Monday, May 14, 2012

REVIEW: Transported

Fanny Press, 2010

Why does traveling turn us on? Maybe I should amend that to “turn some of us on”, since I know a few people who find the experience of traveling completely devoid of any sort of pleasure. For me, though, and clearly for author Sharazade, airports and foreign cities, remote beaches and forest hideaways, constitute the ideal settings for erotic adventures.

Part of the charge derives from anonymity. When nobody knows you, you're free to become someone different than the normal self you left at home – someone more sensual, passionate, and daring. You become less concerned about consequences. Meanwhile the world of a traveler is populated by other strangers, any one of whom might turn a chance encounter into a treasured erotic memory. Foreign travel, especially, puts me in a dream-like state – a confluence of expectation and exhaustion – that makes me highly susceptible to amorous suggestion.

Transported presents nine short stories more or less closely connected to the theme of travel. Some (e.g. "Just Browsing") involve meetings with strangers. Others (e.g. "Schipol") revolve around long term lovers, sometimes couples who are separated by circumstance and thus limited to relatively brief liaisons when their travel schedules happen to coincide. One tale (“After Dinner Show”) concerns two work colleagues on an Alaska retreat cum sales conference. In their everyday world, they've tried to hide their sexual relationship, but away from home base, they end up doing just the opposite.

The most original tale in the collection is the deft, funny and delightfully bawdy “Sales Pitch”. The narrator, a man who works in one of those airport stores that sell travel supplies and electronic gadgets, notices a decidedly sexy older woman undulating on the massage chair demonstration unit and decides to show her some other items of merchandise. Although he's considerably younger than his victim – I mean, customer – he has the skill to raise sexual teasing to a true art form.

“Flaws” is another one of my favorites. The female narrator takes a forty seven hour trip on Amtrak from Portland to Chicago for a job interview. She knows she's a smart woman and has an engaging personality, but she's preoccupied with various physical flaws: sagging nipples, a scar on her chest, a roll of belly fat, asymmetric pussy lips.

I hate all those magazine articles that tell you flaws don't matter, that all you need to do is believe in yourself. “Men respond to confidence! Just carry yourself like a supermodel, and guys will fall all over you!” In fact, I know it's right. I've seen some awfully plain women who act like they're totally hot, and somehow they carry it off. But how do you get there? It's so unfair! To be pretty, all you have to do is think you're pretty, but if you don't think you're pretty (and I don't), then you won't be pretty, and therefore you won't think you're pretty, because you actually aren't.... It's a vicious circle. No, a vicious spiral, all the way down.

Then the narrator meets Simon, a handsome businessman who actually does seem to think she's attractive – and then Simon's companion Matt ... Gradually, the two men succeed in distracting her from her perceived flaws, and finally, in making a lasting difference in her self-image.

“Onsen” is also wonderful. I'm sure I loved it as least partially because I've been to Japan myself a couple of times in the last few years. Sharazade is pitch perfect describing the fascinating but bizarre aspects of Japanese culture. She also does a fabulous job portraying what it's like to travel with someone who's not exactly in sync with you.

Finally, I have to mention the delicious story “Layover”. The narrator, who lives in San Francisco, receives a call from her lover and master. She'd known he'd be changing planes at San Francisco airport but never expected to see him. Now, with his flight delayed by five hours, he calls her to come to him. Her half-naked trip on BART is almost as erotic as their abandoned coupling on an unused check-in counter.

My one caveat is that the majority of these stories use second person – that is, the narrator refers to his or her lover as “you”. I know some readers object to this convention, and I personally would have preferred more variety in the “voice” of these stories. However, this is a relatively minor quibble. If you find travel to be arousing – even in your imagination – get a copy of this book.

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