Sunday, October 19, 2014

Review of "Good Boy Bad" by Nya Rawlyns


Nya Rawlyns’ Good Boy Bad is a novel with serious aspirations. It is a work of considerable, if not always consistent, substance, with moments of surprising beauty, delicate pathos, and deep insight. It is clearly the work of a gifted writer; one who has applied much thought and care to her craft, and wants us, in turn, to care about the characters she has so lovingly animated. It is also something of an eclectic mess, caught somewhere between its quasi-poetic literary ambitions and the surly bonds of genre convention, as if e. e. cummings had tried to turn out a screenplay based on one of Lee Childs’ Jack Reacher novels. Rawlyns cannot seem to decide what her book should be; a serious foray into the realm of magical realism, highfalutin literary erotica, gloriously tragic m/m romance by turns tender and gritty, or a straightforward road-trip adventure cum revenge fantasy, replete with safe houses and sniper rifles, chop shops and cabin cruisers crewed by sadistic Russian mobsters and ruthless Cartel pluguglies.


One of the chapters in Good Boy Bad is titled A Tone Poem, and this might well serve as a subtitle for the novel as a whole. Rawlyns’ style—when she is consistent with it—is dreamy and lugubrious:


The night wrapped him in sludge, humidity thick with despair, and he thought on the man in the basement with the dancers and his obligation to pick and choose for a purpose that made no sense if he wasn’t staying. But that was the problem. He had nowhere else to go, no one else to be, nothing from his past preceded the nothing of his future.


And if he was free to pick and choose . . .


There was that man, the tall man with the cock straining against thumbs so thick and blunt he felt them ridging his ass, spreading the cheeks, splitting him apart. Invading him.


Spit pooled in his mouth.


The narrative unfolds at a glacial pace, dwelling heavily on backstory revealed in vague, disjointed fragments, like objects observed through breaks in a thick fog. I was tempted more than once to stop reading, continuing only for a sense that there might be an interesting story buried somewhere beneath this pretentious excess of style. Sticking with it was a chore at times. Trying to get to a point where the style could justify itself—where the story might begin to make sense—felt like a walk through ankle-deep mud in loose galoshes. Passages like this didn’t help:


Tank waited, waited an impossibly long time, before turning, turning to say the words, say goodbye like he meant it, but when he turned, he turned and turned and turned, spinning out and away and toward, and when he gathered the boy, the one not in the box, the one he’d near broken into pieces, the boy he loved so desperately it was going to tear both of them apart, when he gathered him in his arms, the boy whispered “I don’t have anyone else,” and the sounds of his heart shattering were the last sounds he heard.


Rawlyns' use of artful apposition all too quickly becomes a cloying affectation, and ultimately a kind of stylistic tick, maddeningly annoying. At times, the style descends into the absurd, as the author tries to get into the heads of characters who are basically inarticulate, and by nature not inclined to introspection:


Tank wasn’t now. Tank was yesterday, the day before, but now . . . now was this time, this place. He’d gotten used to now when it was then, but he’d come around to it again, a bad penny showing up, showing up to torture him. Like before. Now had turned different. It turned forever.


An attempt at straight prose then comes as something of a shock:


The cops in the cop room gave him wide berth, gave him looks, looks of respect from some, worry from others. The detective wasn’t pleased. Knowing a turf war was coming and they didn’t have resources made it hard to pull sympathy or co-operation [sic] from badges banking on status quo and padding for their retirement fund.


It is as if two very different books had somehow gotten jumbled up together. One—the dreamy literary excursion—might have worked well in a shorter, more concentrated form. In fact, if properly tailored, Rawlyns has the essence of a brilliant short story here. The other book, the too-conventional crime-genre revenge fantasy, needs its own space. The two very disparate atmospheres are jarringly inconsistent, together smothering what separately might well have been great.  


And two small editorial nitpicks; the author or her editors seem to have missed the use of “discrete” when “discreet” was clearly intended. Also, in two places, Rawlyns refers to a gun’s “retort”. This might be an attempt at a quasi-poetic conceit, but it’s not a very good one; the word needed is “report”. (Honestly! Am I the only one who catches these things?)


While I do think there is a great deal to appreciate here, I cannot recommend this title. Ultimately, adventurous and patient readers will need to decide its value for themselves.







Sunday, September 28, 2014

Review of "Adultery: The Scarlet Alphabet" by Rod Kierkegaard


Rod Kierkegard’s Adultery: The Scarlet Alphabet is a comic gem, a cerebral masterpiece of contemporary social satire slumming as breezy sex farce, with a bit of trenchant literary criticism thrown in for good measure. The author’s razor-like wit is stropped with just the right amount of cynicism, which he employs not so much to lay bare the paradox and folly of modern life as to gleefully vivisect the whole animal, pulling back layers of pretense and self-deception like tissue to reveal the fragile, frightened egoist’s heart beneath—all the while managing to be funny as hell for more than 300 pages.

Orlando Plummer is a tenuously tenured professor of Traditional English Literature at upper-Manhattan’s ultra-PC Lumumba University (three guesses as to what that reference oh-so thinly veils). A self-described academic “performance artist” with the veneer of an Oxbridge pedigree and not a single creative or ambitious cell in his body, Orlando is the ultimate pretender, the archetypal outsider, ever fearful of being found out, yet still somehow content to coast (and/or screw) his way through life in a miasma of alcohol-dazed indifference, leaving his long-suffering Chinese TA to actually do most of his work, and almost every major life-decision to the wife he loathes but cannot leave.

Don’t draw the wrong conclusion. Don’t think for a minute that I don’t love my wife. Love is far too mild a term for my feelings. I loathe my wife. I hate her guts. Worse, I dislike her company. She is a crashing Seven-Sisters educated—which is to say woefully uneducated and willfully ignorant—bore. She is, however, always right about everything, particularly money, the sea of green that is her birthright, her native element, the source of her elemental power.  I despise my wife. I also desire her. And I’m attached to her. Most of all I fear her. She is an object of horrid fascination to me, a fetish object. Her real name is not Valeria Messalina, of course; I have changed the names of everyone who will appear in these pages except for one.

Orlando is virtually egotistical in his passivity, constantly surprised and bewildered by his own feelings—so much so that the very awareness of complex emotion seems to arrive unbidden, catching him off-guard every time.  

I am well enough aware of any reader’s reaction to the Dr. Bovarys, the Leoppold Blooms, the George Smileys of literature; the craven, put-upon hero, the cuckold, the timorous wimp who allows his woman to walk all over him. Or, in my case, women.

He is, as he himself puts it, a man without a heart, incapable of feeling guilt, only fear. And there is much to be afraid of in this labyrinth of Orwellian academic bureaucracy where PC culture has run not merely amok, but deep into the province of the surreal, where New Age psychobabble and deconstructionist gobbledygook have assumed the solemnity of cultic scripture, and where a career-ending sexual harassment complaint is only a direct look in the eye away.  

In the early 90s when I first escaped north London for the University of East Anglia, there was a song then very popular on Radio 1 and in the dorms, Enigma’s “Principles of Lust.” In Val’s honor, the song should have been renamed “The Rules and Regulations of Lust.” However, in fairness to my wife, most swappers—excuse me, members of the Consensual Adult Community—are invariably very big on regulating lust; apportioning it, doling it out like dessert or a child’s allowance, establishing rules and “boundaries.” They are very principled people. That is one of the many ways in which they resemble university administrators.

Accordingly, in response to Orlando’s obsessive philandering, Val arranges a series of “couples dates” with the wealthy Roger and Arabia Fliederman

Befriending another married couple is almost always a mistake. Hence, the relative safety of casual, consensual, or in our case, Val’s and mine, stage-managed adultery. One avoids all the usual pitfalls of “couples-dating” by going straight to bed, thus achieving the boredom and monotony of the physical intimacy of marriage at a single bound. You may call this swinging, wife-swapping, or polyamory if you like. I prefer to call it adultery.

Ultimately, of course, wackiness and extremely expensive polyamorous group-therapy ensues. Love triangles, meanges à quatre, impromptu quintets, poly-quads, and dysfunctionally sexless sextets form and disintegrate with the manic promiscuity of some microscopic multi-celled community, the narrative convolutions a gaudily variegated mosaic of multi-cultural intercourse.

References to Japanese No and Kabuki theater are a sort of recurring literary symbol in the novel, a principle of continuity that effectively holds the structure up despite its sprawling eclecticism. Other marvelously arcane references abound, everything from the Tale of Genji to the Orlandos of Ariosto and Virginia Wolf, the novels of Thackeray and the short stories of Irwin Shaw. (Kierkegaard is no doubt aware of his famous namesake’s Diary of a Seducer, though this seems to be the only obscure literary reference not included in the novel!)  

Then too, much of Adultery with its hyper-intelligent, highest-common-denominator humor put me in mind of what is probably my favorite novel of all time, Josef Skvoreky’s vast, darkly comic 1977 grand opus, The Engineer of Human Souls. Both Skvoreky’s political émigré college professor Daniel, and Kierkegaard’s stranger-in-a-strange-land Orlando share the same wry, vaguely bemused contempt for their students, a bunch of bored, lazy, shallow, over-privileged, hyper-entitled plagiarists, whom they nonetheless have no qualms seducing.  Skvoreky’s novel is cleverly structured like the syllabus of the course on American literature Daniel teaches at Edenvale College, the small, vividly imagined Canadian liberal arts institution set in a mythic wilderness, far from the crushing heartbreak—if never far from the memory—of  the 1968 Prague Spring. Kierkegaard’s Orlando is neither so well-organized, ambitious, or politically aware, and yet, one senses an undeniable kinship between the two characters; they share an uncannily similar cynicism, the same benignly jaundiced way of looking at the world. One cannot help imagining the kind of conversations the two might have over a drink at some academic conference outsides the confines of time. Yet another happy surprise!

Adultery: The Scarlet Alphabet is enthusiastically recommended with several extra soupçon of pure full-throated gusto. Run, don’t walk, to get your hands on a copy of this one!


Sunday, September 21, 2014

All He Surveys--A Short Story by TAS


Here is another short story from my recent collection, which you can find here.
 
There is no doubt--certainly not in my mind-- that the narrator and main-character of this story is an unregenerate douchebag, a pretentious asshole, and a creep with a case of terminal logorrhea. Still, I think he has one or two interesting opinions, even if we may vehemently disagree with them.  The story itself is written in a sort of modified second-person, which I normally tend to avoid, and have, on occasion, criticized others for using. I certainly do not recommend writing anything in second person; in this case it was merely a means of getting the story written as quickly as possible without getting bogged down by dialogue mechanics or convoluted stage direction.
 
Enjoy--or not as the case may be-- and please do explore this along with some of my other titles.
 
TAS
 
 
All He Surveys

 

What, you may ask, do sex, politics, race, religion and fecal matter all have in common? Easy; we tolerate our own opinions about all those things, hold our noses, and convince ourselves that whatever comes out of us has the rosy aroma of righteousness. It’s everybody else’s shite that stinks.

 

from Sex, Ethics, and Popular Culture
Professor Michael “Doc” Drayton

 
Come in. I understand you have questions for me—an interview for the campus rag, the department secretary informs me. Do you want me to be honest—or do I have a shot at getting laid? No? Ah, you say that now, my young friend, but we’ve only just met. Admittedly, I am something of an acquired taste, yet I never cease to be amused at how many over the years have managed to acquire it, if only for an evening.

May I offer you some tea? Valerian root with just a hint of rohypnol. (Oh dear! Did I say that out loud? Of course, what I meant to say was ‘valerian root with a hint of rose hips.’) No to either? I see; you’re the sort who prefers chamomile to date rape. I gest! I gest! Very well, then, no tea.

You’ll be here about my book, no doubt; Sex, Ethics and Popular Culture. What is there to say, really? I pulled together a few lectures from seven or eight courses I taught over the last few years, and simply transcribed them—nothing to it. A rather feeble—and more likely as not futile—attempt at keeping my testicles out of the proverbial academic publish or perish meat grinder. You honestly don’t want to talk to me about that dry old thing—the book, I mean, not my scrotum. In fact, we both know the book was nothing more than a pretense, a way of getting your foot in the door so you could meet the monster behind the man behind the legend.

Do I disappoint as a monster? The day-to-day details of my life are so wholly unremarkable. As a rule, an adjunct professor’s life is tenuous at best—though, sadly, seldom tenure-ous. (Ah! You roll your eyes, you groan. Kudos for good taste.) I have five Master’s degrees, three PhDs, and far too diverse a range of interests ever to achieve greatness. Men or women who succeed brilliantly in their fields tend to specialize—doggedly, ferociously—in one thing and one thing only. Mahler notwithstanding, a great conductor is seldom a truly great composer (Bernstein, in my opinion, was neither); the most talented painters and sculptors make lousy novelists. Michael Jordan sucked at baseball.

And I made the mistake from an early age of patterning my professional life after the father in the old Jonny Quest cartoons. No one ever really knew in what field Dr. Benton Quest had chosen to specialize—archaeology; anthropology; crypto-zoology; xeno-biology; exo-botony; metallurgy; particle physics; aerospace engineering? He had to be the most diversely interested, well-educated and accomplished human being since Goethe. Who could want a finer role model?

Actually, I have a theory about the original series. If you’ve ever noticed, the male voices all sound eerily similar—at least to my ears they do—Race Bannon, Dr. Quest, the bad-guy du jour. I surmise that the whole thing is going on in Jonny’s head, a kind of fantastical psychotic fugue in which the Oedipal confusion about his parentage takes the form of a classic Freudian tripartite projection; Dr. Quest, the brilliant but ineffectual and often-absent father, representing intellect and the Super Ego; Race, the protective but very permissive, strongly male, ultra visceral adventurer who makes the rules up as he goes along, a personification of Jonny’s stifled ego; and the bad guys, the Id breaking free, making all sorts of mischief that allows the ego its chance for full self-realization.

I still haven’t figured out how Haji and Bandit fit into all this.

Not how you imagined an interview with me is it? Not the roaring of a monster so much as the pontifications of a pedant. Salvador Dali once said “I don’t do drugs; I am drugs.” I, too, am drugs, except unfortunately, as it turns out, I’m some type of sedative. What’s the point, you ask? What’s that got to do with anything? So, what are you; a freshman; a sophomore, still boiling over with the irrational impatience of youth? Very well, then, why don’t we get directly to the question I know you’ve been dying to pose, the one you’re most anxious to ask? Yes, that’s right; I’ll save you the time. I’ll spare you the embarrassment of flailing about on the ground like some juvenile albatross, all the excruciatingly inarticulate hemming and hawing, all the numb-tongued struggling for a “polite” way to bring up what everyone presumes must be a delicate subject.

We’ll cut right to the rumor—that’s all it’s ever been, mind you—the one everyone whispers with such lubricious delight. I’ll wager you’re no exception. Remind me how it goes. I’m supposed to have—hmmm, how do they put it?—‘sexually assaulted’ a young female student on the campus of one of the upper Midwest’s finer institutions of higher learning where I was (and I quote) ‘a well-respected, tenured professor of something or other’, before fleeing to the dark satanic cornfields of Kansas—glory hole of the western world—to eke out my days as an academic wage slave at this glorified junior college.

A foul and execrable lie, I assure you, no doubt invented by some jealous boyfriend, and perpetuated by my enemies in the administration here. Over the years I have been devious, conniving, underhanded, disingenuous, and downright deceitful in my dealings with the opposite sex. I have lied and finagled, cajoled and wheedled and blackmailed my way into more beds than I can count. I have bent many to my paraphilic will, seldom elegantly or romantically, often bluntly, and more often than not to their subsequent regret, but never, I assure you—never, not once—have I gained sexual favor by physical force—or ever taken anything that wasn’t freely offered.

I am a seducer, not a rapist; a distinction as broad as that between brute force and brutal honesty. I reiterate; not a rapist. There is no sport in rape, no intellectual stimulation; it’s banal and ungraceful, unimaginative, utterly devoid of eroticism, and far more trouble than it’s worth. The true pleasure of seduction lies not in physical coercion, but in the cerebral power of persuasion. Take some doe-eyed twenty-two-year-old who thinks she has it all figured out; the meaning of life, the course of the future, her place in the moral cosmos. A charming bundle of contradiction, confidence and naivety, she embraces everything she believes with the cloying absolute certainty of the young, thinking she knows exactly what she wants, a cloistered princess, sheltered from all self-doubt.

At least until I come along, convincing her, if only for a few hours, that what she really wants is me, in spite of her abject revulsion. There may, on occasion, be some small quibble over the interpretation of the word no, and yet—

What? ‘No means no,’ you say? Are you certain of that? Always? In my experience the word’s a tad more flexible, a bit more nuanced, and certainly more open to subtle interpretation than in, say, Catherine McKinnon or Andrea Dworkin’s black-and-white wet dreams. I am not obfuscating! Of course, there are times when no may well mean ‘no,’ or ‘don’t,’ or ‘stop,’ but sometimes, often depending on inflection, it can just as easily mean ‘not now’ or ‘maybe later.’ Sometimes it seems to mean ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this and what will they think of me back home?’ and other times it means ‘Oh shite! I’m coming too soon’ or ‘I’m really not supposed to be enjoying this so much, especially not with somebody I find utterly repellant, that is, someone not my significant other.’ To be sure, in the most boring if not the best of all possible worlds no would always mean ‘no.’ In practice, though, it is more often, ‘no means no unless I want it to mean yes’ or ‘no means no until I decide I’m comfortable debauching myself with a total stranger.’ It’s unfair and it’s confusing, but that’s how the game is played.

But then, you see, I never resort to physical force, so what point is there in debating semantics? What difference is made by a few slight variations in inflection? The idea that a sopping-wet ninety-pound weakling like myself could ever overpower a strong young woman—often taller, heavier and more muscular, and, incidentally, not confined to a motorized wheelchair—is, on the face of it, utterly ridiculous, don’t you think? Date rape drugs—disregarding my earlier attempt at humor—are for craven cowards and inarticulate thugs. I do not employ them. Not when I have my own well-honed wits at my disposal, a brilliant mind, an effervescent gift of gab. I get what I want—they give me what I want—because, whatever my shortcomings—no pun intended—I know how to talk them into it.

And why shouldn’t I have some fun? People’s lives are so colorless, so shallow and so meaningless most of the time, if they stopped very long to think about the point of their existence—thinking back to first principals as it were—they’d probably go stark-raving mad. Why is it that we insist on making our lives even duller? Why must we deny the few pleasures that make life seem worth living? Good food. Good sex. Good pharmaceuticals. Premium cable.

What sets us apart from insects after all? They’re born, they reproduce, and then they die. They never ask questions. We have the ability to think about thinking—it’s called metacognition—and though recent research shows that we’re not alone in this ability, we seem to be—still—the only species capable of making itself miserable from the exercise. We can reflect on the apparent emptiness of our existence, and that leads to despair, so we invent deities and religions and a whole institutional infrastructure of denial to reinforce the illusion of meaning and make sure nobody questions this or that particular version of reality. We’re forced to embrace paradox and contradiction if we want to assimilate and get along, and in the end the whole process only manages to give us the lives of hive insects. The meaninglessness is still there but now it’s a collective meaninglessness and any kind of thinking for one’s self is considered sinful.

All too often we conflate—and then confuse—our limited aesthetic sensibilities, our very questionable personal tastes, with these artificially constructed “universal” moral imperatives. Prudishness at root is little more than a lack of imagination. Now, our inhibitions can be quite useful; they can get us to stop, look, and listen before stumbling into a potentially harmful situation; they can give us the space we need to take a step back and think about what we’re doing. Thinking about the choices we face is not a bad thing, but when we let our inhibitions do our thinking for us we’re in trouble. When we attribute too much importance to these rather primitive psychological defense mechanisms they begin to impede our intellectual and spiritual growth. Treating them as if they were some sort of moral imperative, existing purely for some higher spiritual purpose which must be heeded under any and all circumstances, we willfully ignore a whole world of valuable experience and knowledge, finding it all the more difficult to realize our full potential.

For example, we may feel distaste or disgust at something—say the late Anna Nicole Smith with that old fossil she married for his money—and our minds recoil. But our revulsion stems more from our inability to clear an aesthetic hurdle than from the actual violation of any natural principal. Of course that’s probably not the best example one could offer; I was never one of Ms. Smith’s fans; always thought she looked ridiculous, even rather hideous, and certainly not the brightest bulb in the box. But putting aside the issues of gold-digging, ethical impairment and lack of self-respect for a moment, what is it that truly bothers us about such a coupling? There’s nothing unnatural about what goes where, they each had the proper equipment. He was a heterosexual male (albeit with somewhat questionable taste) and she went out of her way to project the fact that she was very much a girl, even to the point of becoming a hyper-inflated caricature of one. It may not have been aesthetically pleasing, but it did not violate any natural, biological, or legal principals. If such a coupling tends to disgust us or induce nausea, that’s really more about us than it is about them.

And yes, to a certain degree, instinct may come into play. We may try to figure out how we can get the old geezer out of the picture so we can move in on the babe; but it’s not like we’re trying to rescue Julie Adams from the Creature from the Black Lagoon. We’d plot to get rid of anybody we thought was standing between us and the object of our desire regardless of his age, his health, or his economic status. Could it be that Anna Nicole Smith in all her shallow glory managed to teach us a valuable lesson about ourselves?

I’m sorry; did you actually have a question for me? You’ve yet to ask me about my most embarrassing moment, my favorite color—or movie or band— whether I’ve ever been married, how I ended up in this wheelchair, or if I have plans for dinner this evening. I am, in fact, free for dinner. My favorite film, albeit something of a guilty pleasure, is Zalman King’s Wild Orchid. I like the Stones prior to 1975. My favorite color is the deep, tell-tale pink of pebbled areolas—the true color of sexual arousal—and, yes. I was married once briefly, which also happened to be one of the most embarrassing episodes of my life.

My first—and only—attempt at marriage I blame on Hollywood. They didn’t release Wild Orchid soon enough to save me. Yes, yes, stupid, pointless, badly acted with stilted dialogue that seems to have been randomly generated from a database of all the worst romance novels ever written, but if I’d seen it when I was in my twenties I never would have made the mistake of getting married. Once you’ve fantasized about being with the young Carré Otis it’s pretty much all downhill from there as they say. And, of course, any imagined ménage a trois that includes Miss Otis along with the inimitable Jacqueline Bisset beats anything this all-too-mundane dimension of existence has to offer without a doubt. So, while the film came out too late to warn me off a miserable marriage, it certainly inspired me to seek a divorce. I felt like shouting from the rooftops; “Carré! I’m free! I’m available now! Look, Carré! I’m prettier than Mickey Rourke and a lot smarter too!” But, alas, she never returned my calls.

One scene in particular stands out in my memory. Carré Otis is in a hotel room in Rio with a stranger, an American businessman, while Mickey Rourke’s character, Wheeler, watches them from outside the window. The stranger stands behind her in the dark, slowly disrobing her. He leads her to the bed and pushes her down, but she resists, breaks free, tries to escape. The stranger tackles her and she lies beneath him on the floor, and there follows a moment of prolonged erotic anticipation. He strokes her hair and face, touching her with the greatest tenderness. Then, ever so gently, he lifts the mask she’s worn for Carnival. It is in the uncovering of her face that her nakedness becomes undeniable and complete. You can almost feel the way her body responds as he moves his hands over her flesh. She lies passively beneath him, letting the sensations of the moment wash over her, surrendering herself to the inevitable tide of his desire. You can almost feel yourself mounting her, the delectable tickling coarseness of her maiden hair against your cock, that slight sensation of fleshly resistance as you slip into her, pushing aside the wet, yielding softness of her sex. Truly remarkable cinema . . .

Sorry. I’ve forgotten the question. Was there, in fact, a question? Were you not asking me about what I regret most in my dealings with the opposite sex? Only this: I regret having even once briefly settled for a stifling, narrow worldview in which I voluntarily deprived myself of possibility and potential. I regret all the experiences I missed. I regret having put limits on myself and allowing a great chunk of delectable fleeting life to pass me by. I regret that I allowed myself to be duped by the whole concept of romantic love, and especially by the completely unnatural notion of monogamy.

Bitter? Oh, perhaps, some. I had the misfortune to marry a woman with a beautiful body and a hideous face. She was considerably taller than me, so her most objectionable features were usually beyond my somewhat limited line of sight. Unfortunately her personality took after her face, perpetually sour and sunless, with never a hint of joy or optimism. An over-educated ditz, constantly spouting random nonsense as if untethered from reason itself, she was . . . uninteresting. It’s entirely possible to be a bore while discussing interesting topics; but the ex-missus had nothing of value to say about anything even remotely remarkable—not ever.

So why did I marry her, you ask? Nice tits, of course. Oh, she was quite the looker from the neck down; a giantess compared to me, at 5:9 and almost perfectly proportioned. The juxtaposition of that grotesque face on such a heavenly body was akin to a cosmic practical joke, the gods of irony at their most sadistically inventive. To a degree I felt sorry for the child—sorry and superior at the same time—here, at last, was someone whose misfortune was even greater than my own. I was too naïve to understand that love and pity cannot breathe the same air. Yet, at least for a time, she worshipped the ground on which I trod. I was flattered and captivated, not feeling worthy of a finer prize, I freely admit it. Love and self-pity don’t mix well either.

I suppose things might have worked had we endeavored a pose or two from the Kama Sutra; ‘standing-up Sixty-Nine’—Nimitta—would have been ideal. We could have focused on each other’s finer features and still derived a bit of pleasure from the marriage bed. Unfortunately it was not to be. If you’ve ever noticed, most of the diverse asana—that is, positions—and Tantric knots—bandha—you find in the Kama Sutra or the Ananga-Ranga are very much like carnival rides; you have to be so tall to get on, and for purposes of proper execution, more often than not they presume that the man is bigger, taller and stronger than the woman. Needless to say, I’ve had to find ways of compensating over the years.

Then too, it didn’t help that my bride had somehow latched on to the notion that I was a man of means. She was one of those benighted souls who believe that marrying into money renders one’s feces odorless. Needless to say the divorce was quite expensive and the more expensive it became the more acrimonious. I vowed upon obtaining my freedom never again to relinquish it.

And, based on this experience, what advice would I have for the rest of mankind? Never sleep with the same woman more than once. If you don’t want to know her secrets, then for the sake of all you hold dear do not—and I mean absolutely do not—sleep with her at all. If you don’t want her to know your secrets, keep your prowess in your pants and your hands to yourself. From a woman’s point of view, coitus is all too often equated with possession. Once she thinks she’s got a claim on you you’re powerless to escape. Why do you think they call it “the honey trap?” Sleep with the same woman more than once, develop any kind of tenderness in embracing her, and—it never fails—she starts nesting, talking about exclusivity and planning out your future for you in excruciating detail, a prosaic vision of things to come that invariably involves some kind of gauzy, gossamer, totally monogamous “forever.” Oh puh-lease! Kill me now! And, let’s be fair, women aren’t the only ones uncritically swallowing this particular flavor of Kool-Aid. Men can be just as blind, just as addle-brained, just as naively lemming-like in their pursuit of idealized romance. It’s sickening. Monogamy is a great thing if you’re jealous, overly-possessive, incurious, dull-witted and immature. It’s just another excuse for the abdication of autonomy and a cowardly surrender to group-think.

Have I charmed and amused you yet? No? I see that our time is running short, so I will not keep you much longer. I’ve given you a great amount of seemingly random material—grist for a whole series of articles—and you may well be wondering how it all fits together. To make sense of it, we must explore the one question you’ve yet to ask; the one you think you’re “too nice” to bring up. But of course we both know you want to ask—desperately—your enquiring mind truly does want to know. How did I end up in this motorized monstrosity? What turned this affable pint-sized polymath into a foul-mouthed cripple?

In the end, I was broken because I broke the very rules I had vowed to live by. I became fascinated with a beautiful young woman, a student at the University of In Media Nusquam where I had been employed for many years following my divorce. Not only beautiful, but also quick-witted, and ready to spar with me at every turn, she was interesting in a way my wife had never been. Arguing with the right person can be considerably more fun than agreeing with the wrong one. And the sex afterwards when you’re making up? C’est incredible! There’s nothing like a good vigorous apology. Sometimes I enjoy the make-up sex so much that I find myself premeditating the next disagreement while I’m still engorged inside my partner.

She, of course, resisted my advances at first. Her chief excuse—that of having a boyfriend—was something of a nuisance, but nothing I couldn’t ultimately work around. And when, finally, I did, she lay beneath me, naked and trembling just like Carré Otis, losing her virginity in Wild Orchid, and it was as if my wildest dream had suddenly come true. I should have been satisfied and ended it then and there, but there was something about this young beauty that continually drew me back to her. I simply could not resist the delight of her company. She was drugs, and I was addicted.

A great part of the fascination and excitement lay in my having to argue my way back into her bed each time I approached her. Yet, ultimately she gave herself to me in spite of her revulsion. We’d exchange insults to keep the fires of lust roaring—lust burns on any fuel it can find, but with particular intensity on hate. “Fuck me, you disgusting old shit-bag-midget pervert VD-fuck-stick-fossil,” she’d say, and I’d laugh and reply “Open your legs wider then, slut, unless you want to roll over and pretend I’m your boyfriend.”

And one night we were going at it in my bedroom, and she was cursing me through gritted teeth, this lovely young thing who found me repulsive and utterly irresistible. But in the next moment she was howling, screaming, shouting, “I love you! I love you! Oh God! I hate myself but I love you!” She was choking back sobs, pounding at my chest with her fists even as she thrust her pelvis up towards mine again and again. “I can’t help it! You make me sick but I can’t help it! I love you!”

At that moment, the closet doors burst open and her boyfriend bounded out into the bedroom. He seized me by the shoulders, pulled me off the faithless wench even as she shivered and quaked with the orgasm I’d given her, and then he began to wail on me, assaulting me with my own walking stick. He beat and kicked and punched, and broke half a dozen bones in my fragile little body, ribs, clavicle, femur. In his eyes I was no different than that old toothless letcher who married Anna Nicole Smith, a fetid worm violating a rose, and he was merely following the biological imperative of the Alpha Male. He was about to sodomize me with the walking stick when the girl threw herself in front of him, receiving a black eye for her trouble.

I spent a long time in recovery, only to discover, on being released from the hospital that I’d been summarily dismissed by the university. They claimed I’d violated the faculty code of ethics by sleeping with a student, never mind that she wasn’t enrolled in any of my classes or that our encounters were completely consensual. They were good enough to allow rumors of what had happened to spread unchecked, and I was ruined, professionally and physically for life.

And so, you see, my sex life is, for all practical purposes, over now. This is not an easy thing to admit; it is akin to a certain foreknowledge of death, the morbid realization that I’ve lived fifty-six years and might only have four or five more left—if I’m lucky.

The prospect of ultimate physical death does not disturb me. I accept the possibility that human consciousness is finite, and that this life is all there is. As such, I have not lived my life based on vague expectations of reward or fear of punishment. My sense is that when our time’s up here, we’ll have had all we’re ever going to get. There’ll be no heaven, no hell, no welcoming choirs of angels or ass raping demons, no seconds on dessert, no seventy-two virgins; just a long dreamless sleep accompanied by slow decomposition. If I am audacious enough to speculate on anything, I’d say it’s a pretty safe bet that the dead do not get laid.

And that, as Hamlet so succinctly put it, is the rub. It’s this idea of never having sex again in this or any life that really bothers me. Looking back, I can see how almost every choice I made from a certain age was ultimately weighed against the prospect of how it might enhance my chances with the opposite sex, from what shoes to wear when I was fourteen, to the college I would attend at eighteen, to the religion I would drop out of at twenty, or the political party I would join at twenty-three. Decisions that would affect my life for decades were invariably considered in light of the possibility of getting some—more often than not in desperate impulsive haste. As such, I lived to regret most of them, just as I grew to despise almost everyone I ever slept with.

Still, it depresses me, for all the grief and misery it’s caused I’m not ready to give up on sex just yet. Speaking of which . . .



Sunday, September 7, 2014

Review of "Fetish Fair" and "Sigil Fire" by Erzabet Bishop


Erzabet Bishop’s funny, blithely diverting short story The Red Envelope was among the standouts in Slave Girls, D.L. King’s recent anthology of D/s erotica, reviewed here a few weeks ago. What made Bishop’s story particularly interesting was the way she so skillfully got into her heroine’s head, so naturally, believably illuminating the young woman’s self-doubts, worries about her weight, social anxieties and fear of rejection. It all rang so pleasingly true without any unwelcome detours into darkness or authorial self-indulgence; a first-rate piece of erotic entertainment that had me keen to explore more of this writer’s work.  

Fetish Fair is about as uncomplicatedly entertaining as erotica gets without descending into the realm of simplistic “bubblegum” cliché. BDSM romance at its very lightest with more conventional sex than kink, this is a frothy vanilla treat. Set at a BDSM convention, readers follow kink-novice Kari through the hall as she visits various exhibits and workshops. The book itself is structured— theoretically at least—to give us a sense of her random peregrinations through the event. Taking a cue from interactive media and contemporary gaming, the publisher aspires to a kind of “Choose Your Own Sexy Adventure” in which the reader is continually prompted to take one path or another. There are three or four different storylines, each culminating in an equally steamy happy end.

It’s a fascinating attempt to impose a non-linear structure on what is in essence a fairly conventional narrative, and kudos to Silkwords Press for endeavoring to take advantage of those features unique to e-books. The only problem is that it doesn’t work here--or, at least, not very well. The hyperlinking was not done properly, so readers are left at the end of each section having to toggle back to a menu somewhere near the head of the text (there is no table of contents). It’s clunky, awkward and distracting, and it needs be redone. I would suggest placing a mini-TOC at the end of each discrete section, like a set of doors to be chosen, leading to subsequent sections. This would eliminate some of the awkwardness with navigation, and make the interactive experience as pleasant as the story itself.   

I encourage the publisher to get on a fix as soon as possible, because Fetish Fair is certainly a lot of fun, and well worth the effort.


 

Bishop’s Sigil Fire is a pulp-genre outing with a good basic tale to engage fast-reading fans of steamy paranormal fiction and police procedurals. The story certainly has its moments, but I got the impression of something written in a terrible hurry with insufficient editorial attention. Especially in moments of high tension and intense action, there are problems with continuity, unnecessary repetition, confused points-of-view, and blurry, poorly delineated descriptions. The main female characters—vampires and succubi—all seem to think, talk and act exactly alike, so it’s difficult to relate to any one of them or, for that matter, care. They are all described as attractive, young-looking women, a more-or-less meaningless set of characteristics, which don’t help when they all converge in a busy action sequence.
 
This, too, needs to go back to the editor’s desk for some work. The author needs to more carefully analyze her high-action scenes and work to make them clearer, better distinguish her characters, pay due attention to proper dialogue attribution, jettison some of the blandly overworked genre tropes (yet another "council" of elders) and clichéd speech patterns (“Damn him!” “The bastard!”, or the use of "friction" when "frisson" is clearly intended, though that, too, is rapidly becoming one of the most overused--and abused--words in erotic fiction). I did like the flashback sections revealing the heroine-vampire’s backstory. These were very sensitively written and came as close to originality as anything in the book. The way the two main characters bond, whether sexually or through the shared sigil of the title is quite beautiful, and admirably imaginative. On the other hand, I don’t think “Jellybean” is a good name for a Hell Hound, unless one is trying for a kind of Joss-Whedon-ish ironic humor, which was certainly not the impression I got here.  

With a little more work, greater attention to detail, and a strong hand on the editorial tiller, this could be made into a much better book. Bishop has already demonstrated that she is talented enough to do better, and I sincerely hope that with her next effort, she will.



 

 

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review of "Picture Perfect: The Best of Donna George Storey"



I like the erotic fiction of Donna George Storey like I like wine and chocolate for dessert, an indulgence all too rare, yet never to be forgotten; I like it like I like making love to the symphonies of Rachmaninoff, like I like massaging a pair of beautiful feet and the feel of their owner’s response; like I like the quickening wonder of discovery, the texture and taste of homemade vanilla ice cream, and the films of Michael Powell, the beauty of the night sky beyond artificial illumination, the orgasmic thrill of insight, and the way a lover sighs when I kiss the back of her neck.

And I like these six superbly-crafted short stories, all impressively understated, yet powerfully, ineluctably sexy. Storey clearly understands that the quickest way to an intelligent reader’s turn-on is through his or her brain. This approach may strike some as oddly low-key, perhaps a tad too cerebral and slow-paced for the average smut-slut, the heat-factor a bit on the lukewarm side for the more voraciously undiscriminating members of the wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am crowd. Yet, this author clearly knows her audience, richly rewarding those willing to stay with her. Seldom falling back too heavily on paraphilic gimmickry or kink for the sake of mere shock value, never descending into gratuitous raunch or vulgarity, the aphrodisiacal potency of the writing is nonetheless undeniable. If this is “vanilla” it is the sweetest, most potent vanilla one could ever hope to taste, as in this passage from Blinded, the story that opens the collection:

I was wrong. I’d never realized how beautiful his body was. Not that I hadn’t appreciated it before, but I’d always focused my gaze on his eyes, his expressions. The rest of him I knew better by touch. But now, with his eyes hidden, I could see him with a new clarity: the rich, taut curves of his arms and chest, the hint of soft flesh at his waist that I found oddly pleasing. I noticed that the hair on his belly fanned out more luxuriantly on the left, and by contrast, his right thigh was slightly more muscular, a legacy of his college fencing days. It didn’t take long for him to get hard—it never did when we used the blindfold—and I got to watch that, the delicate jerking movements of his penis as it rose and thickened, drawn upward by invisible strings, which, I imagined, led straight to my hands.

This is marvelous writing by the standards of any genre, and there is a good deal more to be enjoyed here, from the pruriently playful title story to Spring Pictures, a return to the world of Amorous Woman, Storey’s remarkable novel of life in Japan, with all its deeply inscrutable erotic mystery and breathtaking wonder, to the odd sensual magic of Being Bobby, a diverting tale of imagination and physical empathy, to the outstanding To Dance at the Fair, a multi-part short story with the complexity and impact of a full-length novel, remarkable for its wealth of erudition, insight, and depth of feeling.

Unhesitatingly recommended!



Sunday, August 17, 2014

Writing Through the Pain


I wanted to write something eloquent and moving this week about the death of the great Robin Williams, perhaps making a connection with my own life-long struggles with clinical depression and creativity. Unfortunately, I find that I am too damned depressed to go there, too weary, too sore, too angry; all I can do is write through the pain. I am hurting physically, frustrated, moods on a hair trigger, pissed off about all the thoughtless, cruel, clueless pronouncements from the pundit-sphere concerning the death of this beautiful, remarkable, loving and beloved,  extravagantly gifted, and deeply, profoundly tortured soul; sick of these unethical, overpaid, sub-moronic, shite-stained bullying bastards who know not one fucking thing about creativity or depression, sensitivity or kindness, yet blithely make their flippant armchair diagnoses of all those who suffer as “liberal sissies” or “cowards”, going on to tell us that we  should all just simply “man up” or “snap out of it” or “surround ourselves with positive energy” or “find God”, usually by embracing their particular perverted form of religion. (Been there, done that. I can tell you conclusively; it doesn’t work.) As far as I’m concerned they can all go fuck themselves or burn in that hell in which they claim so vehemently to believe.  (Does this seem insensitive or “not nice” of me? Too bad.)

Where depression is concerned, reticence kills. By this I mean the culture of reticence that discourages people from recognizing or acknowledging or even talking aloud about their own suffering, let alone seeking help for it. No one should ever be ashamed about what they feel. No one should ever be afraid to ask for help. Yet, too often, we’re told that we have to be “nice” at all costs; that we mustn’t “inconvenience” or embarrass others with our concerns. Well, you know what? Fuck nice. If my life is on the line I will be blunt, damn the torpedoes and whatever the hell the neighbors think.

I was in my early thirties when my depression became acute. One day I was hired to sing at the funeral of a man about ten years older than me, who, it turned out, had committed suicide after suffering in silence for some years. This guy had people who loved him and cared about him; he had a good job and, by all appearances, a great life; on paper it certainly looked a lot nicer than mine. Almost immediately upon learning the circumstances of this man’s life and death, I understood that I would end up like him if I kept to the path I was on. Back home that afternoon I called up a local mental health organization and asked for help.

Unfortunately, their idea of “help” was to send me to see a psychiatrist for fifteen minutes once every six weeks in order to “manage” my medication levels. For a time I was sent to a quack who was later arrested and indicted for insurance fraud—this after losing admitting privileges the two local hospitals. This asshole would get “touchy” if I asked the “wrong” questions, and I have no doubt he ruined many lives while amassing a huge pile of illicit cash. He might well have ruined mine, too. Ultimately, I told the people in charge that meds were not enough. I DEMANDED something more, something better, insisting that I needed someone to talk to—really talk to—about the things that were troubling me.

It took years finally to find a competent, honest professional therapist who actually listened to me and helped me. I was finally—after nearly twenty-five years—diagnosed with Bi-Polar II and PTSD, and given some practical advice for dealing with those concerns without resorting to medication, which had only dulled my creativity and dampened my libido—the two are closely related, in fact--without doing much for the depression itself.  In lieu of "wonder drugs" I developed daily habits and routines—including a writing schedule—to help me cope and keep the “black dog” at bay; developed a dietary regimen, and tried my best to get a reasonable amount of exercise each day. I avoid all fast food, drink alcohol very rarely if ever, and never drink coffee. (In spite of this, amazingly, I am a morning person. Who would’ve guessed?) For a few years I kept a list of my achievements from month to month so that I could never again lie to myself and say that I “never get anything done”. I have identified the things about which I am deeply passionate, and have embraced them, as if for dear life. At the same time, I have jettisoned many of the things that were a source of pain or irritation—marriage, religion, commercial broadcast media. I always endeavor to have a “project” or two or three so that my mind is always occupied. And though I still find myself slipping into that dark place from time to time, I have kept well for the most part, live quietly, simply, and, mostly, in solitude. I am physically healthy, and consider myself content. But all this, only because, somehow I found the strength to ASK FOR HELP.

TAS

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Review of "Spark My Moment: A Collection of Erotic Short Stories" by Jeremy Edwards



What a joy finally to have this outstanding short story collection available in e-book form after what seems far too long a wait. And though that wait was, in point of fact, only slightly less than a year, it was assuredly worth it in any case. Jeremy Edwards’ erotic fiction is, as ever, sunlit and cerebral, stylish, sensual and smart, light as air and heavy as thought. Oh, and did I mention funny? Mustn’t forget the funny; can’t, in fact, forget it after the two or three times I nearly passed out from laughing so hard.

Edwards is clearly in love with language—undoubtedly a good thing for a writer—fetishizing the idiosyncrasies of words the way almost all his characters seem to fixate on women’s panties. He likes to toy with connotation; test the supple bounds of metaphor and innuendo, engage in gentle, nerdish foreplay with his phrases, sentences, and paragraphs, feel them growing, changing, metamorphosing under his promiscuously practiced hands, making love to them, calling new, ever-more pleasantly surprising ideas and images into existence.

[She] wanted it both ways; she wanted the intense dark-chocolate rush of secret satisfactions; and she wanted the frothy strawberry milkshake of showing off—and even, perhaps, the caramel drizzle of being discovered. If she could have stood bare-assed in front of a gallery of the regular customers, with Paul pumping her pussy, and magically contrived things so the crowd was at  once oblivious to and acutely cognizant of the naked immediacy of her penetration . . . well, she would have done so faster than you could say ‘Pop’s not in’ to a bill collector.

Edwards’ characters are invariably agreeable, thoughtful, introspective, enthusiastically willing, and astonishingly articulate where discussions of process are concerned; especially discussions of process occurring during the sex act itself. Look! Nerds want pretty much the same thing as everybody else. It’s just that sometimes we like to talk about the things that excite or frighten or turn us on in greater detail than the average moan or grunt can convey.

She was always using words that I found too beautiful to say aloud, words that I was afraid I wasn’t handsome enough to use. It was as if she could reach in and pluck all the finest nuggets from my passive vocabulary.

Or this:

I think identity is a lot like hit-or-miss photography. We keep taking pictures of ourselves, in different outfits and lightings and contexts, hoping for a likeness that resonates . . . and, of course, the actual person is infinitely kinetic and complex, and can never quite be captured as a concept, even by himself. And, at 18, I don’t know how to begin defining myself through something more personalized than homework or riffs.

Edwards is a master of erotic metaphor:

She opted to cut, flipping over and sliding her thighs apart like two glistening chunks of plastic-coated playing cards—revealing an ace.

Wise enough to employ it sparingly, the author demonstrates that he is one of the few contemporary eroticists talented enough to make second-person point-of-view seem interesting for more than a few paragraphs:

The lingering smell of your juice has now aroused me to the point of wildness. My nose presses lewdly into the joy-stained sheet, and I let my entire consciousness sink with it into olfactory paradise. I feel as if my very mind is between your thighs, my thoughts nestled within your pussy lips. I realize that when we fuck I am so focused on the sight of you, the sound you make, and the sensations of touching and being touched by you, that the powerful olfactory element must sometimes compete for my attention. Now the smell of this morning’s wet pussy is everything to me—it is the key that unlocks every sexual door in my head.

The mood throughout these stories is immutably positive, like a two-hour concert of chamber music played entirely in a sunny C-major; rich in delights to be sure, and yet, over time the mind needs some variety to stay focused. I kept wishing for some contrast, perhaps a mild disagreement in A-minor, an argument in some darker, more remote key, or even once, just once, a good cacophonically atonal knock-down-drag-out fight; any sort of realistic conflict that might reflect the way most human beings interact, finding themselves thrown together or, in spite of all their best efforts, inexorably alienated. In the absence of conflict, most of these stories convey a kind of wry detachment, rather like the protracted musings of some highly articulate smartass—a smartass with an abiding derrière fetish, and an obsession for panties as colorful and varied as the fruit flavors at Baskin-Robins’. Not that any of this is a bad thing, though, perhaps, the collection ought best be taken in smaller doses. (Admittedly, in reading it for review, I had to proceed non-stop under deadline from beginning to end; it would have been considerably more enjoyable to “dip in” to the contents here and there at leisure—though the publisher’s failure to include a working table of contents makes that virtually impossible.)

Indeed, the biggest nits I have to pick are with the publisher, rather than the author. Oh, how I wish publishers would bother to learn the unique ins and outs of e-book formatting and internal linking. What makes an e-book different from a “traditional” print publication after all? The ability to provide internal navigation and external referencing through hyperlinking is a true boon, and there is simply no excuse in this day and age not to have a clickable table of contents, especially in so extensive a collection. Additionally, there need to be definite page breaks after each story, if for no other reason than to facilitate accurate bookmarking (it’s not like one’s wasting paper, after all).

Complaints aside, this is one of the best single-author collections of short erotic fiction to appear in quite some time; unfailingly droll, intelligently adroit, effervescent, stimulatingly abundant, and consistently, happily surprising. Enthusiastically recommended!