Oysters and Pearls: Collected Stories by Mitzi Szereto
Midnight Rain Publishing, 2016
Novels are beads strung on a wire, a sequence of events linked by character and intention into a harmonious whole. A short story, in contrast, can likened to a single pearl— tiny but whole, perfectly symmetrical, gleaming smooth, reflecting the light. You can roll the best short stories around in your palm, viewing them from different angles. Afterward, you remember the silky nacre, cool against your skin.
Like pearls, the best stories coalesce around a fragment of grit: a loss, a need, an unsatisfied dream. Imagination builds layers of emotion and sensation around the irritating core. The triggering fragment does not disappear, but the author transforms it into a thing of beauty as much as pain.
Mitzi Szereto’s collection Oysters and Pearls includes some tales that come close to perfect. I’ve been an admirer of Ms. Szereto’s work since my very first introduction to erotica. Hence quite a few of the stories collected here were familiar, but like pearls, they do not lose their luster in one or two readings.
I remember the first time I read “Odalisque”, in one of Ms. Szereto’s early erotic travel anthologies where I also had a story. I was astounded and deeply aroused. It had not lost any of its impact upon re-reading. The tale is a gorgeous evocation of desire for the Other, a sensual feast with a bittersweet aftertaste. A western woman in Dubai experiences an erotic idyll with her Arab lover, only to discover that it’s far easier to mingle bodies than it is cultures.
“Bakewell, Revisited” is another gem, a story of youthful desire reclaimed. The only lesbian tale in the collection, this vignette harnesses all five senses in service of eroticism. Once again there’s no happy ending, but the tale does not require one. The circling of past back to present is complete on its own.
“The Dracula Club” is another of my favorites. Like many of Ms. Szereto’s heroines, the Goth girl in this tale blithely follows her erotic destiny, without much concern for the world’s judgments. In this case, it leads her from Ohio to Romania, into a stone coffin and arms of two lovers who might or might not be undead.
“It’s All Right, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” was new to me. This bleakly comic tale is a black pearl. It’s not really erotic, though it’s about sex, but it’s so perfectly structured I felt like applauding at its conclusion.
“Hen Night” has some of the same cleverness, though it’s less dark. A woman decides to liven up her life with an anonymous sexual tryst in the loo. However, the encounter turns out to have unanticipated consequences.
Mitzi Szereto’s erotic visions tend to be tinged with blood and irony. “The Blood Moon Kiss” is an atmospheric vampire tale reminiscent of the Twilight series but infused with far more passion. “My Lover” presents a darkly poetic view of a relationship in which one lover completely consumes the other. “Hell is Where the Heart Is” offers Faustian tale of revenge in which the Devil is called “Alfie”. This rambling story lacks the structural precision of some of the stories in this collection, but shares their black humor.
“Loving on Kyoto Time” brings an uncharacteristic note of gentleness to the collection. There’s no sex in this tale, only graceful, wordless longing that’s mirrored in the beauties of the ancient Japanese city of the title.
I didn’t like every story in Oysters and Pearls. A few of them felt tossed off, raw chips of imagination rather than carefully polished gems. Ms. Szereto’s writing is always competent, but her best stories are literary jewels. Those tales, where the narrator’s voice lingers to echo in your mind, are the ones I most appreciate.
As a whole, Oysters and Pearls is a strong collection of short erotic fiction. The best stories in the volume are ones you’ll want to read and re-read, as much for their gorgeous craft as for their heat.