In my first book review, I struggled with how to connect my academic voice to my carnal engagement with the book itself. I still like the review, a lot, and love what writer Xan West had to say about it in this review of my review. But, immediately, starting Best Women’s Erotica 2014 from Cleis Press, I knew that this book was going to get me going and I was going to find a way to grapple my sensual experience with my theory-nerd brain/voice. And, well, Violet Blue made the perfect set up for me.
In her Introduction to Best Women’s Erotica 2014, Violet Blue gave me the permission I did not know I needed. Or, rather, she helped me give myself the permission I did, in fact, desperately need. You see, while she doesn’t claim to answer that time old question “What do women want?” with a singular answer, she also points to something really important: that women do claim what they want, all the time. Part of that is in her simple response—that the readers of Best Women’s Erotica want highly crafted stories that are also sexually exciting and satisfying. This leaves so much room for possibility, she writes:
It’s that once women uncork the possibilities of what they like in a sexual fantasy and fetish erotica, they don’t stop at the first story that works for them. We keep going, and no, it doesn’t get old because we keep looking for more to turn us on and get us off—which is exactly what this series sets out to do (xii).
Blue sets up this collection as a smörgåsbord of fantasies and pleasures, and that’s precisely what this collection is (and should be). The variety offered by Best Women’s Erotica 2014 makes it great to begin exploring and discovering and a great place to return for experienced readers.
By the time I hit, Jade A. Waters “Toys” I caught myself breathing….. heavy. “Toys” drove me wild. As I followed this woman’s journey from a timid sex toy “collector” to confident sex toy champ, I could feel the different textures and vibrations. And despite what I have come to call my “glaze” (my ability to have sensual encounters with different types of texts while keeping my theoretically minded brain working full time), I found myself reaching for my own toy drawer. In Blue’s words, it erm…worked for me. It shook me out of my primary mode of engagement, as if to say, “Sure it’s well written, but it’s also ridiculously hot.”
“Toys” is followed by a suspenseful, play fantasy, “Her Forest, Her Rules.” It definitely kept my pulse up, and showed me another aspect of my fantasy life. The main character, “an anarchronistically cursing elf,” finds herself entangled in her own fantasy, questioning and pushing her boundaries (and mine!). I loved this piece and it caught me by surprise. At first, I thought that it might lay outside my own fantasies, but the fast pace and suspense kept me completely engrossed. Physically and intellectually.
“The Cake” begins as the title suggests, sugar sweet, before completely flipping on the viewer into a dark, hot BDSM scene. The characters feel genuine and their connection is apt and apparent. As it ends, I can tell they had fun—and I did too.
What I like about collection as a whole, is how many of the women demand what they want and aren’t afraid to speak their own truths, define their own boundaries, and get what they want—while remaining vulnerable enough to easily identify with.
“Monsoon Season” tickles the part of me who is obsessed with the paperboy scene in A Streetcar Named Desire (the play, not the film). Not for narrative similarities but for the arrangement of power. An older woman and her young submissive and feelings and age and all the things that both tend to complicate our relationships and provide the tension which makes them so sexy all at the same time.
What struck me overall were the male characters in Best Women’s Erotica 2014. Where insecure, “I’m-so-broken-and-tormented-please-fix-me-but-you-can’t” male archetypes abide in mainstream romance and erotica, BWE offers male characters who are assured, curious, vulnerable, and mindful. They also manage to escape the bland generalizations that sometimes occur when authors try to create good, feminist male characters. Some are submissive, others dominant, some blending these designations, others trying new things, speaking up for what they want but feel ashamed about. These characters make for a really refreshing read.
It is for this reason, among others, that I totally dug Ruby Rider’s “Revealing.” It’s a story many can identify with, yet specific enough to keep my attention. Rider captures the erotic nature of getting to know another person, of revealing yourself, and what you find afterwards. It’s about taking chances and the anticipation of discovering another person’s hidden wants.
“Marylou” is a bold, daring piece about a gender bending sailor. “Gentlemen’s Valet” manages to take a simple piece of furniture and turn it into the centerpiece of a submissive scene. (I now really want one). And the collection ends on just the right sultry note with Alison Tyler’s “Close Shave.”
Reading erotica is an interesting experience. It involves fantasy, (one’s own fantasies and their resonance with the fantasies crafted by the authors), the ability to draw from sexual/sensual memory, and imagine new encounters. All at the same time. Its a kind of empathetic tactile imaging—and works to connect the intellectual and sexual/sensual/tactile parts of reading erotica.
What makes for a good collection is a mixture of connection and variety and Best Women’s Erotica 2014 nails it. It left me simultaneously satisfied, yet ready for more smutty stories.
- Offers a wide variety of fantasies and pleasures
- Engaging both intellectually and physically
- Male characters that differ from the brooding/borderline abusive norm
- Edgy, Unexpected
- Great for: both those who are well aware of what turns them on in a story and those brand new to erotica
- I would recommend to: Pretty much everyone
- Not to: Folks who don’t like reading, I guess?
I think I’ll end with this line, one of my favorites, from Valerie Alexander’s “Monsoon Season”:
“I don’t even understand how that all works,” Renee went on. “I mean, it’s not very dominant of you to suck him off. You’re giving him control when you do that.”
I laughed. “If that’s your experience, you’re doing it wrong.” (86)
You can get a copy here.
Special thank you to Good Vibes for sending me Best Women’s Erotica 2014 in exchange for an unbiased review.
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