Sunday, June 24, 2018

Review of 'Unspeakably Erotic: Lesbian Kink' (ed. DL King)

Forgive me if I introduce this review of what is, overall, a pretty good anthology, with a rant. These things have a way of building up inside me over time, and I’ve found it’s healthier to get them out of my system as quickly as possible, rather than letting them ferment in some dark corner of my subconscious.

I am sick and tired of badly-written BDSM, and there is a damn lot of it out on the market these days like a lingering hangover from “The Trilogy That Must Not Be Named”. Not just poorly written, sloppily plotted, thinly-veiled mercenary dreck, but an overflowing sewer of BORING, unoriginal, predictable, ploddingly-derivative, poorly-paced, and totally UN-SEXY effluvium. I have no doubt that any sub-literate hunt-and-pecker can singlehandedly churn out an ocean of this shit—and many seem to spawn their own personal Pacifics on a regular basis. All the more maddening is that a lot of this garbage sells, sometimes extremely well.

It may be, apart from any stylistic or technical-grammatical considerations, that I am not the proper observer for this material. I am a passionate egalitarian where relationships are concerned. I am not turned on by pain, and I DESPISE stories in which cruelty and abuse are portrayed as normative, or a brainless sadism conflated with anything desirable. A lot of writers appear to be so hung up on the ideas of power and power exchange that they forget how to tell a compelling story about passion and desire (never mind erotic spontaneity). Many so into the mechanics of bondage—so eager to explain the minutiae of The Lifestyle—that they overlook genuine emotion, and present rather shallow, unconvincing characters in the process, characters constantly trying to elucidate the philosophical underpinnings of their particular kink like some snooty docent outlining the rules of an exclusive club to which few visitors ever feel truly welcome. And don’t even get me started on the insensitive, arrogant, bigoted use of the word “vanilla.”

I am troubled by what appears to be a wide-spread classist bias in many BDSM narratives. This may be due to a lack of originality or imagination on the part of some writers, mostly in it for the money, and yet I sense something else at work. If some of the behaviors portrayed in these stories were transposed from their usual settings, private islands, wealthy gated communities, or even the dull-beige monoculture of modern suburbia to, say, a trailer park outside the city, or some small town in flyover country, I have little doubt that many of the subgenre's "fans" would turn on it in a heartbeat, while those who profit from the perpetuation of moral panic would have a field day. Back in the 1970s, suburban swingers tended to look askance at "squares", but the notion that poor people might be involved in similar activities was a source of outrage and disgust, not to mention a wellspring of punitive right-wing social legislation—of course, the right-wing never  passes up an opportunity to figuratively fuck over the poor or find some new creative way to make their lives more difficult.  

I could go on and on, but you get the point. I have often said that I don’t care what your kink is so long as your writing about it is first-rate. I may not share your notion about what’s sexy, but if you write about your fantasy with style, beauty, originality, craftspersonship, and conviction, I am more than delighted to have a look.

I was happy to have a look at DL King’s latest anthology, Unspeakably Erotic:Lesbian Kink. The quality of writing throughout this 20-story collection is fairly consistent, and several of the stories are very good indeed. Particularly notable, or, at least, having pleasantly remained in my memory: the authentic, skillfully-evoked ambiance of Sacchi Green’s Baubles and Beads describing a passionate encounter between a butch farm girl and her femme admirer in the horse barn at a county fair (and thank you, Ms. Green, for taking the bad taste of class bias out of my mouth at least in this one instance).  Sonni de Soto’s Support Service with its astutely-observed, believably down-to-earth characters exploring the art of the sensual foot massage. The always-fascinating Anabeth Leong’s finely-crafted Simultaneous, which could practically be a textbook example of how to write an effective erotic scene where  several exciting things happen all at once; in this case, a domme allowing herself to be tied up while simultaneously being fucked by one partner and having her nipples pierced by the other—fun!!!  The Auction by Tamsin Flowers is a diverting bit of fantasy, yet so-well grounded in ordinary life—situations that are just plausible enough—that it lulls the reader into a sense of delight right along with its well-satisfied narrator. Kathleen Tudor’s wonderful Aloha à Trois gives us a gorgeous setting and colorful characters written with depth and feeling to compliment their playful, steamy antics.

Appetite by Emily Bingham draws delicious parallels between the sensuous delights of food and sex; one can almost smell the baking bread and feel the heat of the oven even as another very different sort of heat begins to rise. Mary Tintagel’s The Last of Marengo is a delightful take on pony play complete with a rare historic artifact readers are unlikely to forget anytime soon. And Sir Manther’s  Bitch Slap impresses with its sensitive, quasi poetic aspirations, exploring emotions and sometimes-intense BDSM without shying away from tenderness and reflection.

J. Belle Lamb’s Pygmalion juxtaposes a scene of coolly controlled passion with musings about abstract art—structurally very clever! Private Party by Rose P. Lethe gives readers a poignant glimpse into the mind of a young woman prone to panic attacks, going out on a limb like a sexy kitten to explore her fondest fantasy with someone patient enough to understand her need. Avery Cassell sets the scene so well in Blue Plate Special: Your Boot on My Cunt that readers will feel as if they’re walking side by side with the two insatiable lovers who take a break for a bite to eat in a San Francisco café.

To be completely honest—and by now anyone who visits this site on a regular basis should know that I am nothing if not completely honest in the articulation of my opinions—several of the stories in this collection barely rise above the level of the mediocre, and a few of them were so ploddingly unimaginative in setting, characterization, and the portrayal of erotic action, that I did not bother to finish them. (See my thoughts concerning DNFs here.) Thankfully, these issues were few and far between, and should in no way deter curious readers from seeking out the truly outstanding pieces here. 

So, on balance, not bad. Not bad at all! Recommended.

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