding the erotic in art.  It is also a result of the fact that writers now have access to a more complex critical response.

The metaphors authors of erotica select can be more than a gauzy detour from one’s conventional experience, and as such, broaden one’s view of the real as well as provide strength in dealing with it. Art supplies distance from experience, and that is usually rooted in a new, ironic understanding of what that experience is.   As such it is Sartre’s notion of despair, because we only really understand things from which we have, to some degree, distanced ourselves.

That is also why irony is so key to art and erotica, because it is the second sight that the artist provides on what is commonly held to be absolute.  It breathes meaning into the redundant.

When the formula in art becomes the point, it poisons itself; for while we may all have the vile properties of both the manipulated and the manipulators in, say, reality TV, those characteristics are not the sum total of what it really means to be human.  It is crucial to see that it is not the formula that is at fault here, but rather the way “reality” on television is selectively defined for a minimum of consciousness and a maximum of prurient reptilian stimulation.

No literary critic could, however, reject formulas in fiction out of hand. To do so would be to reject the common apparatuses by which we recognize each other’s experiences and thus share them.  The formula in fiction is indispensable when you consider the limitations of our common understanding of what is probable versus what is possible.  Formulas are a convenient short hand, but they are the frame of art, not the core.

The comedy of Plautus remains the basis of the American and British sitcom because they invoke the same boy meets girl who together meet a common obstacle.  The glue, which holds that formula together, is the titillation of imagining how the couple will celebrate their victory when the obstacle is finally, and predictably, removed.

There is then a third category of stories in Yes, Ma’am and Yes, Sir: those that use the BDSM formula to its own advantage.  One of the best of these is Lisabet Sarai’s “The Body Electric” in Yes, Sir in which an assistant professor is making a name for herself as an expert on the literature of female sexual submission. 

As the young ‘professoresse’ says, “My research on women’s erotic literature was, of course, impeccably scholarly, serious and restrained, carefully purged of any salacious detail.  My sources were anything but. Their enduring influence on my thoughts was only too clear.”  One can only read this and say, “Let the hand rubbing begin!”  Ms. Sarai has perfectly captured the perversely stilted world of academic idiom with its all-encompassing lists of modifiers and quasi-Victorian lilt.  It is a world where dullness is a virtue, and thus in parody it is usually far more enlightening than it is in fact.  That is using a formula to its own satiric advantage.

Predictably, the assistant professor falls under the rapacious eye of a legendary, tenured full professor who is also the faculty rake.  Though both seedy and tweedy, as well as nearing his dotage, he is a powerful academic on campus who dabbles in creating instruments of erotic electrification.  Quell surprise!  He aims his deathless attractions at her and she, with the thinnest show of reluctance, relents.

The electrodes are snappily applied hither, thither, yon, between and within.  The dials are cranked up, and the young woman’s pleasure soars upward along with her electricity bill. He is a little too obsessed with his gadgets to be a lothario.  He is too much of a nerd to be as sinister as Snidely Whiplash, and she is a little too much of a blue stocking from jolt to jolt, to be entirely winsome, but that adds to the fun of both characters.  They are authentically silly in the most positive sense, and that does nothing whatever to diminish the erotic sparks of their encounter.

In other stories, however, the formula takes total control of the piece as in A.D.R. Forte’s “Rope Burn” in Yes, Ma’am wherein the premise is excellent, but the delivery is haphazard.  A professional football player falls under the spell of a uniquely individual woman who proceeds to dominate him. He is presented as an overgrown Catholic schoolboy who is still playing games and defined by them. He is not quite, but might as well be, taking his punishment for the Gipper. 

If that were not a sufficiently reduced view of the American heterosexual male athlete -- which has appeared with grinding seasonal regularity in American film – he is also a sap.  At one point he has a faint glimmer of doubt about the future of his body, his reputation, his career, and perhaps his life under the control of a woman about whom he knows nothing.  That doubt quickly flits away in a burst of Confessional shame, for like all good boys, this idiot never questions authority. 

Were this a female athlete snarled in the clutches of an unknown powerful man, I have no doubt that militant feminists would be outraged at the story, and they would be right.  What they would probably miss is that the source of the problem is not gender bias.  It is that the author has taken the cheap and easy route of letting the formula dictate the fiction and thus its erotic meaning, rather than setting about to justify the psychology of the characters. 

This story then drools down to its final words of empty hackery, “She looked at me for a long, long minute; then she let me suffer for just a little bit more.  And then she kissed me.”  The male character has just been through what seems to be for him an exegesis of pain and pleasure along with a ball blasting orgasm.  It is the power of the moment that drives the story, and yet the final lines lie in flaccid disregard of all that has gone before as though she had said, “Wasn’t that nice?  Do you need to go to the bathroom?  I think I’m going to bake you some cookies!”  In a way, that might have been more creative.

I will add here that these two volumes are not entirely free of gender bias. Ms. Bussel’s introduction to Yes, Sir characterizes women submissives by saying, “These women aren’t pushovers by any means.  They make rules and negotiate with their masters, though sometimes they also get off on being pushed just a little too far by men they know they can trust.”  Fair enough because it makes perfect erotic sense.  They are not passive in part because passivity creates mordant sex, especially in fiction.

I compare that with her image of male submissives in Yes, Ma’am:  “Men are taught to be hunters, not the hunted, and when the tables are turned, many are all too thrilled to be treated like scum.”  Though short, this sentence embraces a long string of rhetorical and intellectual flaws and prejudices.  To name but a few, all submissive men should probably no more be seen as eager to be scum, than their female counterparts.  The proof is in many of the stories that appear in the book that follows.

Worse still is the goofy notion that modern men are trained to be hunters.  Take the average male out into the woods.  Leave him naked and barehanded.  Then see what he catches other than a cold.  Modern men are trained to be competitors, which is far less a matter of being a capable individual than simply being a tool or exhibit.  Professional ball players may get rich, but team owners get a great deal richer.  Sportscasters are forever referring to male athletes as gladiators which in modern practice (as in ancient Rome) is something between a toy, livestock, and a marketing gimmick. 

A competitor is forever concerned with an artificial score, rather than an actual kill.  He serves someone else who is keeping the talley and making up the rules.  The submissive male or female seeks to be in her words, “pushed a little too far” by a dominant they can trust.  This subtlety is missed in Ms. Bussel’s introduction to Yes, Ma’am, because it applies to both genders.  The key word here is ‘trust’ which is only possible when surrounded by genuine affect, whether expressed as contempt or affection.

Ms. Bussel quotes Debra Hyde at the close of her essay who says that  “The unruly male doesn’t just wish to be tamed, he needs to be.  ‘I am vessel and vassal – tool and toy, the means to her pleasure.  I am hers.”  It may well be that these purple prose represent their print version of the Weird Sisters.  If that is so, the choice winds up being awkward cant. Worse still it is misleading about the stories in Yes, Ma’am, and about BDSM in general.

Some will say, “Who reads introductions anyway?  Come on.  This is porn, fella.’  Whaddahyuh nuts?”  I concur that for many these books may be that, which is just fine with me.  But not all erotica is written for the cheap seats.

As in the 1960s with works like “Fanny Hill” and “The Pearl” and those of the Marquis de Sade, new erotic works in this century are gaining importance as a literary form.  That is clearly in proportion to how the political atmosphere becomes more repressive and freedom of expression more threatened.  As with Fascism, Maoism, Stalinism, and Neo-Conservatism, sexual imagery very often becomes the fulcrum and the wellspring of what is meant by free expression.

As de Sade asks in the play “Marat/Sade,” by Peter Weiss, “What’s the point of a revolution without general copulation?”  We might better ask now, “How can we be free, if we are not at liberty to have fictional sex?”  In essence, that is the question Ms. Bussel and her publishers are asking though they have yet to learn to get out of their own way.  It is time they did.

Ms. Bussel is not a newcomer.  She is a very capable, talented, widely published kink writer in her own right, which she exhibits beautifully in Yes, Sir in her story, “Make Me” about a super-brat who is in search of a hyper-spanking.  Ms Bussel is the current mistress of intensity in spanking fiction

Her decisions as an editor as well as her thoughts as a commentator carry considerable weight.  She has edited a number of anthologies on sexual kink, and is perhaps best known for her Naughty Spanking books.  Often these collections seem more organized to taunt the bourgeois norm than to honestly explore the subject of the book, but literary movements have to start somewhere and taunting is often the best point of departure.  Disaster follows when the taunt is as superficial as the world it mocks; satire then becomes a parody of itself.

Ms. Bussel is perhaps filling bigger shoes than she realizes, given her talents and insight into erotica with its growing political and social importance.  It is a hard role to define because it is so rapidly evolving. That, however, is utterly no excuse for the fact that the story, “The Power of No” in Yes, Sir, by Teresa Noelle Roberts, employs “dance” three times in two pages as the main verb in different sentences describing a flogging. 

My complaints would not be nearly as frustrating if these books did not contain so many very good stories, and if they were not so handsomely and readably mounted as they always are with Cleis Press.  Even the size and typeface makes the books a pleasure to read.  But a book is finally the words inside it, and it is time for both the publisher and their talented editor to take the next step forward just as erotic literature has begun to do.





Yes, Sir: Erotic Stories of Female SubmissionYes, Sir: Erotic Stories of Female Submission
Edited By: Rachel Kramer Bussel
Cleis Press
ISBN: 1573443107
March 2008





Reviewed By: Steven Hart

“But from the moment he ties her, she’s gone.  No pleasure, no pain, just emptiness.
He sighs and unties her.
She looks up, stunned at his defeat.  ‘Tell me, and I’ll do it.’
But he shakes his head.”

From “Ribbons” by Kathryn O’Halloran, Yes, Sir.

I have two basic responses to the stories in the new companion volumes, Yes, Ma’am and Yes Sir, from Cleis Press.  My reactions range between intense fascination and the inability to continue reading without falling asleep.  Both books have two distinct sets of stories.  The first group deals with bdsm as a sexual proclivity that gives the characters unique insight.  As such they make discoveries and enhance their sensitivities through bdsm.  Sometimes that happens in spite of themselves, which lends these stories irony, and even pathos, at no cost to the sensual pleasure of reading them.  The quotation above from “Ribbons” embodies all those qualities in a few short, crafted sentences.

The second are essentially formula S/M plots that constitute mechanical instructions on how to practice this or that form of BDSM.  They all seem to begin with the dom/domme calling, saying, writing, and even text messaging their submissive some instruction that sets them all a twitter.  The orders are followed, the submissive is punished anyway and a good time is had by all at least in theory.  These stories are written to a deceptively simple formula that can either be a springboard for the writer or an iron cage of banality. 

The formula stories each have the same plot and, in these two volumes, for some reason, they often have an artificially appended upbeat ending.  What is troubling is that these endings are so often entirely out of context with the rest of the story.  Neither life nor fiction, always lead to a closed denouement.  As the quote from Ms. O’Halloran illustrates, it’s not what you do that matters nearly as much in all aspects of sex, but the spirit it invokes in both the doer and doee.  The results may be indeterminate.

The first group, which I shall call stories of discovery, have some absolutely first-rate examples in both books.  At the very top of that list is Lisette Ashton’s “Sitting on Ice Cream” in Yes, Sir about a stage struck young woman who longs to be spanked by the house manager of the theatre in which she works as a lowly, but comely, usher.  The title itself seems like a delightful rationale of punishment for the fairly naughty and that is what makes Ms Ashton’s style so unique.  She understands naughty as a form of flirtation for which an arousing spanking is a just and winning reward.  The irony is of course that the young lady is truly being rewarded with exactly what she wants. Now she knows how to get it the next time.  Like all truly gifted authors, Ms Ashton’s humor flows naturally from her style and that in turn reflects the playful worldview of the story. 

Not to be outdone, is Lee Ash’s story “Tea for Three” in Yes, Ma’am which is an absolutely hilarious high comic romp in the vein of Noel Coward, a man who would, I believe, have understood the benefits of a whacking good time.  The happily submissive husband in the story is asked if he would like a threesome.  He replies demurely, after serving his wife tea, that, “Yes, please, I’d very much like a threesome.”  His sleek wife replies, “A threesome?  That’s very assertive, isn’t it?” 

It is impossible not to be charmed by these people.  That is not because of what they do sexually so much as how they respond to each other.  Nonetheless, “Tea for Three” is one of the sexiest stories in the two books. These people are genuinely subtle, playfully indirect, and truly witty.  They have the brains and style to be interesting. Best of all they are extremely sensitive to each other.  The husband is not rebelling against his wife. He is flourishing under her control.  She knows in turn just how much to tighten the screws to make their play as piquant as possible thus leading the couple into continuing the discussion between elegant and irresistible segments of hot sex. Mr. Ash can even make the feel of fabric read in a way that is truly sexy, but his real talent is word play.  It is the sort of badinage that Thorne Smith created in Turnabout.

As a work of literature, Stephen Elliott’s, “It’s Cold Outside” in Yes, Ma’am is the finest piece in both collections.  He uses irony in the totally opposite direction from Mr. Ash.  Here the central character is ostensibly male, but he is so much diminished by his life of being a display item in a traveling sex show that he is more of an androgyne.  He is what his booking agents, clients, audiences and even his friends want to imagine him to be to suit their appetites and their superior notions of themselves.  He not only wants but needs their exploitation. 

The pain and arousal he gets from bondage is the one stimulus that reasserts his personhood.  He is the ultimate free market commodity, the willing thing that is whatever you want it to be for a price and totally disposable thereafter.  It is poignant to note that his ultimate abuser is a woman psychoanalyst.  The analyst, among all other dominants in both books, is a horrifying creature.  She is so in need of something that feels like empathy that she has passed beyond the erotic to blatant cruelty.  As a merchant of the mental healthy industry, she spouts banalities even as she gets off with numb and deliberate authentic sadism.  She is after all a certified professional and thus has a right to her special brand of insensitivity and a lack of ethics in exploiting others.

What many writers and publishers of erotica have yet to grasp is that sex may be at best a temporary route to easing, or at least blurring, suffering in a bitter world.  It is then potentially more than an escape from life or some ultimate form of fulfillment, as Mr. Elliott’s story illustrates.  Erotica has slowly begun to mature in the last few years beyond the limited forms of the romance novel and simple pornography.  That is partly a function of the growing paranoia and repression surrounding the erotic in art.  It is also a result of the fact that writers now have access to a more complex critical response.

The metaphors authors of erotica select can be more than a gauzy detour from one’s conventional experience, and as such, broaden one’s view of the real as well as provide strength in dealing with it. Art supplies distance from experience, and that is usually rooted in a new, ironic understanding of what that experience is.   As such it is Sartre’s notion of despair, because we only really understand things from which we have, to some degree, distanced ourselves.

That is also why irony is so key to art and erotica, because it is the second sight that the artist provides on what is commonly held to be absolute.  It breathes meaning into the redundant.

When the formula in art becomes the point, it poisons itself; for while we may all have the vile properties of both the manipulated and the manipulators in, say, reality TV, those characteristics are not the sum total of what it really means to be human.  It is crucial to see that it is not the formula that is at fault here, but rather the way “reality” on television is selectively defined for a minimum of consciousness and a maximum of prurient reptilian stimulation.

No literary critic could, however, reject formulas in fiction out of hand. To do so would be to reject the common apparatuses by which we recognize each other’s experiences and thus share them.  The formula in fiction is indispensable when you consider the limitations of our common understanding of what is probable versus what is possible.  Formulas are a convenient short hand, but they are the frame of art, not the core.

The comedy of Plautus remains the basis of the American and British sitcom because they invoke the same boy meets girl who together meet a common obstacle.  The glue, which holds that formula together, is the titillation of imagining how the couple will celebrate their victory when the obstacle is finally, and predictably, removed.

There is then a third category of stories in Yes, Ma’am and Yes, Sir: those that use the BDSM formula to its own advantage.  One of the best of these is Lisabet Sarai’s “The Body Electric” in Yes, Sir in which an assistant professor is making a name for herself as an expert on the literature of female sexual submission. 

As the young ‘professoresse’ says, “My research on women’s erotic literature was, of course, impeccably scholarly, serious and restrained, carefully purged of any salacious detail.  My sources were anything but. Their enduring influence on my thoughts was only too clear.”  One can only read this and say, “Let the hand rubbing begin!”  Ms. Sarai has perfectly captured the perversely stilted world of academic idiom with its all-encompassing lists of modifiers and quasi-Victorian lilt.  It is a world where dullness is a virtue, and thus in parody it is usually far more enlightening than it is in fact.  That is using a formula to its own satiric advantage.

Predictably, the assistant professor falls under the rapacious eye of a legendary, tenured full professor who is also the faculty rake.  Though both seedy and tweedy, as well as nearing his dotage, he is a powerful academic on campus who dabbles in creating instruments of erotic electrification.  Quell surprise!  He aims his deathless attractions at her and she, with the thinnest show of reluctance, relents.

The electrodes are snappily applied hither, thither, yon, between and within.  The dials are cranked up, and the young woman’s pleasure soars upward along with her electricity bill. He is a little too obsessed with his gadgets to be a lothario.  He is too much of a nerd to be as sinister as Snidely Whiplash, and she is a little too much of a blue stocking from jolt to jolt, to be entirely winsome, but that adds to the fun of both characters.  They are authentically silly in the most positive sense, and that does nothing whatever to diminish the erotic sparks of their encounter.

In other stories, however, the formula takes total control of the piece as in A.D.R. Forte’s “Rope Burn” in Yes, Ma’am wherein the premise is excellent, but the delivery is haphazard.  A professional football player falls under the spell of a uniquely individual woman who proceeds to dominate him. He is presented as an overgrown Catholic schoolboy who is still playing games and defined by them. He is not quite, but might as well be, taking his punishment for the Gipper. 

If that were not a sufficiently reduced view of the American heterosexual male athlete -- which has appeared with grinding seasonal regularity in American film – he is also a sap.  At one point he has a faint glimmer of doubt about the future of his body, his reputation, his career, and perhaps his life under the control of a woman about whom he knows nothing.  That doubt quickly flits away in a burst of Confessional shame, for like all good boys, this idiot never questions authority. 

Were this a female athlete snarled in the clutches of an unknown powerful man, I have no doubt that militant feminists would be outraged at the story, and they would be right.  What they would probably miss is that the source of the problem is not gender bias.  It is that the author has taken the cheap and easy route of letting the formula dictate the fiction and thus its erotic meaning, rather than setting about to justify the psychology of the characters. 

This story then drools down to its final words of empty hackery, “She looked at me for a long, long minute; then she let me suffer for just a little bit more.  And then she kissed me.”  The male character has just been through what seems to be for him an exegesis of pain and pleasure along with a ball blasting orgasm.  It is the power of the moment that drives the story, and yet the final lines lie in flaccid disregard of all that has gone before as though she had said, “Wasn’t that nice?  Do you need to go to the bathroom?  I think I’m going to bake you some cookies!”  In a way, that might have been more creative.

I will add here that these two volumes are not entirely free of gender bias. Ms. Bussel’s introduction to Yes, Sir characterizes women submissives by saying, “These women aren’t pushovers by any means.  They make rules and negotiate with their masters, though sometimes they also get off on being pushed just a little too far by men they know they can trust.”  Fair enough because it makes perfect erotic sense.  They are not passive in part because passivity creates mordant sex, especially in fiction.

I compare that with her image of male submissives in Yes, Ma’am:  “Men are taught to be hunters, not the hunted, and when the tables are turned, many are all too thrilled to be treated like scum.”  Though short, this sentence embraces a long string of rhetorical and intellectual flaws and prejudices.  To name but a few, all submissive men should probably no more be seen as eager to be scum, than their female counterparts.  The proof is in many of the stories that appear in the book that follows.

Worse still is the goofy notion that modern men are trained to be hunters.  Take the average male out into the woods.  Leave him naked and barehanded.  Then see what he catches other than a cold.  Modern men are trained to be competitors, which is far less a matter of being a capable individual than simply being a tool or exhibit.  Professional ball players may get rich, but team owners get a great deal richer.  Sportscasters are forever referring to male athletes as gladiators which in modern practice (as in ancient Rome) is something between a toy, livestock, and a marketing gimmick. 

A competitor is forever concerned with an artificial score, rather than an actual kill.  He serves someone else who is keeping the talley and making up the rules.  The submissive male or female seeks to be in her words, “pushed a little too far” by a dominant they can trust.  This subtlety is missed in Ms. Bussel’s introduction to Yes, Ma’am, because it applies to both genders.  The key word here is ‘trust’ which is only possible when surrounded by genuine affect, whether expressed as contempt or affection.

Ms. Bussel quotes Debra Hyde at the close of her essay who says that  “The unruly male doesn’t just wish to be tamed, he needs to be.  ‘I am vessel and vassal – tool and toy, the means to her pleasure.  I am hers.”  It may well be that these purple prose represent their print version of the Weird Sisters.  If that is so, the choice winds up being awkward cant. Worse still it is misleading about the stories in Yes, Ma’am, and about BDSM in general.

Some will say, “Who reads introductions anyway?  Come on.  This is porn, fella.’  Whaddahyuh nuts?”  I concur that for many these books may be that, which is just fine with me.  But not all erotica is written for the cheap seats.

As in the 1960s with works like “Fanny Hill” and “The Pearl” and those of the Marquis de Sade, new erotic works in this century are gaining importance as a literary form.  That is clearly in proportion to how the political atmosphere becomes more repressive and freedom of expression more threatened.  As with Fascism, Maoism, Stalinism, and Neo-Conservatism, sexual imagery very often becomes the fulcrum and the wellspring of what is meant by free expression.

As de Sade asks in the play “Marat/Sade,” by Peter Weiss, “What’s the point of a revolution without general copulation?”  We might better ask now, “How can we be free, if we are not at liberty to have fictional sex?”  In essence, that is the question Ms. Bussel and her publishers are asking though they have yet to learn to get out of their own way.  It is time they did.

Ms. Bussel is not a newcomer.  She is a very capable, talented, widely published kink writer in her own right, which she exhibits beautifully in Yes, Sir in her story, “Make Me” about a super-brat who is in search of a hyper-spanking.  Ms Bussel is the current mistress of intensity in spanking fiction

Her decisions as an editor as well as her thoughts as a commentator carry considerable weight.  She has edited a number of anthologies on sexual kink, and is perhaps best known for her Naughty Spanking books.  Often these collections seem more organized to taunt the bourgeois norm than to honestly explore the subject of the book, but literary movements have to start somewhere and taunting is often the best point of departure.  Disaster follows when the taunt is as superficial as the world it mocks; satire then becomes a parody of itself.

Ms. Bussel is perhaps filling bigger shoes than she realizes, given her talents and insight into erotica with its growing political and social importance.  It is a hard role to define because it is so rapidly evolving. That, however, is utterly no excuse for the fact that the story, “The Power of No” in Yes, Sir, by Teresa Noelle Roberts, employs “dance” three times in two pages as the main verb in different sentences describing a flogging. 

My complaints would not be nearly as frustrating if these books did not contain so many very good stories, and if they were not so handsomely and readably mounted as they always are with Cleis Press.  Even the size and typeface makes the books a pleasure to read.  But a book is finally the words inside it, and it is time for both the publisher and their talented editor to take the next step forward just as erotic literature has begun to do.