Sunday, February 21, 2016

Review of 'Best Women’s Erotic of the Year Volume 1' (ed. Rachel Kramer Bussel)

Here we have twenty-two well-crafted short stories by some extremely talented women who prove that erotica is very much alive and well as the new century enters late adolescence. Thriving, in fact, and thrillingly diverse, pitching a big tent (pun intended) resounding with many voices. Still very much among the quick in spite of all efforts to pronounce it dead. Brash, defiant, alive and kicking—licking, kissing, sucking, touching, feeling, fondling, fucking . . .

And thinking, too! Rather a lot, as it turns out. These aren’t the braindead crayon-scribbles one used to find in cum-stained plain brown wrappers. There’s no bad writing here. It’s all good—and a surprising percentage of it is also very good, understatedly original, quietly trenchant, colorfully curious, probing, poignant, powerful, from Valerie Anderson’s Demimonde—an engagingly superb evocation of debauchery and kink in buttoned-up late-19th-century New York, to A New Canvas by Tara Betts and Drawn by Nic by Heidi Champa, both breathing in their cool inspirations from the gritty world of contemporary street artists. Jade A. Waters’ Ophelia the Second takes readers into the mind and heart of an infatuated understudy, while Starstruck by Lazuli Jones takes a similarly delightful journey into the mad-rushing thoughts of a fortysomething fan-girl at last meeting the object of her hottest teenaged fantasies—one hero, it turns out, who does not have feet--or anything else--of clay!

There are little one-act erotic romances (The Ropes by Elise King, The Wolf at His Door  by Deborah Castellano, The Assistant  by Tiffany Reisz), flights of fantasy made arousingly real (Date Night by D.R. Slaten, Flying Solo by Rachel Kramer Bussel, Matilda’s Secret by L. Marie Adeline, Alvin’s Night by Elizabeth Coldwell), salacious vignettes conjured from slightly-unconventional premises (Scents and Sexuality by Doriana Chase, Restitution by Ria Restrepo) and straight-up, no-frills sex-capades (Revisiting Youth  by J. Crichton and H. Keyes, Out of the Ordinary by Rose P. Lethe, Two Doms for Dinner  by Dorothy Freed).

I like those stories best whose authors seem to have done a bit of extra ‘interior spadework’, digging deep to the roots of character and emotion: Tabitha Rayne’s Enter Me, in which a woman, rendered deaf  by a terrible accident, endeavors to reconnect with her lover and the sounds of the past; Jessica Taylor’s The Altar of Lamented Toys, redolent with nostalgia and regret in a dystopian, post-pandemic world without batteries, Theda Hudson’s Lighting the Pyre, a treasurable snapshot of life in which a cancer survivor goes in for a tattoo to cover the scars and finds a way to re-engage with love and passion again,  and Rose Caraway’s The Carnalarium, a simple, sympathetically drawn story of letting go in more ways than one. Perhaps most pleasantly surprising of all was Waiting to Pee by Amy Butcher, a story in which diverse characters are so acutely, thoughtfully observed, yet so thoroughly, stealthily, unpretentiously entertaining as to catch the reader happily off guard. Magnificent!

Highly recommended!

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