Sunday, July 6, 2014

Review of "Darkly Delicious Short Stories" by Elizabeta Brooke

Stella: An Erotic Kidnapping
Elizabeta Brooke is that rare creator of erotic fiction that is at once beautifully written, sharply perceptive, and probingly intelligent, but also thoroughly entertaining. She occupies her character’s heads with such seeming ease and naturalistic empathy that readers cannot help but be drawn in. Brooke’s work is always sensually charged, with rich, vibrantly erogenous atmosphere, never failing to touch us on an acutely visceral level. And yet, she does not shy away from psychological conflict or moral complexity—all-too rare in literature nowadays, and virtually unheard of in erotica. More than anything else, this is what makes Brooke’s work extraordinary, and, ultimately, destined to last.

It is thus something of an occasion to celebrate the appearance of this new collection of five short stories. Representing Brooke’s entire output in the form to date, Darkly Delicious Short Stories offers readers the rarest of gifts; sexy tales that they will actually want to read more than once.   

All these stories have been published separately before. Poe was included on EFTBB’s Best of 2012 list, and Knock: An Erotic Housecall was reviewed here just a few weeks ago. The new stories (including Knock) reveal the author’s movement in a somewhat more accessibly mainstream direction. Stella: An Erotic Kidnapping is a diverting, if fairly lightweight action/adventure piece with flashes of comic irony and a satisfying last-second twist; a heist caper infused with nostalgic “what-if-ing” and a bit of marvelously steamy present-moment “why-not-ing” as well.  

Wryly satirical on one level, funny, poignant and perceptive, Prissy: An Erotic Act of Kindness offers a sardonically delicious take on adolescent voyeurism, and the bewildering nature of “old sex” as seen through the eyes of relative inexperience. Prissy is a still-somewhat sheltered seventeen-year-old for whom thirty or—gods forbid!—forty seems unfathomably “old”. She is at once na├»ve and cynical, but it is a cynicism born more of ignorance and youthful absolute certainty than real-life experience. Will what she sees, hears, and learns broaden her horizons and open her mind, or leave her still more confused than before?  With its realistic and sensitive portrayal of adolescent emotion in the context of satiric fantasy, this may well be one of the most enjoyable stories I’ve read in a quite some time.


Brooke’s superbly affecting Roj, begins with the promise of a psycho-erotic masterpiece. Harried, constantly put-upon, thirtysomething housewife Lynne finds herself nearing the end of her rope, and contemplates the most extreme and final of escapes from a deeply unsatisfying existence. That is, until she is interrupted by a handsome young man, a school friend of her son’s, still almost a stranger to Lynne, a creature half-shrouded in mystery, the boy seems to possess everything her husband lacks; fire, passion, intelligence, and a terrifying beauty.

Lynne tried to smile at that but it was too hard. The weight of her sadness was a rock inside her chest that couldn’t be dislodged. She swallowed against it, trying to get some of her composure back. “It doesn’t matter, Roj,” she said, her voice husky and unfamiliar. Nothing mattered anymore.

“Yes it does,” he said, giving her shoulder a little squeeze.

His fingers felt big. Strong. She tried to remember the last time someone had consoled her. Couldn’t.

Brooke so skillfully builds tension in what is, after all, a fairly simple narrative structure, and so effectively brings us along with her, that it is almost painful when she overshoots the psychological climax, keeps the characters talking too long, dwelling too heavily on process when the time for words has passed, lets them turn away from each other, however briefly, when their sexual focus should only deepen. There is a point in any truly successful erotic narrative at which sophisticated mind-reading and metacognition needs to give way to simple sensuality and pure carnal release. While there is some tantalizing sexual tension here, and some wonderfully titillating potential, it feels, in the end, more like a tease than a full-blown erotic experience. Roj is thus a flawed erotic masterpiece, if not a true masterpiece of literary psychology.

While the four newer stories in this collection do endeavor to reach a broader audience, their genre aspirations do not detract from their decided literary quality and substance. Though I may complain from time to time about the excesses of genre erotica, ultimately, the only unredeemable sin as far as I’m concerned is bad writing, a crime of which no one will ever honestly accuse Elizabeta Brooke. Her Darkly Delicious is enthusiastically recommended.

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