Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Review Tuesday: Sex in the City: Dublin (#ReviewTuesday #erotica #Dublin)

Sex in the City Dublin

Sex in the City: Dublin edited by Maxim Jakubowski
Accent Press Limited, 2010

Let me begin by admitting that I am at a distinct disadvantage in reviewing this book. Despite its literary reputation, I've never been to Dublin. The closest I've been to Ireland is Boston. I've read some Joyce but found myself confused at least partially because of his references to places and historical events with which I was totally unfamiliar. Hence, I'm not particularly well-qualified to evaluate whether the stories in this collection succeed in bringing the city in the title to life.

So I have to judge this anthology based on whether the stories created a distinctive world that I could clearly imagine - whether I'd recognize Dublin if I visited after reading these tales. Of course, the normal criteria for reviewing erotic fiction also apply. Is the story original? Is the writing competent? Are the sex scenes intriguing, arousing, emotionally involving?

Sex in the City: Dublin includes two exceptional stories that do all of the above and more. Stella Duffy's "Of Cockles and Mussels" offers a lyrical portrait of an earthy fish monger named Molly Malone, who claims she fucked James Joyce and was the inspiration for Molly Bloom. Never mind the literary references, though. This gorgeous story evokes all the breathless intensity of first love, or first lust (it has never been too clear to me whether the two can be teased apart).

If there's one thing I know to be true about Molly Malone, it's that she was not sweet. Not sweet at all. She was wild and funny and exhausting to be with, she could be cruel too, had a mean temper and a hard jealous streak. But God she was good, to watch, to drink alongside, to play, to laugh, to fuck. And definitely more salt than sweet. Alive, alive oh.

The story also paints a vivid picture of working class Dublin, in the rhythm of its language as much as its descriptions. The narrator is a dirt-poor, hard-working Catholic girl:

Middle child of five and all those boys, you know my mother didn't have anyone else to help her keep them all clothed, fed, washed, clean. I hated doing the laundry, all that endless scrubbing of filthy boys' shirts and underpants. My brothers are not the only reason I started with women, but knowing a little too much about the ways of men certainly did make a woman a more interesting possibility when I was just sixteen.

When she catches Molly's eye at the market and gets invited to visit, the narrator's mother, surprisingly, doesn't raise a fuss. The mother understands that her daughter may be treading a different path than her own and is glad of it. That's only one of the joys of this story.

The other standout tale, for very different reasons, is "Picking Apples in Hell" by Nikki Magennis. In this sassy, sexy story, the narrator Niamh meets up with her old lover Frank, who has returned to Dublin for some undoubtedly dodgy purpose. Once again, the language catches the rhythm of Irish speech:

"So what's dragged you back, Frank?"
"Oh, c'mon now. Can't a man visit his home town without good reason?"
"Don't try telling me that you were missing the ole place," I said, keeping my voice nice and flat.

What I didn't say was: tell me you were missing me, tell me you couldn't forget me, tell me you'd cross the sea for one more shot of that filthy, mind-blowing fucking we used to do.

Niamh discovers that Frank is indeed involved in a dangerous and illegal game, but she can't help surrendering to her lust - and her nostalgia:

That mouth. It might have produced some of the filthiest lies you've ever heard in your life, but there's no denying that when Frank McAuley kissed you, it was enough to make St. Peter forgive the devil. He tasted of whiskey and wet nights on the town, he covered my lips with his own and devoured me, drew me forward so it felt like I was falling.

I loved this story for its colorful depiction of the seedy underside of the city as much as for the characters and the sizzling sex. The fact that Ms. Magennis pulls off a deft surprise ending was an unexpected bonus.

Compared to these two stories, the other contributions are at best workman-like but unremarkable. Ken Bruen's "Love is the Drug" is a wry, humorous piece about a regular guy from New Jersey who travels to Dublin looking for love, only to have all his romantic illusions about Ireland shattered. "Abstract Liffey" by Craig J. Sorensen offers complicated and ambiguous characters with whom you can identify - a hallmark of Mr. Sorensen's fiction - but as far as I could tell, the story could have been set anywhere. Elizabeth Costello's "The City Spreads Startlingly Vast" is an eloquent tale of sex as an antidote to grief, but once again, did not seem particularly Irish. Several of the stories I actively disliked - but of course, that's only one reviewer's opinion.

This isn't a bad collection, but I will admit that after having read Sex in the City: New York, I was disappointed by this other volume in the same series. I'd chalk up my reaction to my unfamiliarity with Dublin, but the fact that two of the tales did succeed in making me see, smell, and taste the city suggests that the problem lies elsewhere.

No comments:

Post a Comment