Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Review Tuesday: Wild Girls, Wild Nights edited by Sacchi Green

Wild Girls, Wild Nights: True Lesbian Sex Stories
Edited by Sacchi Green
Cleis Press, 2013

How does one evaluate a collection subtitled “True Lesbian Sex Stories”?

Originality counts as one of my top criteria when reviewing fiction. A startling premise, a setting or a conflict I haven't encountered in the past, will immediately predispose me toward enjoying a story. Can this be applied to real life tales, though? To a large extent, we don't choose our experiences, although authors will clearly exercise discretion in selecting the events to recount. Still, given the fantasy-oriented nature of much erotica, the more creative and unusual premises often tend to be the most implausible.

How about the arousal generated by the stories? This is a highly personal criterion, depending as it does on one's own sexual proclivities. A couple of tales in this collection definitely pushed my buttons, especiallyThe Insatiable Travel Itch, by Evan Mora, which brilliantly exposes the narrator's frustrated fantasies, andDelinquents, by Catherine Paulssen, a gorgeously sensual first-time tale. Given my usual tastes, one might have expected me to mention some of the kinkier offerings, such as Mia Savage'sKat's House, Danielle Mignon'sAre You My Mommy?or Cheyenne Blue'sNurse Joan. However, I have no experience with and relatively few fantasies about F/F dominance and submission, so these titles had less of a visceral effect on me than I would have guessed.

Writing quality, then? No problem here. With one or two exceptions, the offerings in Wild Girls, Wild Nights are as well-crafted as I'd expect from an award-winning editor like Sacchi Green. Vivid descriptions, believable characters, variety in subject and voice: if this were a fiction anthology, I'd have no reservations about giving this book a definite thumbs up.

But therein lies the rub. For the most part, these tales read not like true confessions, but like fiction. They have initial hooks, plot arcs, conflict and resolution. Real world experience is messy, confusing, and usually inconclusive. Ambiguity reigns. There's no ending, happily-ever-after or other. These tales, however, are mostly polished, self-aware, self-contained nuggets with a point and a punch-line.

Of course, this isn't all that surprising. Most erotic authors mine their own sexual adventures in creating their fiction. One gets into the habit of focusing on some details and glossing over others, ramping up the heat and playing down discomfort or insecurity, twisting the outcomes in directions that makes them more satisfying for readers. I've certainly done this myself, in dozens of stories.

Then there's the fact that perceptual experience is notoriously difficult to recall accurately. It's generally not possible to give an accurate account of past events without “filling in the blanks”, whether consciously or not. When the experience in question occurred decades ago (as is obviously the case for some of these authors), the imagination-to-fact ratio increases dramatically.

When I recall my first Sapphic experience now (after more than thirty years), I remember only a few salient details. If I were to recount this for a book, I'd have to recreate – or invent – almost all the context. And then there would be the temptation to change the outcome – the fact that this woman, a dear friend, and I have never talked about that one night again. That doesn't make a good ending, after all.

So I don't fault the authors in this book for producing stories that feel like – stories. However, that makes me admire the few authors whose accounts really did feel more like “being there”.

Higher Learningby Charlotte Dare fell into that category. I liked this account because of the unconventional relationship between an older woman returning to college and a much younger student who is nevertheless old enough to know what she wantsand what she's doing. The uncertainties of the older narrator come through clearly and ring true. Every woman, after a certain age, wonders how she could possibly be viewed as desirable. Most of all, I appreciated the fact that the story ends with a question mark. The two women pursue separate career paths in different states. Neither wants to end the relationship, but will it survive the stress of geographic separation? Ms. Dare leaves us to wonder.

Another stand-out for me was Catherine Henreid's “Odds”. This story, set in Tel Aviv, has enough disasters in it that I can't help believe it. The quirky and unpredictable encounter between the narrator and her bisexual housemate, who is in some sense a total mystery, was both intriguing and arousing.

I've already mentioned “Delinquents”, about two girlfriends who experiment with lesbian sex while their parents are away. I strongly identified with the narrator's concerns about how this would alter the relationship – naturally, given my personal experience.

Finally, I have no doubts about the truth of Dawn McKay's “Hot Summer Nights”, in which the author, a military medic in what is likely Iraq, shares a single night of healing passion with an off-limits officer. The sense of risk, of desperation, of sorrow, that permeates this story make it one of the most intense in the volume.

I'll see you around,she said.

Yeah.I knew I wouldn't. So did she.

She left as quietly as she had come, slipping from my tent in the middle of a sandstorm.

I have to reserve special mention for Allison Moon's “Foxy and the Ridiculous Lesbian Orgy”. In terms of the activities it describes, this tale is by far the wildest in the book, and certainly one of the funniest. The events in the tale undoubtedly took place – because the author staged them in order to have some content for a live girl-on-girl storytelling event.

I had no story to tell, but the flyers had gone out, and time was short. I had no choice. For the sake of science – nay for the sake of art, I had to take matters into my own hands. I had to throw a Ridiculous Lesbian Orgy.

Now, I know what you're thinking. If you construct the context for a story, are you actually experiencing the story, or are just experiencing yourself experiencing the story, thus negating the veracity of the experience? If it's really happening but in an artificial context, does it count as “true”? I'm a writer, these are the things I think about.

I'm an author, and I think about these things too. Wild Girls, Wild Nights is a bit of an epistemological puzzle, all the way around. However, if your main interest is simply in reading some hot, believable, girl-on-girl tales, you won't be disappointed.

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