Kathryn O’Halloran may be better known to readers, especially in her native Australia, but for those who have yet to find any of this gaudily gifted writer’s jewel-like erotic short stories, consider the reviews below an emphatic wake-up call. O’Halloran’s collection, appropriately enough entitled Desire, along with her superbly executed short story, Photos, are marvels of the genre.
“Wise” is not a term one often associates with erotic fiction. The word itself has become something of a crutch in highbrow blurb writing (“wonderful, witty and wise . . .” “as wise as it is nebulous”); a platitude of first resort for easily dazzled interns and bubble-headed network-radio-affiliate reviewers with delusions of far-reaching influence. I suspect Marilynne “Housekeeping” Robinson could make a handsome side income by demanding an escalator clause in her next contract; say, an extra thousand bucks or two for every time some calf-eyed sycophant uses “the w word” to fête yet another of those tediously plotless, interminably rambling, puritanically pretentious, potentially-Pulitzer-Prize-winning exercises in literary water torture.
Wisdom where sex is concerned may well have its place, but not, we generally think, in stories designed to pique prurient interest, or entertain by way of erotic evocation. The prospect seems deadly dull—a mood-killer if there ever was one. And yet, if wisdom is that critical mass of insight gained through acute observation, no word is more appropriately applied to the finest works of erotica, a genre, which, at its literate best, delves the human condition—the secrets of our inner lives—with an astute intimacy that most “respectable” literary authors could only envy. Robinson, who seems to have assumed the mantle of “professional wise woman” of late, might well learn a thing or two about the honest portrayal of common everyday life, human passion, and elegant sentence structure from E.B. Jones, a promising new author of erotic literary fiction.
“Night is when I allow myself to become someone else . . .” the narrator of Jones’ The Composition Book tells us:
My dreams take me to dark places. I never know where I’ll end up when I close my eyes. I have dreams so lucid that I feel compelled to write them down in a secret journal. Who else vividly remembers their dreams? Mine haunt me during the day. I sometimes ask myself if maybe I’m actually living outside my own body during these nighttime intervals. I feel guilt over the fantasies that I have. I know my husband is sleeping upstairs, exhausted from hauling plywood and pounding nails with his crew. And yet my thoughts sometimes betray him in a way that I could never share. A subtle wedge between us. He would understand that. With each excursion of my mind I drive it deeper.
Note the short, graceful, telegraphic sentences, each on its own a mere thread. And yet, skillfully woven together, these small segments collectively form a supple matrix of expression, drawing us inexorably into the author’s imagination, practically unawares. The structure is deceptively simple, and yet, the needs of story are supplied; character, conflict (albeit internal here); some obstacle to be overcome in the pursuit of a desire. It all works—and quite beautifully at that.
Where The Composition Book is about escape from workaday life through unbidden sexual fantasy; 24 Frames per Second drops us into an arid landscape of grueling realism. The story is at once wistful, deeply introspective, and grittily nostalgic. The narrator recalls a dusty road trip through the American southwest, an unconsummated relationship, and a present life, depressingly incomplete in retrospect. The story has a decidedly Hemmingway-esque feel to it; the language is spare but abundantly evocative, its artful economy reminding us that in literature as well as in life, the essence of cool lies in few words, expressing much while saying little.
Exquisitely written, acutely observed, thoughtful, and, yes, wise; “great things” don’t always have to be “big things”, as these two, lovely little stories so aptly prove. With them, E.B. Jones establishes herself as one of the brightest newcomers to the indie literotica scene, and gives us hope for still more great things to come.
The first impression one gets on entry into the erotic word-scape of Kathryn O’Halloran’s Desire, is of the sheer rhythmic vibrancy of her prose, the frenetic onomatopoeic energy informing structure even as it drives language. We feel it in the title story, as we spy on strangers making love in time to the incessant motion of a train; the herky-jerky momentum of acceleration and sex; the braking wheels squealing as lovers stifle their cries, metal against metal, a crackling burst of ozone, and the electric sparks of orgasm. The narrator’s memories of the recent past are visited, briefly, like the stops along the railroad line. In another tale, O’Halloran employs the manic motion of a rollercoaster at an amusement park to underscore the emotional struggles of her characters; translating the clack and whine of flanged wheels and groaning track into the roaring, full-throated cadences of erotic release.
Yet, there’s more than mere quasi-poetic gimmickry to this writing. Reading through the five wonderful short stories in this collection reveals a multi-faceted talent; from the structural tour de force of the title story, to the delicate, jewel-like impressionism of I Always Cry in the Rain:
From the bar he can watch her on the balcony. She perched against a table, the lights of the city rooftops behind her. She dresses like a wayward fifties bridesmaid—in red with a froth of petticoats swirling around her legs, a crimson rose punctuating her hair.
Outside the heat is like syrup, thick and heavy. He’ll stay indoors.
Inside is white and clean and crisp. Inside, everything floats on the surface.
He tries to ignore her, but she buzzes like an exotic insect at the edge of his vision. She is never totally still. He doesn’t need to be close to her to know: her teeth are stained with red wine, her fingernails tap to a tuneless song in her head; and she makes proclamations, swathing and caustic, and when she’s challenged her eyes gleam like a chastised child’s. She turns through people.
Marvelous! Desire is not to be missed.
Somewhat lighter fare, Photos: An Erotic Short Story is a bit of a romp, set in a contemporary office. A young cubicle drone is delighted to find a strange trail of photographic “bread crumbs”, pieces of an intriguingly sexy puzzle.
It was a picture of a foot. Justin had never thought about feet before. They were just there at the end of your legs. This foot, though—the voluptuous arch cried out for a tongue around its fleshy curve, for a tongue working its way to that perfect cleavage between the big toe and its neighbor, slipping into that forbidden slit.
Again, O’Halloran’s instinctive command of rhythm shines through in a brilliantly fecund outpouring of words:
Suddenly her kisses become more urgent. She presses into him, fucking his mouth with her tongue. The fuzz of her woolen jumper sweeps against his skin, making his hair stand on edge. She overwhelms him, citrus-scented, whispering, taunting, velvet fingered, tickling, stroking, unbuttoning, peeling him bare, tingling, tongue flicking, warm bodied, cold handed, mint breathed, hard lipped, hot mouthed, musky, caressing, teasing, crushing, red-hot-flashes woman.Here is writing that feels like a force of nature. O’Halloran is one of the best young erotic writers to come along in quite some time. She is a writer to watch, and, most certainly, a writer to read!