Sunday, July 19, 2015

Review of "Addictive Desires" by Big Ed Magusson

“There’s a richness of experience where desire and addiction collide,” Big Ed Magusson tells us: 

This richness is rarely explored in erotica because it challenges one of the core principles of the genre—that sex is good. The problem is, sex is big. Our moments of naked wanting are too large to be restricted to simply the good. They’re too broad to even fit into the dichotomy of good and bad. The vastness of sexual experience cannot be remotely categorized, labeled, or defined. The erotic is meant to be experienced—if not in person, then through the stories told by others.

The twelve stories in this bold, surprising, sometimes shocking collection will certainly challenge those readers too long addicted to the jizz-stained tropes and dog-eared familiarities of mainstream erotica, those diffident souls afraid to venture too far beyond the narrow comfort zone of fossilized adolescent fuckery. Addictive Desires is not an “easy” read or a quick stroke, and, for once, the “adult” label is not some smarmy, cynically-applied euphemism. This is, quite literally, a book for grownups.

Big Ed Magusson has been turning out a steady stream of competently crafted erotic stories for more than a decade, and many of these can be found on his exemplary website Big Ed’s Place. In October 2012, I reviewed his novel The Ugly One, along with the short story collection Unexpected Sights and the superb short Irie No Kabutsu, which I later included on my Best of 2012 list here at Erotica for the Big Brain. Where I dinged The Ugly One especially for what I deemed too conventionally predictable storytelling and characters who were far too “nice and agreeable”, Addictive Desires is written with a greater confidence, freedom and the daringness to disturb. The narrative voice is more assured, less stiff, the language flows more fluently—the author has begun to make the words work for him, and it all feels much less caged-in and canned.

There are still a few spots where the dialogue is a bit too rigid, conversations too direct and lacking subtle subtext. I’d have wished for exchanges outside of group therapy sessions where the participants occasionally talked past each other, interrupt, change gears, and start off on dead-end tangents, or were more artfully reticent, using effective “stage business”, gestures and silent pauses where they would  ignore hard questions or avoid direct answers altogether. There’s a fine line between “showing” or revealing character through dialogue and employing those characters as mere devices for injecting large amounts of data into a story. Granted, to his credit, Magusson isn’t trying to write like Elmore Leonard, but dialogue in which people always say precisely what they mean, listen respectfully before answering each other directly, honestly, and thoroughly, can get a bit old in fiction, even if it’s what we might wish for more of in real life.

Still, when Magusson’s language is “on” it is solidly “on the money”, as in this descriptive passage from More, the fourth story in the collection:

But that didn’t mean I liked the video booths. They weren’t that clean for one. Yeah, you could see where the attendant took a mop to them every night, but he never got the corners. The faded paint had probably once been off white, but now it just looked off. The dingy single overhead bulb didn’t help.

But the worst was the smell. Half-rotted fish mixed with BO that had found an old sneaker to crawl into and die. The air freshener masked it about as well as the cardboard covered the glory hole in the walls. It always took me a long time to grow inured. Kelli didn’t seem to care.

But why should she? Once we walked in the door of that adult novelty store, she became queen bee. I’m sure the truckers from the stop across the highway and the lonely salesmen with territory to cover couldn’t believe their luck. A college girl in here? Dressed like that? They dropped chins so low I could count their gold molars.

“I enjoy stories about misfits”, the narrator of Old Dogs tells us, and he himself is a kind of archetypal misfit, like many of his fellow characters. At their most starkly realistic, their stories can send us reeling, dredge up the messiest, most painful memories, or trigger terrifyingly vivid flashbacks. To admit the horror that lies within, to come face to face with one’s demons, to be hollowed out in order to be filled with something healthier if not to be healed, whether in the relative safety of therapy or in the scary, spontaneous wilds of everyday existence, may be the most profoundly painful and deeply humbling experience of one’s life. In the end, anyone strong enough to admit his past wrongs, the hurts he has inflicted and can never again not feel himself, is faced with a stark choice; if we use our past as an excuse to shrink from life, we will end up having never lived. (So it is for Gordon, the narrating main character of Every Seven Seconds, who misses out on the possibilities of real human connection because he wastes too much time lost in fantasy—this story, the first in the book, has the feel of a fable, complete with an ironic “moral”.)  

For many, including myself, writing can be a very effective form of therapy. Some writers manage very well to sublimate their fear and anger, the ugliness of their own self-loathing pasts into something cathartic, edifying, and hopeful.  But this process, too, is not an easy thing, it can be knotty, excruciating, soul-wrenching, despite the slick craftsmanship and assured professionalism of the end product.  Probably the best, most original stories in this collection are also the toughest ones to take.

White Knuckles is a masterpiece of inner monologue. The reader eavesdrops on a young man’s  ethical and physical conflicts as he argues with himself about whether to take advantage of a faithless “friend” who lies naked before him, drugged and passed out at a frat house party. This writing is highly realistic, morally complex,  and light years beyond the simplistic “angel on the shoulder” black-and-white movie-of-the-week dualism that passes for morality in the popluar conscience nowadays. As Magusson remarks in his afterword: “That speedball mix of emotions? It includes rage”, and he has brought that rage home with devastating effect.

Methadone may be one of the bravest pieces of writing I’ve ever encountered—and one of the most singularly disturbing. A man who molested his daughter, struggles with his unquenchable obsession for her, going so far as to hire a roll-playing sex-worker to reenact his crimes. We are disgusted and sickened by this man, and yet, by the end, we cannot help but feel a certain sorrow for him, even a tinge of pity for his helplessness, his utterly pathetic plight.  

And suddenly it’s too real. Claire, Jenny, Jennifer—they blur together and all the bad memories explode in my brain. Jennifer’s words ring in my ears. Pain smashes into desire and longing. Shame envelops and overwhelms me.

I burst into tears. Claire rolls away from in alarm, “What the fuck?”

I sob deep, and then sob some more.

“What the fuck is going on?”

I shudder and try to catch my breath, but fail on the first gasp. After the third, I look up to see Claire has backed away from the bed and is staring at me.

“That’s what she said,” I spit out between sobs. “Those were her exact words.”


“My daughter’s”

“The oral wasn’t just a fantasy?”

I’m too shaken to reply.

“I can’t do this.” She gathers up her clothes. “This is sick. I thought I could but I can’t. I’m not doing this again.” She heads to the door. “Don’t call me ever again.”

“Wait!” I shriek. I lunge forward, which makes her flinch. “I need you!”

“You need help.”
. . .

This is one of those stories that should be read widely, but very probably won’t be given the public’s enduring dread of conflict and controversy.  For all its sickening horror, it is a story that needed to be told, though its effects are grimly haunting, deeply sobering, saddening, and, for some no doubt, it will stir up a good deal of anger.   

My favorite story in the collection is probably Wolf, an insightful, realistically positive portrayal of a successful older man who must keep his sexual appetites at bay “one day at a time”. “My place isn’t here, but it’s where I am,” he tells us. Where he presently is is at his son’s wedding, and the story follows him through the chaotic and joyful day, looking back on the sordid defeats and strengthening struggles of his past while revealing the temptations that still spring from that past like toxic weeds in the present. The ending is positive and uplifting, and, after reading it, I am convinced that Big Ed Magusson is a man with his eyes wide open, a storyteller with the brutally honest sensibility of a realist, along with the abundant empathy of a hopeful idealist; a writer with an abiding affection for humanity, and a powerful gift for illuminating the fraught, bewildering complexities of the human condition.  

Highly recommended. 

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Royally Screwed--a short story by TAS

This little story was inspired by a song from the British folk-rock group Steeleye Span, which you can listen to hereRoyal Forester tells the tale of a young woman who is raped by one Erwilian, an arrogant prick who boasts of the "immunity" his connections at court afford him. However, instead of lamenting the theft of her maidenhead, the woman pursues her rapist relentlessly, all the way to the king's high court where she demands justice for herself. This is the kind of strong, no-nonsense, ass-kicking heroine I like! 

My treatment is something of a "fractured fairy tale"--think Steeleye Span meets Mel Brooks. The character of the king owes a lot to Dom Deluise' Caesar and Brooks' own lecherous "It's good to be the king" Louis XVI in History of the World Part 1, with an extra dash of Ron-Jeremy sleaze for good measure and fun.   

While the story is humorous, it is not meant to make light of rape, but to celebrate the intelligence, fortitude and determination of a woman who refuses to be a victim. 



Royally Screwed

The great oaken doors of the King’s High Court were thrown open with a resounding boom. A fair young damsel stood in the breach, breathless and flushed, her comely bosom heaving for all the court to behold—and boy! Were they ever beholding!

“Don’t just stand there gawping at my jugs like a bunch of dirty old men,” she cried, “I would have word with His Majesty—actually, two or three hundred words if you want to get technical about it—for I have been wrongéd, and that full sore.”

The herald scratched his head. The king’s guardsman scratched something else. No one moved to aid the damsel, whose hair was red as blazing fire, with eyes as green as the emeralds that adorned the king’s scepter. She was well formed with a noble bearing despite the gnarly disarray of her simple peasant’s bodice, straight of stature, long of neck, and most pleasingly ample of ass. Well and truly stackéd was the term that came most easily to the minds of the horny courtiers milling about the hall, though nobody actually had the stones to say it out loud.

“Why are you all just standing there?” she cried, “Do I have to spell it out for you? One of you fine upstanding gentlemen thought he could get away with plunder and despoilment—that’s rape to you, numbnutses!  So where’s the outrage? Which one of you fuckmented shitjizzles is going to let me in to see the king? Convey me to the Presence this instant, for I would have justice done anon.”

After she had explained the definition of ‘anon’ to the guards, the girl was ushered before His Majesty, who was busy being measured for a new codpiece. “Who the hell are you?” he asked.

“If it please your Majesty,” she said, bowing low from the waist, “My name is Rosoridy-Anne, the daughter of a humble blacksmith.”

“What lovely introductions,” drooled the king, dismissing the tailor and his assistants with a rude gesture. “No, no! Don’t straighten up just yet, my dear.”

“As you command, Sire.” said Rosoridy-Anne, knowing how these things work.

“Perfect! Mmmm! Now . . . what would you have of us, child?” said the king in a particularly paternalistic tone of voice, nodding slyly at the highly stylized, ludicrously exaggerated phallic totem between his legs, “As you can see, we have much to occupy our attention.”

Exasperated, the damsel heaved a heavy sigh, which took everybody else’s breath away. “If it please Your Majesty,” she began again, “I have been robbed, and robbéd full clean—or should I say robbéd full dirty?—by one of your own chancellors.”

“Truly? And, this man of mine, has he stolen your horse? Nabbed your purse? Snitched your clothes while you were bathing in the river?”

“No, Sire, none of the above,” she said, “He’s taken something a bit more . . . personal. Something I’m not likely to replace.”

“What? Like your class ring?”

“A bit more personal than that, Sire.”

“Uhhhh.” The king scratched his head, which seemed to be much in fashion at court that season.

“Is everybody thick around here?” she cried, stamping her foot, “He’s robbed me of my freakin’ maidenhead! You know: my hymen, my cherry, my virgin’s knot, my maidenhood, my chastity, my virtue! Just took it without asking; burst in through the front gate like a bandit in the night, and now it’s gone, and another I cannot find . . .”

“So,” said the king, “you’re telling us that this guy—”

“Raped me. Yes! Hello??? Do I have to spell it out for you too, Your Grace?”

“Probably,” he said mildly, “We usually have servants to do that for us. In any case, honey, why don’t you sit here on the royal lap so we might console you as you tell us all about it.”

“I’ll pass on the pervy lap-sitting, if Your Majesty will pardon me for the nonce,” said Rosoridy-Anne with another breathtaking bow, “Yet I will tell you what happened.”

“Very well,” the king could barely mask his disappointment, for the girl’s beauty was truly quite distracting. “Go ahead then.”

“OK,” said Rosoridy-Anne,  “So, there I was in the forest, minding my own business, reading Le Morte d’Arthur, when this doofus comes up behind me. Asks me what I’m reading, never mind that he’s standing in my light. So I say ‘Malory’ and he thinks that’s my name. Then he wants to know what the book’s about. So I give him the CliffsNotes version, hoping he’ll get bored and go away. No such luck; he just stands there, looking down my dress, totally eye-banging my foobs like a teenaged creep. Finally, I turn around and say ‘Was there something you wanted?’ and he says ‘Hey girl! Nice rack! Wanna fuck?’And I say ‘Whoa! Back up the non-sequitur cart, there, Jack!’ And he says ‘Who’s this Jack guy?’ And I say ‘Jack’s what you know, dipwad,’ and then he says ‘So, was that, like, a yes?’ and I say ‘No, that was, like, a no; in fact, it was most definitely a no. I am clearly and unequivocally refusing to offer consent.' 

“Apparently the guy couldn’t take a hint even if you dropped Canterbury cathedral on his balls with it. Apparently he also missed a lot of school because he didn’t seem to understand the whole concept of taking no for an answer—or personal hygiene for that matter. Grubby little spunk-trumpet keeps going on about how he’s some big high muckety- muck at the king’s high court. Says he’s called Erwilian, like I can’t figure out that his name is really Willie. Claims to be the royal forester, but I figure he’s nothing but a glorified gardener, probably an assistant glorified gardener at that. Says I should be flattered to let him pop my cherry, like I’m just another airheaded noble-title-groupie who’ll get all wet in the smallclothes being that close to some pompous puffed-up cum-guzzler from court—no offense, Your Majesty. But hey! We all know poor blacksmiths’ daughters are functionally illiterate bimbos who wouldn’t know Latin unless it was in the Biblical sense with a landing party from the Armada. I am so fucking sick of these bullshit sexist, classist stereotypes! Who perpetuates this medieval crap anyway?”

“We shall have that looked into,” said the king, “Perhaps appoint a Royal Commission. Go on, my child.”

“Right. So, before I can say ‘I’ve got pepper spray hidden in my cleavage,’ Mr. Legend-in-his-own-mind has laid me down upon my back and askéd no man’s leave, let alone mine. Says, ‘don’t worry, babe,  I’m only gonna stick in the tip, then pull out before I come’ as if that would make it alright. Has his way with me right there upon the sward, all the while going on about how I was askin’ for it by wearing such a provocatively low-cut dress, and being all come-hithery by playing hard to get with my snooty nose in a literary novel. (You can’t win no matter what you do!) Then he blows his wad inside me on purpose and tells me I should feel honored because he’s the only son of some earl I never heard of before. Sheesh! There’s thirty-five seconds of my life I’ll never get back. Anyway, when it’s over, little Willie says ‘It’s been nice knowing you, slut!’ like he just made the cleverest pun in the whole history of bawdy comedy, and rides off. I said “Oh no you don’t, fuckwit!” hiked up my skirts and ran after the bastard as fast as I could.

“He thought he’d lost me at the river. Said, ‘It’s too deep for you, bitch! No way you’re getting across.’ But I waded through anyway, and kept after him. Seemed like hours, chasing him through forest, field, and meadow, running up hill and rolling down dale yada yada yada. Finally, tracked him here to the castle. Pretty easy, actually; just had to follow the stank of entrenched male privilege.”

“So,” said the king, “what is it that you ask of us?”

“Justice!” cried Rosoridy-Anne.

“Tall order,” replied His Majesty, “And we can pretty much guarantee you won’t like your options.”

“Try me,” said the damsel.

“If only!” the old man leered.

“Focus, Your Grace!”

“Oooo-kay, well, if he’s a married man, we’ll hang him like a common criminal, take him down from the gibbet still alive, draw and quarter him, and leave his arms, legs, and torso impaled on sharp stakes for the ravens to feast upon in public view of all the realm—”

“I like the sound of that,” she said.

“While, you, my dear, being no longer a maiden, will be summarily packed off to a nunnery.”

“What? That hardly seems fair.”

“If you think that’s unfair, you’ll love the second option,” the king hesitated slightly before going into detail, “Uhhh, if . . . if he’s single, turns out the law says the two of you have to get married.”

“Oh gross!” she made a finger-down-the-throat-to-induce-vomiting gesture, “I’ll castrate the jerk with a rusty spoon on our wedding night, and force-feed him his giggle-berries for breakfast!”

“Eeeew!” the king shuddered, reflexively covering his own miniature set of crown jewels, “Remind me never to get on your bad side, Rosoridy-Anne. In any case, I know the guy you’re talking about. This Willie—Erwilian—is kind of a waste of skin to tell you the God’s honest truth, but whatcha gonna do? He’s sort of fun at parties; does this thing where he belches and farts the tune to  Suner is icumen in—totally hilarious, though I suppose you would have had to be there—and besides, the Crown owes his dad, the earl, a fuck-ton of money—all that dicing, whoring, and declaring war on our neighbors gets expensive pretty fast.”

“So what am I supposed to do?” cried the girl, “marry this rapacious asshat in spite of the outrage he’s done me? Bear his insufferable, half-witted whelpling? Play the devoted little housewife while he goes off to tomcat around with the boys every other weeknight? That, or end up in a convent with a bunch of bitter, dried up old hypocritical holier-than-thou hyper-puritanical flesh-mortifying sadomasochists?”

“You can say that again,” said the king, “No, actually, those are your choices.”

“Well, no thank you!” the damsel held her head high, “This girl’s gonna have a life.

“Speaking of which, you sure you don’t want to have a sit-down on the royal lap?” asked the king, hopefully, “We are rather taken by the cut of your jib.”

“No one’s taking my jib anywhere, thank you very much,” Rosoridy-Anne spoke defiantly.

“Have a care!” said the king, “Jesus! Where have you been the last thirty-five centuries? Slowly evolving in a cave? If His Royal Majesty says ‘shite’ unto one of his subjects, said subject may reasonably ask only three questions; ‘when, where, and how much, Your Grace?’ And if we should command you to plant that bodacious bahookie of yours upon the royal lap, than plant it there you shall.”

“Are you commanding me, then, Sire?”

“Let’s just say that for right now we’re—I’m—asking nicely,” said the king.

“Well . . .”

“Aw, c’mon! Don’t be a drag! Be our queen  if only for the next fifteen minutes or so . . .”

“You totally stole that from somebody, didn’t you?” she said.

“Busted,” said the king, who seemed to have a deep and abiding fascination with all things boob-related, “But you wouldn’t tell anybody, now, would you?”

“I think we’re getting a bit off track here, Sire,” said Rosoridy-Anne, “What about my problem?”

“Well, we could probably have the guy hanged, drawn, quartered, and all that good stuff. And maybe we could give the Bishop a wink and a couple hundred sovereigns to fix the matter of your being forced into the nunnery. But that still leaves us with two or three knotty dilemmas—or dilemmi or dilemmae or whatever the fuck the plural of that word is—problems! Let’s just say unsolved problems. No matter what, the exchequer’s still going to owe the little jerk’s daddy, and you can bet the service payments on all that debt will go right through the roof once we’ve had the idiot son kacked, and who’s gonna get blamed when inflation inevitably kicks in? Plus, we’ll have incurred additional debt in the process of bribing His Excellency the Bishop, who just between you, us, and the lamp post,  is one of the sickest degenerates you will ever meet. Man! The stories we could tell you involving a flock of six black sheep, five male prostitutes, four call girls, three French maids, two hermaphrodites, and a drag queen decked out like a partridge in a pear tree!—good times! Good times! And, lastly, there’s the whole question of what’s in it for me—I mean us, by which I mean me—you feel me, I mean us?”

“I get it, You Majesty,” said Rosoridy-Anne, “In truth, I get it all too well. In order to obtain justice after being sexually assaulted, abandoned, and traumatized by one of your employees, I must succumb to your lecherous advances, or choose from among two completely odious and equally unpalatable options. I think I “feel” you quite accurately—and I know when I’m being groped up the tailpipe. Seems like some things will never change.”

“Hey! Welcome to the Middle Ages,” said the king, patting his knee “We didn’t make the rules—well, actually, we sort of did—but you know what we mean.”

“Ugggh! Alright,” said Rosoridy-Anne, “But no funny stuff. No French kissing—I can smell the eel-and-onion pastie on your breath from all the way over here! Keep the grab-and-tickle above the waist—definitely no feely-meely below the navel.”

Reluctantly, she crawled on to his lap, and bid him do whatever he fancied within the hard limits she had outlined. He fondled her comely gamungas, and slipped a greasy paw into her bodice to play with her ever-so perky nubinses. “Nice!” he whistled, trying to sneak the other hand down on to her booteus maximus.

“Naughty, naughty!” the damsel shooed his hand away, “Remember, Sire?”

“Oh all right!” he sighed like a petulant child, “But we’re definitely gonna suck one of those tits before this is over.”

“As you wish, Sire,” said Rosoridy-Anne, unlacing her bodice partway. And for a while the only sound in the chamber was that of the king’s gluttonous pie-hole, smacking and slurping like a toddler at its wet nurse’s teat.

“So, Your Grace,” she ventured meekly, “What do you know of Erwilian’s parents and family?”

“Huh? Oh, his mother died like two years ago; pneumonia or something incurable like that we think—little sociopath’ll probably try to use that as an excuse for what he did to you today—and the father? Handsome guy—nice full head of silver hair, of which we are totally envious, by the way. Richer than God Almighty, of course, and considered one of the most eligible widowers in the realm. Aside from that, we don’t know much, for it is as we’ve said; we’ve got people to keep track of these things for us.”

“Truly, Sire? A rich, handsome widower, you say? And are his manners better than his son’s?”

 “Couldn’t tell ya,” said the king, belching noxiously,  “Would you mind shifting over a little to the left, honey? That’s the ticket!”

“Your Majesty,” the damsel cooed, “I might have a way to, as they say, kill several birds with one stone.”

“Good for you,” said the king, “What the hell are you talking about?”

“I mean, Sire, that I have a problem, and you have several, and perhaps there’s a way we can solve them together, and both end up with something we want.”

“You have our attention,” muttered the king, his mouth full of luscious freckled dumpling. “Go on.”

“Well,” she said, “I’d see the son well hanged ‘tis true; yet if the father’s well hung—”

“What?” the king touched his new codpiece, “You mean?”

“Verily—that is to say, yes,” Rosoridy-Anne replied, “if the earl is still vigorous, well-spoken, wealthy as you say, and willing, chances are I’m already knocked up with his true heir in any case.”

“You’re totally insane!” the king laughed, “If we were thirty years younger, ten stone lighter,  still had all the royal hair, and were single—”

“—You’d nail me like a common ho,” said Rosoridy-Anne. “and we both know it. For, although no ho I trough, common-born I am indeed, and such, alas, is the way of the world. Yet, by all that’s just, the bun in my oven shall not pop out a common one. I’m thinking more along the lines of a Kaiser roll . . .”

“You’re right,” said the king, “we would definitely have tapped that back in the day. For in truth, we really got around when we were a handsome young blade. But we see where you’re going with this. It’s totally brill! You get justice for little Willie’s outrage against you, yet still avoid the nunnery, becoming, instead,  a wealthy nobleman’s wife in a single stroke. Chances are the guy won’t even miss the benighted little assclown once he’s raven poop, and his lordship might even forgive a big chunk of the debt we owe him just for us having introduced the two of you.”

“T’would seem like a win-win, Your Grace,” said the damsel. “And—not to mix anachronistic metaphors here—but the ball’s in your court.”

“Right!” said the king, “Page! Call the earl of—whatever the hell he’s the earl of—into our presence. There’s someone here we would have him meet.”

“Pardon, Sire,” the little page piped up timidly, “Which earl do you mean? There are so many here at court.”

“When, where, and how much!” roared the king, “How many times do I have to tell you? The earl of . . . oh! you know the one I mean, ya little snot! The tall one with the good hair! Godiva! That’s the one. Lord Godiva, the Earl of Pizzlethwaite—or is it Jizzleford?  Summon the schmuck to appear before us on the morrow, alright?”

“As you command, Sire,” the page bowed stiffly and withdrew. 

“We’ll get you all dolled up for the occasion,” said the king, “bathed and scrubbed, powdered and perfumed till your own mother wouldn’t recognize you from the smell. Get your hair put up nice, and deck you out in all the dopest bling, a total shitload of jewels, gems and pearls. And we shall find for you such a dress as will turn the highest-born bitches  in the realm all green with envy, whence they’ll  bewail their bravest finery as naught but thrift-shop schmatta! Shit! One look at you and the earl’ll be creaming his pantyhose, I guaran-damn-tee!”

“Mmm! I like the sound of that, Your Majesty.”

“And I love it when a plan comes together,” replied the sovereign, dandling the girl upon his gout-ridden knee until her glorious jiggle bags began to do their thing, bouncing up and down in the most enchanting way imaginable. “We’re of a mind to name you royal counselor for this, my dear.”

“You honor me, Sire,” said the girl, “even as you make me seasick.”

“So what?” laughed the king, “Tomorrow you shall be known as Lady Godiva.”

“No shit, Your Majesty,” Rosoridy-Anne smiled sweetly.