AMOROUS WOMAN by Donna George StoreyIro Books, 20012
I was musing about erotica recently and realized that all my own novels, as well as most of my favorite work by other authors, could be viewed as stories about journeys. I'm not talking about travel in space. I am referring to an intellectual and emotional exploration, a progression in which characters begin in one psychological place and end up somewhere quite different, changed, more perceptive, perhaps more accepting of themselves, with an improved understanding of their needs and desires. Of course, many mainstream novels can be seen in this light. In erotica, however, the characters' sexual activities and discoveries are the agents of change.
Donna George Storey's wonderful first novel AMOROUS WOMAN is an exceptional example. In the case of Lydia, Ms. Storey's heroine, there is a physical voyage as well, to the fascinating and frustrating culture of contemporary Japan. However, Lydia's real journey is internal, as she strives to balance her sometimes reckless hunger for new sensations with her need for human connection.
Lydia flies to Kyoto eager to taste all the cultural and sensual delicacies that Japan has to offer. Fluent in Japanese, she finds the country more accessible than it would be to most, but in her relationships with its people, and especially its men, she is repeatedly disappointed. She becomes an English teacher bedding college boys, a dutiful wife to a handsome but overworked salaryman, mistress and companion to a powerful tycoon, an exclusive female escort, a sex performer. The delicate perversity of Japanese sexuality continually attracts her. She aches to be included, but no matter how correct her grammar and how outrageous her sexual behavior, ultimately, she remains the gaijin, the stranger.
Ms. Storey takes us back to meet Lydia in her teens, when she first discovers the power of her sexual imagination. From her worldly older cousin she learns the difference between "good" and "bad" girls; it is abundantly clear which category she belongs to. Her imaginary lover encourages her to be audacious:
"You have become a bad girl since you started listening to your cousin. But of course I'm very glad that you're taking her advice. The world would be a happier place with more women like her."
"I'm not sure I have the nerve to do what she said," I confessed.
"Of course you do. I want you to do it and you don't want to disappoint me. Why don't you pick up that brush and press it against your virgin hole?"
With a quivering hand, I reached for the brush and held the rounded end of the handle against my secret lips.
"Very good. I knew you could do it. Now move it in and out slowly. I know you want to open yourself for your lover. And for me."
This is indeed exactly what I wanted to do. Somehow he always knew just what to make me do, as if he could see desires inside me I didn't myself understand.
Lydia brings this openness to experience, this willingness to take risks, with her to Japan, where it carries her into adventures and even dangers. What she really craves, though, is to belong.
"What brings you to Japan, Lydia-san?" Dr. Shinohara asked.
The honest answer was that I came because I craved adventure, a life of surprises, a non-stop feast of exotic sensual pleasure, anything but a job in investment banking like most of my college friends. But at this point it was probably better to give the doctor my safe, standard line.
"I came to Kyoto to learn traditional Japanese dance."
"I see. Do you enjoy wearing kimono?"
Should I tell him the truth now -- that it feels unspeakably sexy to wear one and I loved being bound by the column of cloth hobbling my legs and the obi's snug embrace of my breasts? It probably meant I was a sexual masochist, but I didn't really want to admit it. More exciting was the promise of transformation through that bondage, the chance to shed my foreign awkwardness for the Japanese dancer's gliding grace.
"Yes, I do like wearing kimono, but it's a challenge, too. I have to move my body in a different way, so maybe I can understand, just a little, what it's like to be Japanese. I think it is the Japanese way, in dance and in life, to transform ..." I pulled my English-Japanese dictionary from my book bag and quickly leafed through it for the right word.
"Constriction," Dr. Matsumoto read out for me.
"To transform constriction into art."
"Lydia-san understands Japan very well," Dr. Shinohara said to his friend.
I bowed my head, my cheeks burning with pleasure. I'd not only been seen, but embraced. How could he have known that was my secret fantasy - the fantasy of all true Kyoto gaijin - that our wandering spirits had reconnected us with us with our lost host?
Lydia's journey takes years. As she delves deeper into Japanese culture as well as her own sexual complexities, she feels more rather than less alien. She begins to take greater risks, flaunting her extravagant sexuality because she can, rather than because she really wants to. Finally, confronted with a man who desires and understands her, whom she probably could love if he weren't married, she has the courage to stop and examine her behavior and desires, and to choose a new path.
I enjoyed AMOROUS WOMAN more than any erotic novel I've read in a long while. Ms. Storey writes with insight and humor. She vividly conveys the sensual experiences of living in a new land.
Each day of my first year in Kyoto brought some wonderful new discovery - a mysterious fox shrine tucked away in a winding alley, the beguiling sweetness of bean jam wrapped in soft rice pastry, a lovely boy bowing nervously as I ushered him into my apartment. Even in the recollection there is magic. The whole year seems to fold in on itself like a dancer's fan, leaving one perfect day in high summer.
As someone who has made her own voyages of discovery into strange cultures, I strongly identified with Lydia and her lust for new experience, as well as her desire to be a part of the wonders around her.
However, Ms. Storey understands more than just foreign cultures. She is an expert at expressing the complexities of sexual relationships. AMOROUS WOMAN includes both real encounters and some deliciously extreme fantasies that Lydia entertains. I found the real-world scenarios more exciting. Ms. Storey manages to show us Lydia's doubts, fears and confusion while still keeping the sexual temperature turned up to the maximum.
AMOROUS WOMAN is definitely arousing but it is much more than a light-hearted bedroom romp through Japan. It is a believable and moving tale of one woman's journey of sexual self-discovery. If you don't mind some serious content mixed with your sex, I recommend it highly.