Liquid Longing: An Erotic Anthology of the Sacred and Profane
By Annabeth Leong
Forbidden Fiction, 2015
Some erotica aims primarily to arouse and entertain. In stories of this sort, few complications arise, no one asks any difficult questions, and everyone achieves a world-shaking climax by the conclusion. Some erotica, in contrast, takes nothing for granted—not even sexual satisfaction. Stories of this type explore the intricate, layered meanings associated with desire, its fulfillment and its frustration. They recognize the intimate connections between sex and other powerful forces: violence, spirituality, healing and death. Happy endings are by no means assured.
Annabeth Leong’s stories belong to the second category. In Liquid Longing, she has collected a set of tales remarkable for their originality, their unflinching honesty and, in many cases, for their raw, uncensored sensuality. Elements of spirit and magic loosely connect them, but the tone and perspective vary greatly from one to the next.
Several stories (“Hunting Artemis”, “The Snake and the Lyre”, “Andromache’s Prize”, “Icarus Bleeds”) riff on plots and characters from classical mythology. Others (“In the Death of Winter”, “The Fires of Edo”) create new legends. “The Three Wives of Bluebeard” offers a sapphic-themed retelling of the familiar fairy tale, along with a chilling evocation of male brutality. “Screen Siren” is an weird but wonderful outlier, a thought experiment on the societal implications of zombies, while “Touching Freedom” provides a surprising twist on tentacle porn. “Less than a Day”, featuring a mysterious being who fucks women about to die, comes close to urban fantasy. “The Miracles of Dorothea of Andrine” offers a perverse but satisfying twist on Christian doctrine, and is perhaps the story that most closely mingles the sacred and profane of the book’s subtitle.
I liked every story in the book; some of them I absolutely loved. I don’t want to spoil the personal delight readers will experience in discovering these tales, so I will not go into detail. However, I can’t stop myself from raving about “Icarus Bleeds”, the gem at the heart of this collection. This is as close to a perfect erotic story as I’ve ever read— beautiful, devastating, uplifting, and intensely arousing. Ms. Leong has created a small masterpiece in this tale of obsessive desire and it tragic fulfillment. I reread it three times, appreciating new aspects each time through.
Although inspired by the familiar Greek myth of the young man who flew too close to the sun, “Icarus Bleeds” unfolds in a dark future where the chasm between the elite and everyone else yawns even wider than it does at present. The story chronicles the nuanced, desperate, doomed relationship between exquisitely beautiful Icarus, whose only dream is to fly, and Daedalus, the aging technologist who’ll promise anything to keep Icarus near him. No one’s motives are pure and, as in the myth, the protagonists ultimately crash and burn. Yet at the same time, the story provides a hint of redemption and a haunting sense that a true dream may be worth even the most terrible sacrifice.
If there were a Pulitzer Prize for erotica, I’d award it to this story.
My one complaint about this book is leveled at the publisher, not at the author. All of the stories in the book have been broken into chapters. Furthermore, each story begins with a blurb, plus a summary of the types of sexual pairing found in the tale. I found both of these editorial additions very distracting, to the point of interfering with my reading experience.
Having read a few of the stories previously, I know that Ms. Leong didn’t originally write them in chapter format. In most cases, the artificial breaks negatively impact the story flow—at least for me. This was particularly true for “Icarus Bleeds”, where a steadily mounting tension carries the narrative forward in an upward spiral that the chapter breaks interrupt.
The gender labeling convention, common in erotic romance, felt insulting to me, implying that I’d choose my reading material based on the assortment of genitalia involved. Furthermore, in many cases the labels just don’t fit Ms. Leong’s erotica. Gender in her stories is fluid and ambiguous. Characters have sex with monsters, with gods, with demons, with the embodiment of a magical tattoo. There is even a case where a character who is originally a woman transforms into a male by the story’s end. Attraction in Ms. Leong’s universe (and in mine) does not fit into neat pigeonholes. I resented the publisher’s suggestion that it should.
Overall, I recommend Liquid Longing very highly, if you’re a person who enjoys erotica that engages your mind as well as your body. Some of the stories may make you uncomfortable; that’s intentional. If you prefer to skim the surface rather than plumb the depths of desire, you should choose a different collection.