Sunday, June 26, 2016

"The Seven Seductions" (Chapter 10) by TAS

The Seven Seductions
Chapter 10
(link to Chapters 8 and 9 here)

It was all so green. The hills and trees—so many trees!—were something out of a flatlander’s fairy tale. The convent and school sat on a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in southwestern Wisconsin not far from Prairie du Chien, its chapel bells echoing peacefully through the broad valley over the steady, ceaseless murmur of the current. Gretchen had never imagined the possibility of seeing from such an exalted vantage point, and it occurred to her that this was how God saw the world when He looked down from heaven.
      “That’s Iowa over there, across the river.” Sister Mary Hope pointed to the west. They were standing at the top of the hill a short walk from the convent grounds where a massive white-marble BVM watched over the valley, arms outstretched in grave benediction. “Minnesota is only a few miles north of that, and the Illinois state line isn’t very far south of us. Sometimes it feels like we’re living at the axis mundi—that’s the center of the world—itself.”
      “I never knew there were places like this,” Gretchen said. “Everything’s so pretty, so interesting and colorful—”
      “Oh! This is nothing!” Mary Hope enthused. “Just wait till Fall when the leaves start turning. The colors are absolutely breathtaking. Tourists drive up here from all over just to see them. That’s when it really feels like heaven . . .”
      Sister Mary Hope was in her late twenties, always quick to smile and never judgmental, one of those bubbly, bright-eyed optimists with a talent for relating to youth. Her traveling companion Sister Mary Faith wasn’t quite so charismatic. A soft-spoken mother hen, quiet but highly competent, Faith was ever focused on the logistics of luggage or the finer points of navigation on the Interstate. The pair had arrived in St. Adalgar  a few days earlier, driving one of the convent’s well-maintained Plymouth minivans the half-thousand miles from Prairie du Chien. Nuns without wimple or habit, these women effected a businesslike confidence in their modest floral blouses and simple knee-length skirts, ‘relevant’ to the contemporary world while decidedly not of it.
      They stopped off several times along the way home to pick up aspiring postulants for the Order: Tara from Council Bluffs was about Dawn’s age, a chubby, garrulous girl, and the first black person Gretchen had ever met. Eleanor was a sad-eyed waif from a little town west of Des Moines. The three of them fell into the easy companionship of travelers without actually becoming friends. In any event, the older women would be ready for their final vows before Gretchen graduated from the high school. 
      The Convent of the Holy Innocents was laid out like a sprawling maze, an eclectic hodge-podge of low-soaring garrets and spires, representing almost every major trend, school, and revivalist fad in American ecclesiastical architecture since the end of the Civil War. The original structure was a Victorian re-imagining of a Romanesque fortress, rows of ornately-gingerbreaded dormers set into a flowing clerestory roof. A dozen wings had been grafted onto the central edifice since then, leaving the impression of a brooding manor house from a Gothic romance, haunted by schizophrenic hobgoblins.
In the middle of it all, the ultra-modern chapel stood out like a carnival tent in a potter’s field, something between the architect’s  drug-addled rendering of an Icelandic stave church and his waking vision of a crapulous pyramid, slouching ever-so-slightly forward, the apex pointing east, giving the impression of a head bowed in prayer. The north and south walls were solid stained glass, psychedelic visions of the life of the Virgin Mary, the light of morning and early afternoon bathing worshipers in a filtered riot of color that put the autumn leaves to shame.
      Yet, in that whirlwind of first impressions, it was the quietness that affected Gretchen most deeply. Home had never been especially noisy, but this place was so profoundly still that even the simplest thought sounded like a shout inside her head. In the midst of that deep, deep silence, lying awake in the guesthouse that first night, Gretchen saw herself, a tiny, insignificant speck against the unfathomable enormity of the universe, with nothing to tether her safely to the earth. Nothing to keep her from being swallowed up in that great dark abyss. For a little while, the young woman was filled with dread such as she had never known. How could such a tiny thing contemplate its place in all this vastness without going utterly mad? What was it that kept her from slipping off into space and floating away forever?
      Surely something greater than her own feeble will, and yet far stronger than her fear . . .
      The sense of disquiet began to pass after a few hours. But Gretchen could not sleep. So many questions filled her mind, questions about the future and the path that lay before her. Would that same power keep her safe from now on? Could she at last begin to live her life without holding her breath, ever expecting to be punished for the slightest offense, always peering back over her shoulder, fearing the fate the demon had prophesied, wondering if  . . . 
No. I’ll never think about that monster again. I’ll be good from now on. I’ll only keep my mind on things that matter . . .
Yet soon enough, her thoughts began to drift, carried along on a current of worry . . .
What about Dawn and the baby? What about Papa and Aunt Rose and everybody else? What will the other girls be like here at Holy Innocents? Will they be friendly? Will they like me? When will I move into the dorm? Where will I take a bath? And when will breakfast be?

      Sister Mary Faith woke her early the next morning. “Confession before the students’ Mass,” she said. “Breakfast after that, and then we’ll get you settled in. Right now, I’ll take you over to the reliquary chapel.”
The other girls from the school were already waiting in the old sanctuary. With its varnished wooden floors, small, squarish stained-glass panes, and stark plaster walls, the room had the simple straight and soaring lines of a Tudor chapter house. The young women knelt or sat fidgeting  in the pews as they waited their turn to be shriven, stifling yawns and grumbling about the earliness of the hour, gawping at the order’s collection of holy relics. The centerpiece of this ghoulish menagerie was a real human skeleton, supposedly the uncorrupted remains of an early Christian martyr, reposing in a glass casket that formed the base of the alter. Someone had taken the trouble to deck out the saintly corpse in an elaborate silver headdress and a primitively painted mask, with a long gray cloak of rigid shiny material that looked for all the world like a dress on a little girl’s doll.
Gretchen’s new confessor was the school chaplain, Father Mark, a monk from the nearby Benedictine abbey, Some of the other girls called him “Father What-a-Waste” as they waited their turns, sharing snippets of whispered gossip. A few heads turned curiously in the new girl’s direction as well, but there were few smiles or nods of greeting, and no one looked her in the eye.  
Finally, Gretchen knelt in the darkness, waiting for the screen to slide open, and the priest’s rote-mumbled greeting , the formula she had heard goatish old Father Peitschender repeat a hundred times or more, those words that were supposed to offer comfort and hope, but almost always made her feel as if she were about to be raped . . .
“Good morning!” Father Mark spoke in a jolly, gentle voice that seemed to strike a chord in her body and her heart. “What can we do for you today, young lady?”
“Bless me, father, for I have sinned. It’s been a little over a month since my last confession . . .”
 Since then I’ve been angry and scared and really confused, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to admit that to anybody, let alone to myself. I’m not sure I’ve ever once been completely honest or told the whole truth in confession. Except now I’ve gone and done something truly wicked, father. I mean, all I wanted was to get my sister back and have things the way they were before she left. But my papa took her away from me before he sent me here, and now nobody will let me see her or talk to her on the phone or even tell me how she is . . . and I’ve consorted with demons, father—demons from hell. I even offered to have sex with one of them if it could help me get my sister back . . .
“Go ahead. I’m listening.” There was no hint of impatience in his voice.
“I . . . I . . . I had impure thoughts . . . about . . . about a boy.”
“Mm hm.”
What? Don’t you want to hear all the dirty details?
“Anything else?”
“And . . . I thought bad things about one of my aunts because she was mean to my sister and me . . .”
“Are you sorry for that?”
“Yes, father.”
“Anything else you’d like to tell me?”
“Mm . . . no. I don’t think so, father.”
“Well, that was easy, wasn’t it?” he chuckled.
“Uh huh . . .”
“Alright then. Why don’t we say  . . . two Our Fathers, and maybe write a nice note to your aunt. Think you can handle that?”
“Yes, thank you, father.”
“Very good.  And so we pray: God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace, and I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
      Could it be true? Could she really be free after all this time, having somehow ended up in the one place The Nameless One could not reach her? Standing in line to receive communion, Gretchen caught the handsome young priest’s eye for the briefest of seconds, beaming at him like a girl in the breathless ecstasy of her first crush.
      “The Body of Christ.” Father Mark smiled warmly as he lifted the consecrated host before her eyes. Gretchen made the sign of the cross, forcing herself to concentrate. One simple word remained to be said: 
      “Remember your promise . . .” The demon’s words were like searing coals in Gretchen’s ear. Her knees wobbled as something touched the back of her neck, sending a quickening tingle down the length of her spine. Shameless phantom fingertips reached out to find her, possessively petting and stroking her hair. “You are mine . . .
      “—ah . . . ah . . .” she struggled to choke out the obligatory response.
. . . my loooove!
“—ah . . . ah . . . Amen.
      Father Mark stared at her, waiting.
      Gretchen could only gape back at him, standing there stupidly for a moment of interminable terror before at last understanding. She stuck out her tongue to receive the wafer, and promptly collapsed to the floor as the other girls gasped in surprise.  She was coming, her body racked by orgasm, trembling and seizing, loins overflowing with otherworldly bliss. Her mind in a vertiginous free-fall, came at last to rest upon something like a soft cushion, the dark warmth of unconsciousness.
      And then, someone was hovering above her, looking down with concern, asking if she was alright, though whoever it was did not know her name. There was some question about whether a doctor ought to be called, and a quickly-formed consensus that she should be taken to see Sister Mary Valiant in the infirmary. Finally, someone—the same someone, perhaps—was carefully helping Gretchen to her feet and leading her from the chapel.
      “What happened?” a girl whispered from one of the back pews. “Did she faint or something?”
Gretchen’s sense of hearing had become almost painfully acute, or perhaps she was only imagining . . .
      “What a spaz!” another girl blurted out the words like a neighing horse.
      “Yeah!” still another agreed, barely trying to keep her voice down. “Guess some chicks’ll do anything to get mouth-to-mouth from Father What-a-Waste!”
      Giggles rippled through the congregation, muted titters of nervous relief and half-masked malice.

      The laughter was still haunting her, ringing in her ears as if only a moment had passed since that terrible morning, and not thirteen long and lonely years. She was the assistant librarian now, teaching English in the high school at Holy Innocents—Beowulf and Silas Marner for the spoiled daughters of old Catholic money. The girls still made fun of her behind her back just as they had that first day, except now they were her charges, her care and concern. Never mind how they called her Sister Mary Chaz-titties, doing lewd impressions of her lectures as they smoked their forbidden cigarettes in the bathroom stalls, resenting the authority of someone not so much older than themselves, despising her for wasting her beauty and throwing her life away.
They would all return to the ‘real world’ soon enough, party their way through four years at the most-respectable colleges their daddies’ money could buy, and still wear white at their weddings, living lives of easy luxury, never needing to use anything she’d tried to teach them, until it was time to give their own daughters a ‘good solid Catholic education’ with the order.
      And what remained? Her earthly sister was long dead now, buried next to their mother and brother outside the cemetery fence. Dawn—barely 20-years old when she hanged herself in their father’s machine shed—lost and alone in that terrible place forever. And who was left for Gretchen to live for? Who to be herself with? Who but the dead to share her heart?
      Nobody’d bothered telling her about Dawn’s death till long after the fact.  She’d been “too new” at Holy Innocents, her condition “too fragile” after the incident in the reliquary chapel, and there were all the usual issues of settling in, overcoming homesickness, making friends and finding a place for herself in the social order. She’d been kept ignorant for her own good—her father had insisted and the nuns had agreed. And what was the point anyway? There was no funeral to attend after all, no chance to say one last goodbye, even if she had somehow managed to make the trip.
      They all assured her that she was not to blame for what had happened at communion, put the whole thing down to nerves, low blood sugar, or unfamiliar surroundings. Sisters Hope and Faith came to visit her in the infirmary, as did Father Mark. “There are stories of saints who experienced the love of God so intensely that it manifested itself in the form of seizures,” he told her.
      But Grethen knew better and said nothing.

She had never been back to St. Adalgar—not once in all those years—though her heart, unanswered grief, and longing continually drew her. At night the young nun closed her eyes and dreamed of home, returning to that unhallowed spot upon the lonesome gray prairie, that trackless purgatory that had driven many an early pioneer to madness. And there she would be Gretchen once again, listening to the sound of the wind as it whispered through the wheat, the melancholy murmur of the great grass sea, telling its secrets to the endless sky.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Emmanuelle de Maupassant interviews erotic authors (link)

Emmanuelle de Maupassant presents the first in a series of articles based on her survey of more than a hundred erotic authors, including me. It's a long article, but well worth the time.

Read it here:

The Erotic Vein: The Male Pen

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Review of "Constraint" by Siri Ousdahl

Siri Ousdahl’s Constraint is mature literary fiction at its finest, masterfully conceived and exquisitely written, unflinching, dark, disquieting, boldly amoral, never judging its characters or coddling its readers. This story of dubious consent is handled with a seriousness seldom encountered in the BDSM subgenre, a refreshing frankness, trenchant observation turned acutely—and often painfully—inward. Safe, sane, and consensual this is not; dazzling, mind-expanding, and addictive it most certainly is. 

It would have been easy (and no doubt commercially tempting to a less-imaginative writer) to turn this story into a two-bit pulp thriller, the like of which we’ve all watched or read a hundred times before: a beautiful woman is kidnapped by an eccentric and conveniently well-to-do admirer who holds her prisoner in an isolated compound somewhere in the wilds of Wyoming. Eventually the classic signs of Stockholm syndrome manifest themselves, and the woman stays with her kidnapper, even when afforded the opportunity to leave. It’s a classic case of what John Norman referred to as ‘captor bonding’, titillating grist for yet another episode of Criminal Minds or a drearily predictable Lifetime TV movie. That route certainly would have been easy and obvious. Thankfully, Ousdahl is no ordinary writer.   

The beautiful woman in question is a gifted and successful artist, Linnea, who specializes in fantastically twisted sculptures, binding dissimilar woods together with metal rings, creating torturous, yet often surprisingly beautiful unities out of contradiction and chaos—does this sound like an elaborate literary symbol or what???  Linn is no Mary Sue; she’s hardly perfect, a loner who isn’t particularly missed after her disappearance, albeit strong-willed, driven, independent, and nobody’s pushover. The kidnapper, Alex, does cleave more closely to genre stereotype, wealthy but not impossibly so, a long-ago casual acquaintance of Linn’s who has obsessed about her for ten years, and now commands the means to make his twisted fantasies come true. He is, of course, involved in some vague form of international finance, which affords him the opportunity to travel. Alex has explored the kink scene on three or four continents. He is accustomed to getting what he wants where sufficient cash buys blind-eyed complicity and unwavering discretion.  

Yet beneath this broadly-outlined mass-market paperback blurb of a plot is something unexpectedly original. The material is handled with surprising seriousness and magnificent poise. The characters are psychologically complex and almost always interesting—more often than not because we don’t agree with them, or like the way their minds work, or approve of the actions they may or may not choose to take. Ousdahl does not treat her characters like pawns on a chessboard. She consistently refuses to judge them, or manipulate the reader through them. The author skirts the morality of the situation—a hint of doubt flitting through Alex’ mind, a word caught on the tip of Linn’s tongue—but never confronts those issues head on. (This may well infuriate some readers.)

In the past I have complained about writers casually flirting with darkness, psychologically unprepared for the horror and ugliness they awaken in themselves. Here, at last, is a fearless fiction; an author who not only embraces the darkness, but ties it up, bends it over, and makes it their willing slave.

Enthusiastically recommended!

Sunday, June 12, 2016

"The Seven Seductions" (Chapters 8 (excerpt) and 9) by TAS

Chapters 8 and 9
(link to Chapter 7 here)

CHAPTER 8 (excerpt)

“You haven’t done anything wrong, child.” Father Peitschender tried to sound reassuring, though it was hard not to be nervous with the old priest’s sweaty palm massaging her shoulder.  It might have been worse if there hadn’t been so many other people in the room with them—never mind that most of them were staring directly at her, which only heightened her self-consciousness. The entire Ausslander clan was crowded into Rose-Linda’s parlor along with Father P. and Sister Magdeline, the rector from the school, everybody with the conspicuous exception of Dawn, making Gretchen the reluctant center of attention.
      She waited for an explanation, though she already knew exactly why she was there.
      “Everyone knows you’ve had quite the cross to bear,” Father P. went on. “Lord knows it’s been hard for you, what with your poor mother of . . .”
      Blessed memory?Is that what you were going to say, Father?
“. . . and now with your sister.”
“Is Dawn alright?”
“Yes, honey,” Sister Magdeline soothed. “She’s staying at our house. We’ve made up a guestroom for her on the other side of the duplex. She’ll be fine there, till the . . . uh . . . till it . . . happens.
“Can I see her?” Gretchen stole a nervous look at her father, sitting on the couch across the room with three of her uncles. There was no comfort for her in his expression, only the same taciturn scowl she had always known, frozen upon his thin lips. He turned away quickly, refusing to meet her eyes. “Can I?” she asked again, as if in defiance. “Please?”
 “We don’t think that would be a good idea.” Aunt Phyllis spoke flatly.
“Honey, that’s not what we’re here to talk about.” Sister Magdeline did her best to keep things focused.
“Then what is it?”
Father P. took a deep breath as everyone else held theirs. “Young lady, we think that for your sake, and the sake of your family, you ought to seriously consider exploring a religious vocation.”
She pretended to let the idea sink in for a moment.
“You mean, like, become a nun?”
“Explore that possibility, yes.”
“So, is that all?” she asked.
“There’s a school run by an order in Wisconsin,” Sister Magdeline said. “The Daughters of the Divine Magesterium, but most people know them as The Cerulean Sisters. Our little order affiliated with theirs some years ago when our numbers began to dwindle—”
“Wisconsin? So, I’d have to go away?”
 “It’s a good school,” Sister Magdeline said. “Honestly, a lot better than ours here in town. They can educate you—even send you to college—prepare you, and train you. And then, in a few years, if you thought you were ready—
“If you were to hear the call to a religious life—” Father Peitschender said.
“If you truly believed that’s the life God wanted for you—”
“And what if I didn’t hear it?” Gretchen asked meekly. “What if I didn’t want it?”
“We think you need to do this,” Aunt Phyllis said. “We all agree.”
And if I don’t agree, do I get slapped and called a whore?
“This is what’s best for you, Gretchen,” Phyllis plowed forward tactlessly, “because—let’s be honest—the way things have gotten, there’s nothing left for you here, is there?”
Gretchen shook her head, resigned yet again to someone else’s plan for her life, another decision made for her and not with her, another choice stolen from her, already solemnized and sealed.

. . .

“But doesn’t Gretchen have some say in the matter? Rose pressed.
“No.” Harold spoke up for the first time. “Not about this she doesn’t.”
“I understand,” Gretchen said. I understand that this is how you’re punishing me, papa. Sending me away when Dawn needs me . . . using something holy and pure as a weapon, the same way Father P. forces us to use prayer for penance . . . “When would I have to leave?”
“You’ll be starting there next week,” Sister Magdeline said. “Two of the sisters are driving out from Wisconsin to pick you up here. You’ll have a few days to pack and say goodbye to the old place . . .”
      But not my sister? Gretchen thought, Heaven forbid!

      . . .

Chapter 9

She was drawn to the typewriter now—to the story that demanded to be told, filling her mind and body with a sense of urgency that crowded out all other considerations. Mary Chastity had never been “called” so powerfully, nor had her “vocation” ever filled her with such a certain sense of purpose or passion. It was the feeling of disobedience that hooked her, the heady rush of rule-breaking that lured her like a guilty addict, as if a switch had been flipped on deep in her core, completing a low-voltage circuit of tingling electricity transiting the right half of her brain and those ticklish, hypersensitive places between her legs.
Sometimes she wept as she typed, tears rushing out of her along with the raging torrent of  words she could no longer hold in check. The story welled up from a place deep within, born of longing and passion too-long denied:

Chaz pined for his return. Her whole body ached with the memory of his scorching kisses that night on the beach; the way he had held her, suspended in his strong arms like a groom carrying his bride across the threshold. She could not banish the thought from her mind of his hot breath on her neck and the way desire had so completely overcome her doubts when he laid her down on the sand . . .

She made a deal with herself on the second day: one page of thesis for one of story. Inevitably, the ratio had been adjusted until it was closer to one paragraph of drudgery to every five pages of fiction. Soon she was “owing” whole chapters to the thesis, promising herself to pay back the pages once the story was out of her system. Yet, in her dreams, on those rare occasions when she closed her eyes,  the two endeavors became one and the same, her deep need to tell the story inextricably tangled up with the requirement to finish the thesis.
Blissfully absorbed, she lost track of time, working long into the night, sometimes till sunup and beyond. Her meals were cursory affairs, distractions from the real task at hand, giving her no pleasure, picked at and put aside half-finished out of some vague notion that it was important to eat, at least in the realm where she had once belonged.  
She was called back to reality by a knock at the door. It was mid-morning on the third day, and her first thought was that Mrs. Jeppsen had forgotten her housekeys. The nosey old caretaker brought groceries and mail on an irregular basis once or twice a week, and it was not wise to be out of the house when she showed up to make her deliveries. Mary Chastity rushed down the stairs, practically skating across the immaculately polished hardwood floor of the great room on her way to the front door.
      “Mrs. Jeppsen! I’m sorry, I—”
      “Hey!” Magic’s smile caught her off guard. “Bad time for you?”
      “I—” Mary Chastity stared, gape-mouthed, as if she had never seen a boy before.
“Wanna come out and play?”
“Oh. . . I . . . I don’t think so.” She stood stiffly behind the half-open door, vaguely irritated at the interruption. But isn’t this real, she thought, what’s happening right now, like part of the story come to life? “Sorry. I’m sort of . . . busy—”
      “So, d’you get your mojo back?” His cool blue eyes flitted across her bosom and thighs, before slipping deliberately upwards again.
      “I’ve been working, ja.”
      “That’s great.” Was the boy genuinely happy for her? “I was just taking a break from my project—you need to sometimes.”
      “Need to?”     
      “Sometimes it’s good to get away from it for a little while, kind of recharges the batteries, y’know?  Helps to keep things in perspective.”
      “So, how about taking a little mental health break with me this morning? A walk down by the water—if only for the sake of your sanity.”
      “I shouldn’t.” She leaned partway through the door, unable to tear her eyes from him—the boy was so much more beautiful standing close, his easy manner so disarming . . .
“Shouldn’t?” Magic smiled again, eyes dancing like mischeivous sunbeams. “But shouldn’t isn’t the same thing as wouldn’t or won’t—is it? C’mon! It’ll be fun. Just a half hour, tops. And besides, walking’s good for you, right? So what do you say, Chaz?”
That name again. The girl from the story—her but not her—the lie she had concocted in a moment of panic, unaware of the power it would give him.
 “Alright.” She agreed before he could say the name a second time. “For a little while anyway. I’ll catch up with you, OK? Need to leave a note for the caretaker and change—oh. . . my!
“Great!” He seemed oblivious to her sudden embarrassment. “See you down at the dock in five?”
“We’ll see.” Mary Chastity closed the door and leaned back against the frame, trying her best not to hyperventilate. A second earlier she had glanced down at herself  only to be reminded of what she was wearing—or, perhaps more accurately, not wearing—the whole time she stood there in the door, talking so casually with Magic. Nothing but a sexy bathrobe, a simple belted tunic of sheer, ice-blue satin that barely covered her trembling thighs. Loosely bound, the robe had been sagging open, casually revealing her cleavage, the naked profile of her breasts clearly visible within, her hard nipples etching the front.
A sick tide of shame washed over her when she thought about what the boy had seen—what she’d allowed him to see—his gaze sweeping down over her body and quickly up again to lock intently on her eyes. But she knew what he had to be thinking—knew exactly what he was thinking—because she was thinking it, too.
The negligee had been hanging by itself in the guestroom closet, waiting there for weeks, exactly where Connie Russo had left it, no doubt intending for Mary Chastity to discover. Another jest at the na├»ve young nun’s expense, a condescending jab at her prudish sensibilities, or, perhaps, an ironic play on her ill-chosen name. It was clear the robe had been left there to tempt and test her, much like the picture book in the library so many years earlier, a challenge to be overcome—or not.
Yet the timing of the discovery seemed strange, Why had she only noticed now after so many weeks, seemingly at the very moment her thoughts began to stray? It was as if the robe had materialized directly from her rebellious subconscious.
She tried to resist at first, though the fantasy had inflamed her curiosity all the more. Mary Chastity would return to the closet again and again, only to stare at the decadent garment, like a little girl snooping in her parents’ bedroom, gazing covetously at things she was not allowed to touch. She would retreat guiltily, only to return a few hours later, growing bolder with each visit, moving her fingers a little closer each time, until she was fondling the material, then feeling it against her cheek, weighing it in her trembling hands, imagining what it would be like to wear as she took it down from its hanger, only to put it back a half-dozen times before once draping it loosely over her fully-clothed shoulders.
Finally, she had tried it on over her bra and panties, the deliciously sensuous feel of the fabric like warm flowing water against her bare skin, catalyst for a million impure thoughts. And she was lost.  

Faith is like a garment. It may be worn for comfort or protection, or casually for show. It may be as simple and unassuming, or as garish and loud as the individual who puts it on, or it may be worn like a uniform, one’s indistinguishable from another’s. Where faith is rigid and unbending, as with a garment that is too tight, it may constrict and suffocate the wearer. Yet,  if worn too loosely, it affords little benefit, and is an affront to decency.

At first she’d worn it because it was comfortable, or so she argued with herself. The robe had kept her cool and cozy all through the hot, muggy night before. But there was more to it than mere utility. The luxurious texture of the material seemed to goad her naughty imaginings, driving the wild pulse of her fantasy even more intensely. She peeled off her underwear, the better to feel the satin directly against her skin. And then, as the story took shape and form, leading inexorably to consumation and climax, she had, without thinking, slipped her fingers beneath the robe’s scandalously high hem, furtively hunting and pecking with her right hand, probing and pressing with her left, touching herself in time to the rising rhythm of the fictional lovers’ passion.
Later, she learned to loosen the belt so that the ungathered fabric flowed down in a ticklish torrent over her bare mound, the slight give and take of the material doing the work of a finger as she typed:

Chaz was facing him—though in the dream he didn’t seem to have a face. She was straddling his lap, looking down at his chest. They were naked together at last, and she was riding up and down on his thigh. He was choking her because he said it would make the feelings more intense. Twining his strong, delicate fingers around her throat, he laughed at her uncertainty, squeezing harder the more Chaz begged him. Except, she wasn’t begging him to stop. She didn’t want him to stop—not any of the things he was doing to her at that moment. Chaz moaned, gasping  for breath, willing him to use her until there was nothing left for him to take. She begged him with her eyes, pleading with him to strangle her and make love to her until she was so filled up with pleasure that there would be nothing left to do except die in his arms, knowing with her final heartbeat that his love would be with her, even in death.

Sister Mary Chastity slumped to the floor, masturbating fiercely as she fell, arching her body back against the wall of the tiny closet-alcove just inside the front door.

      “So Chaz, how about that swim?”
Magic was sketching her as they sat together on the dock, dangling their bare feet over the side.
      “Oh, no, I couldn’t.” Mary Chastity was dressed more modestly now, in the same simple blouse and jumper she had worn at their first meeting.
      “You sure?” he said. “The water looks real nice this morning.” He batted the surface with his foot, swishing some spray in her direction.
      “I’m hardly dressed for it.” She swished right back at him.
      “That’s easy to fix,” he laughed. “Undress!”
      “What?” Mary Chastity could feel herself blushing. Does he know what I’ve just done? What I was thinking about when I did it—because it’s all I’ve been able to think about or write about for days? And then, after he saw me like that  . . . I couldn’t help myself—couldn’t not do it! I had to do something to keep things under control, to keep myself from going completely insane and now—
      “No problem,” Magic said. “We’ll go skinny-dipping—you know?—hippie style. I’ll go first if it’d make you feel more comfortable—” He put down his pad and peeled off his T-shirt.
      “Stop! No—” He is so beautiful . . .
      “Hey, it’s not like anybody’s going to see us this time of day—I mean, anybody who’d give a rat’s ass—”
      “Thank you, I’ll pass.” But please, please, don’t put your shirt back on!
      “Do you even have a bathing suit, Chaz?”
      “I . . . I can’t remember the last time I went swimming—” Not since I was little, before The Bad Thing—
      “Because one of my friends could loan you something if you liked—”
      “That’s alright, I’ll—”
      “Bree’s got a nice black one-piece. I think you and she are about the same size—”
      “And Daphne’s got this canary yellow bikini you’d look really cute in.”
“Can we—”
      “The top might be a bit small for you, though—”
      “Can we change the subject?” she said. “What’s your name—I mean, you’re given name? Surely not Magic?”
      “If I tell you, will you do something for me?”
      “As long as it doesn’t involve taking off my clothes or diving head-first off the end of the dock, I’ll consider it.”
      “It doesn’t—but you have to promise before I tell.”
      “Alright, Magic,” she sighed, “I promise.”
      “Great. My name is George Herbert Melchoir-Parks. What can I say? My mom was seriously into the English Metaphysical poets of the early 17th century. She was doing her Master’s thesis on Herbert when I was born.”
      “George is a perfectly nice name,” she said.
      “Maybe, but if you consider yourself my friend, please never call me anything but Magic.”
      “I can do that.”
      “So why do they call you Magic?”
      “That’s a separate question, Chaz. You already owe me for the first one.”
      “And what is it you’d like me to do?”
      “Come with me to my birthday party tonight.”
      “Oh! Is today your birthday?”
      “Naah! My birthday’s in early February, but my friends and I couldn’t get together to celebrate then, so they decided to throw me a bash now, seeing’s how we’re usually all here at the lake in August. They can be quite creative when it comes to finding excuses to party.”
      “It wouldn’t be a swimming party, or . . . or—”
      “What? A wild orgy of illicit drug use, naked nude teenage sex, and pagan rituals involving virgin sacrifice and barbequed goat?”
      “That’s not funny.” Mary Chastity giggled in spite of herself.
      “No, nothing like that. My friends tell me it’ll be more along the lines of a weenie roast.”
      “Oh. Sorry.”
      “Actually sounded kind of tame to me, but who knows? It might not suck. So, when’s your birthday, Chaz?”
“Next month,” she said. “September 19th to be precise.”
      “A Virgo, huh?” 
“I suppose so. It was late enough that I had to wait a year before starting school. Then . . . something happened, and  I had to wait another year after that.”
“So, I’m guessing you were the tallest girl in your class?”
“I was a bit ahead of the other kids, yes.”
“Two whole years? You must’ve been like a freak! Could you even fit in one of those tiny desks?”
      “It wasn’t that bad.” She stood up to put on her shoes.
      “I can see that now,” he said.
      “Are you ever serious, Magic?”
      “Will you come with me tonight, Chaz?”
      “Yes. I’ll go with you, Magic.”
      “Fantastic. Dress casual. Maybe bring a sweater—it can get cool at night. I’ll stop by for you about 7. That serious enough for you?”

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Review of "Scary Old Sex" by Arlene Heyman

This collection of seven longishly-belabored literary stories disappoints as often as it pleases: after slogging through to the end, I cannot escape the impression of a blandly competent author, seriously out of their depth. In tone and style, the stories in Arlene Heyman's Scary Old Sex have the feel of superannuated student exercises, assignments turned in for some late-sixties undergraduate creative writing seminar, aping the modishly arch nihilism of the day, every detail, no matter how trivial, unfailingly observed, with a cold clinical detachment and precious little sense of direction or purpose, Many of these pieces seem to have been taken out of mothballs, the hopeful typescripts dusted off after decades, lightly revised to a minimum standard of editorial presentability—whatever the hell that means in this post-FSOG day and age—and published to great fanfare, no doubt along with the percussive popping of half-a-dozen self-congratulatory champagne corks.

The project as a whole has a suspiciously cynical, mercenary pungence about it. Why should anyone be bothered to give a flightless fuck about yet another aging star-schtupper cashing in on her youthful relationship with a famous literary figure? It is no secret that Heyman, as a 19-year-old student at Bennington College, carried on a two-year affair with her professor, the middle-aged Bernard Malamud. No secret at all—in fact, much of the publicity for this collection centers on that relationship, a drably fictionalized version of which comprises the second story in the book. It might be one thing if Heyman’s writing was in the least bit inspired—it is not—insightful or profound or even remotely interesting—most of the time it is none of those things. Apparently authorial success is a matter of who you know—or, at least, who you once knew in the Biblical sense—and, having once caught the eye of the Great Man, every amateurish pecadillo is now effectively washed away in the blood of the lamb, and the “critics that matter” fall over themselves to hail a major literary event.  (Perhaps I’m growing cynical or senile in middle age, but I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the New York critical establishment is easily titillated.)

Even in the two stories I came close to liking--Night Call and Artifact--there's little or no emotive range in these narratives. Bitterness and ennui are Heyman’s go-to emotions, and she goes to them with tedious frequency.  The female characters, whether young, old, or middle-aged, seem to have nothing better to do than break down and cry at the drop of a hat, or complain shrewishly about the lack of sexual satisfaction in their all-too-ordinary lives.  The men are emotionally clueless, shallowly articulate, and indifferently characterized—current husbands always coming up short against former dead ones. Children are the ever-present bringers of chaos, either too good or too stupid to live. Conflict amongst these ‘types’ too often feels forced and over-effortfully imagined.  Everybody has a torturously-detailed backstory that ultimately adds nothing to the reader’s understanding. Amateurish head-hopping, inconsistent point-of-view, lack of narrative direction or coherent structure, downright foolish attempts at getting into the heads of characters the author clearly knows or cares nothing about—in the end creating a soggy non-critical mass of who-the-hell-gives-a-healthily-introspective-termite’s-turd.  

What disturbs and disappoints me most as someone who cares deeply about great erotic writing, is Heyman’s stultifyingly conventional approach to sexual subject matter, especially where ‘old sex’ is concerned. Where the hype has led readers to expect something revelatory, daringly paradigm-shifting in the literary exploration of geriatric eroticism, what we get is the all-too-familiar horror and disgust at the prospect of physical decay and declining performance, still measuring everything against the insipidly narrow, bourgeois vision of youthful health and beauty. In this regard, at least, the title of the collection is apt: as Heyman would have it, sex is scary—old sex is even scarier.

What a crock of crap!

Books like this suck all the air out of the room for serious writers who care about quality and sincerely desire to explore new erotic frontiers. Use sex to sell something second-rate like this, and no one will give a truly worthy book a second look, no matter how genuinely mature, inspired, thoughtful, well-crafted, and brilliant that book may be.

Not recommended!!!!!