The Things That Make Me Give In by Charlotte Stein
Black Lace, 2009
Envy. It's one of the hazards of reviewing work in one's own genre. Every so often you encounter a book so wonderful that you can't help wishing you'd written it yourself. If you're not careful, it can spoil your whole day.
The Things That Make Me Give In is one of those books. Charlotte Stein has penned a collection of imaginative, intense and extremely nasty erotic tales which manage to stimulate the senses without neglecting the intellect. I'd love to claim it as my own. This book, though, belongs uniquely to Charlotte, because I believe it's a brazen exploration of her personal fantasies (and perhaps her experiences). Usually I refer more formally to authors in my reviews, but this volume demands a more intimate tone. In this book, Charlotte bares all.
She has a distinctive voice, brash, energetic, self-deprecating, introspective, full of sentence fragments and body parts. Her stories rush forward, born along on the current of an inner monologue. Not every tale is first person (though many of them are), but they might as well be. We're in the head of the main character (in every case but one a woman) who is simultaneously analyzing everything and oozing for some action. To give you a taste, here's a segment from one of my favorite tales, “Dirty Disgusting You”:
His leg brushes mine, and it's terrible but I like it. I think about last week in the cinema, watching pinkly sweet bodies pretend to enjoy each other on the screen, the screen then fading to black just as it got to the really good bits. And him whispering through the darkness at me: Do you want to make our own good bits up?I did. I do. But then he asked me to touch myself and I couldn't do it. I told him so, too, and he laughed. Though he hadn't laughed at all when I told him that I'd never touched myself. Not ever.The look on his face! As though a grown woman who never masturbated was the equivalent of a straight man never looking at a big pair of tits. That shocked, slightly condescending expression made me say some spiteful things to him, but none of them landed. Or, at least, he never made me feel bad for saying them.
The voice is cheeky, fresh and a bit wild. The stories vary, but the voice is consistent. This is perhaps, the book's main weakness. In some ways it feels more like a novel than a collection of stories. The woman whose mind we inhabit differs superficially from one story to the next, but somehow I had the sense that she was really a single character, a single woman, whom I'm fairly convinced is Charlotte herself.
This woman likes big men, sometimes more than one at a time. She's turned on by power games, whether she's on the top or the bottom. She pretends to be innocent but is willing to do just about anything if someone teases her enough. She loves to be fucked hard and deluged in come. She's drawn to strangeness, otherness, feeling kinship with people who are “Different on the Inside”, to cite the title of one tale.
In “Because I Made You So”, she's a student lusting helplessly for her stern professor. In “Her Father Disapproves”, she's the girl next door, teasing the junior accountant her father has invited to a summer getaway. “Just Be Good” puts her in the role of the juvenile delinquent, challenging the town sheriff to put her in handcuffs. In “Yes/”, she agrees to do whatever her partner orders; in the paired tale “/Yes”, she's the one giving the orders. In neither case does she get exactly what she expects.
The sex in The Things That Make Me Give In is visceral and messy, but it's never just sex. There's always a subtext, always the analysis. Talking is another kind of fucking (the whole point of her bittersweet tale “Phoned In”). Charlotte understands the feedback loop between mind and body; she can't turn off her mind even when someone is trying to fuck her brains out.
I part the lips of my pussy myself, and let that slippery tip slide against it. Pleasure surges and tries to force me over the edge into orgasm, but I hold off. I want him to rub against my clit and then push his cock into me. I want him to fuck me the way that he just fucked himself, in punishing strokes that make me pant harder and say more than I'm doing now.And when I tell him all this, he sings my praises.I sing his right back. I tell him all the things I've always wanted to, but left by the wayside because they sounded too cheesy or too clichéd or too much. When he pushes his cock through my slit and down to my wet and waiting hole, I tell him that he's so big, that he fills me like nothing else, that I love his cock in my pussy.…He tilts my hips to meet his thrusts, one-handed. Just one big hand on my hip. His fingers stir against my clit, and my orgasm begins something like fluttering. Wings beating against my skin. Saying something now only makes them beat harder.
Given all the fucking and sucking and coming in this collection, I find it interesting that my favorite tale involves no physical sex at all – only stories about sex. “For You”, one of the darker contributions in the book, is narrated by a nurse caring for a cardiac patient who is waiting for a transplant heart. Dwelling in the shadow of death, he concocts lascivious fables of irresistible desire for his caretaker. His words leave her damp and twitching as they bear him away to the surgery which he might not survive.
This story could, of course, represent the entire book in a nutshell.