Edited by Susie Bright
Chronicle Books, 2010
Years ago, my dear friend Seneca Mayfair wrote a wonderful erotic story entitled “The Bookseller's Dream”, which was published in my Cream anthology. The heroine in this story, Alexi, has a book fetish; she loves to touch books, smell them, rub them all over her body until she comes.
X: The Erotic Treasury would have had Alexi wet in an instant. Bound in claret silk patterned with a swirling floral design halfway between William Morris and Georgia O'Keefe, with gold lettering embossed on the spine and thick, smooth pages, the book is heavy enough to secure my teetering pile of manuscripts, but not, of course, too heavy to read in bed. It comes in a slip box decorated with the same pattern, with a bold X carved out of the front so that silk shows through.
It's a tasteful and beautiful volume. It's not, in Seneca's words, a “one-night stand book”...
X is a rich collection culled from Ms. Bright's illustrious decade and a half as editor of the Best American Erotica series. Aside from its impressive size and elegant presentation, it is notable for the uniformly high quality of the writing and for the diversity of themes and styles.
Michael Dorsey's “Milk” offers the dreamy eroticism of a young Russian man confronted with the essence of femininity. Anne Tourney's astonishingly perverse “Full Metal Corset” explores the irresistible beauty of pain. “Slow Dance on the Fault Line”, by Donald Rawley, takes a stroll through a night-time carny world in which the ugliest man may be the one to fulfill your true desires. Matthew Addison's gentle fable “Wish Girls” is a meditation on the pitfalls of fantasy.
The book includes raw encounters with strangers (Paula Bomer's “On the Road with Sonia”) and couples' games on the edge (“Yes” by Donna George Story and “Red Light, Green Light” by Shanna Germain). There's tear-inducing romance (“Valentine's Day in Jail” by Susan Musgrave), irony (Robert Olen Butler's “Jealous Husband Returns in Form of Parrot”), humor (“Gifts from Santa” by Tsaurah Litzky and “Loved It and Set it Free” by Lisa Montanarelli) and gory horror (Vicki Hendricks' “Must Bite”.).
A few of these stories have happy endings, but most conclude ambiguously, some even tragically. Many offer life lessons. In Susannah Indigo's “Ratatouille”, a man learns that if he tries to hold on to his perfect lover, he'll lose her. In “God's Gift” by Salome Wilde, a horny rock-and-roll idol known as a womanizer is reincarnated as a vibrator. “Inspiration” by Eric Albert is an exceptionally raunchy fantasy spun by a man at the request of his partner who is on her death bed.
I spent more than two weeks reading this book. This was not a consume-it-and-throw-it-away collection. I couldn't tackle more than two or three stories at a sitting. I wanted to savor each one, not rush on to the next.
My one complaint about this book is that, despite its stylistic diversity, it is overwhelmingly heterosexual. Among forty tales, there are only two or three with lesbian themes or activities, and no gay male erotica at all, aside from Carol Queen's rowdy reminiscences of a Mexican bathhouse. Clearly as an editor Ms. Bright has the final decision on what to include. However, the slip box boasts “If there's only room for one book on your bedside table, this should be it.” I don't think that it is fair to suggest that this book represents the full range and richness of literary erotica available today. This is Ms. Bright's selection, and it presumably reflects her tastes. Other editors (including yours truly) might have made different choices.
Overall, however, X: The Erotic Treasury succeeds admirably in its objectives, offering a double helping of stories that are both sexy and thought-provoking. The volume would make a wonderful birthday or anniversary gift.
Time to start dropping hints to someone you love.