Sunday, July 23, 2017

Review of 'Hotel: A Literary Erotica Anthology' (ed. Megan Lewis)

The second of three themed anthologies released this year by Minnesota-based Mugwump Press, Hotel features some splendid writing, if not always the most imaginative storytelling. But then, it had a pretty tough act to follow: coming right on the heels of editor Megan Lewis’ brilliant Wanderlust—one of the finest erotica anthologies of recent memory—this new endeavor often lacks the lyric effervescence and  imaginative variety of the earlier title, never mind that many of the same authors are featured in both collections. The thirteen stories in Hotel run an uneven gamut from the scintillating to the mediocre, though all are more-than-competently written. The problem seems to be one of creeping sameness in narrative attitude, scenario and style—a pitfall, one suspects, of the essential requirement that every story be set in a hotel of one sort or another.

Granted, there’s a lot of latitude within this stricture, and, for the most part, this group of authors rises to the challenge with more than sullen resignation. Along the way readers are treated to just about everything from the seedy to the posh: satin-sheeted rendezvous in high-end penthouse love nests to hardboiled rough play on moth-eaten mattresses in fetid hourly-rate hookup holes. Rustic inns, far, far from the madding crowd, flaunting their quaint historically-themed charms, to lonesome roadside dumps in deserts where nothing human ought to be, boutique auberges trading in discretion, and gaudy urban palaces, oozing bright flashing-neon excess. Yet, there’s something about hotel rooms themselves that seems to breed cynicism and ennui in otherwise perfectly well-adjusted human beings; the most ordinary and indifferent of spaces—describe one and you’ve likely described thousands just like it—stubbornly defies poetry. In the end, it has to be the characters that make these stories memorable, their desires, hopes, dreams, conflicts, that which gives the narrative true depth and color.  No setting--no matter how exotic or colorful--can save an uninteresting character. 

This being said, there are some truly outstanding stories here: Valerie Alexander’s scintillating genderqueer fantasy Zero Gravity, and Arden Ellis’ gritty and gorgeously written f/f Grey Bar Motel in which a pair of bank robbers hide out in a desert dump as they consider their next move—a superb study in character dynamic and psychology:  T.C. Mill’s effectively atmospheric f/f My Body is a Haunted House, describing the encounter between two women with nothing in common but a man they once knew, after the man’s funeral, and Reiver Scott’s heart-wrenching The Witching Place in which a selfish Dom is forced to see himself through the eyes of the woman he thought was his perfect sub.

Also of note:  J.S. Emuakpor’s At the Crossroads conjures orgiastic and terrifying images in an ostensibly abandoned hotel somewhere in the California desert—a liminal space where vengeful gods may lurk: Parker Marlo’s lyrically noirish Easter 1992:  Zac Blue’s Rolling the Die in which anticipated retribution comes in the most pleasantly unexpected of ways: Rhidian Brenig Jones’ m/m/m Tricks of the Trade where a pair of male escorts service a wealthy client, the only opportunity one of the rent boys has to fulfill his hopeless love-born fantasy of being with his professional colleague: Sara Dobie Bauer’s Breathing Underwater, movie stars encounter in a hotel pool, and  In the Long Nights of Our Never Enough—great title!—by Christian Fennell, a lyrical description of a beautiful woman’s first outing as a high-class escort.


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