Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Review Tuesday: The Big Book of Orgasms edited by @Raquelita (#orgasms #anthology #flashfiction)

The Big Book of Orgasms: 69 Sexy Stories
Edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel
Cleis Press, 2013

Let me begin by confessing that I don't generally find orgasms erotic. I'd rather read about obsessive, irresistible desire than its fulfillment. I often find what's going on in lovers' minds far more arousing than anything involving their bodies. In some sense, climaxes are anti-climactic, the predictable denouement of practically every story that has ever appeared in a Cleis anthology.

Hence, I approached this massive collection of very short erotic tales – none longer than 1200 words – with a certain degree of wariness. I know from personal experience how difficult it is to compress three-dimensional characters, a recognizable conflict, a narrative arc and a resolution into a mere three or four pages. I expected a parade of shallow sexual scenarios, each one leading inexorably to the money shot. When I opened this book of “sexy stories”, I feared I'd find far more emphasis on the sex than on the story.

I wasn't completely wrong. At least fifty percent of the contributions focus almost purely on the physical, albeit in a wide ranging set of circumstances. I forgot these stories pretty much as soon as I'd read them, though I'm sure there are readers who'll have a different – probably more physical – reaction. Among these somewhat commonplace offerings, though, I discovered more than a few gems: stories with an actual plot, dealing with real problems; stories whose originality made me smile or ache; stories where the language made me gasp in admiration; stories with truth and heart.

Possibly my favorite tale in the book was “Matinee” by Suleikha Snyder. A college student in America returns to India to find herself smothered by the constraints of traditional culture. A young man named Azad (which means “freedom”) greets her in the park, where she is walking with her scandalized cousins. In defiance of society's standards, she allows Azad to her to the movies and there, in the darkened theater, with him barely touching her arm, she finds herself drowning in arousal. “Her knees were covered,” Ms. Snyder writes, “but everything else was stripped totally naked.” Rarely have I read such vivid evocation of youthful lust.

Preston Avery's “White” is another standout. “When I make you come, what color is it?” asks the narrator's wife. As she teases and torments him, every nuance of sensation takes on a hue. “All I want to do is come, and I am red with it. Orange, yellow then blazing electric blue.” The story is as gorgeously erotic as a Georgia O'Keefe painting.

After the Funeral” by Jeanette Grey, introduces two complex and troubled characters, with a sexual history we can only guess. As they come together, awkward and angry, driven by grief and loneliness, they find a kind of transcendence, at least for the moment. Who are this woman and man? What's their relationship, to one another and to the deceased? Who died and under what circumstances? The unanswered questions only add depth to the tale.

If I were asked to choose the one story that personally turned me on the most, I think I'd pick “The Morning After” by David Salcido. This luscious, pan-sexual, post-wedding menage is cleverly designed to keep the reader guessing as long as possible about the gender of the narrator. But then, that issue really doesn't matter in Mr. Salcido's story-world, where everyone gets a generous piece of everyone else.

Tenille Brown and Logan Zachary win special accolades for originality. Ms. Brown's contribution, “In Her Hands”, features a couple of homeless people as the main characters – definitely not your standard erotica protagonists. When Randall gets picked up by a wealthy woman who feeds and clothes him in return for sex, Button decides she needs to take charge in order to get him back. Mr. Zachary's “Remote Control” is an outrageous fantasy about a device that can alter reality in whatever way its operator desires. I won't spoil the fun by revealing just what desires get fulfilled.

I've already confessed that I find the mind more arousing than the body. Hence, I loved Xan West's tale Baxter's Boy”. The narrator, a high femme lesbian, is obsessed by Baxter, a legendary FTM transsexual interested only in males. Her extreme encounter with Baxter and his submissive boy takes place entirely in her imagination, but that does not render the effect any less real.

I don't have time or space to provide details on every story I marked as exceptional. Others included:

How You Christen a Bed” by Thomas S. Roche, a wise and humorous examination of incompatibility, told in evocative, clever prose;

Her Lover is a Flame” by Cecilia Tan, an exquisite prose poem in less than three hundred words;

Payback” by Emerald, sexual second chances offering a pleasing symmetry;
Pushing Boundaries on Public Transit” by Victoria Blisse, smutty, heartfelt fun that will leave you smiling;

Icing on the Cake” by Lula Lisbon, a filthy femdom snippet with kinks that will make squeak some and make others squirm;

Meeting Cute” by Vanessa Madison, another steamy movie house flirtation, featuring red licorice twizzlers;

Queer for Mike” by Shane Allison, a sad, believable story about taking what you can get;

The Park” by Elise Hepner, ultrashort, enigmatic and evocative, set in an after hours amusement park;

Meeting Myself” by Anya Levin, a sincere and moving look at a widow reclaiming desire after her husband's death;

Even with all these excellent stories, I found myself getting a bit burnt out by The Big Book of Orgasms. Then, a few pages from the end of the collection, I encountered the astonishing “Should You Ever Be Allowed to Feel This Good?” by Lillian Ann Slugocki. This story is in a category by itself, so powerful that it's scary. I read it over three times. I'm sure I'll got back and read it again.

It's not easy knowing that tonight is the night – the mask of Lilith, like a shadow on the bed.”

When he was gone, I finally looked at myself – and saw that my legs were tattooed up and down with bite marks. As if a rabid dog or a wolf had gotten control of me, sunk his incisors deep into my flesh, and wouldn't let go. I needed a rabies shot, antibiotics and cold compresses. I needed to see a doctor, a shrink, a shaman, a priest. I needed to call my mother but she was dead.”

It's almost worth buying the book, just to read this story.

Someone who has read and reviewed as much erotica as I have tends to get a bit jaded. I don't necessarily expect much. I'm happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of many of the sexy stories in the The Big Book of Orgasms. Meanwhile, if you're more of an orgasm fan than I am, this collection offers an almost inexhaustible supply.

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