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.


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!