Tired collection of S&M stories—hardly a slap, much less a tickle, in the bunch.
Elliott (Happy Baby, 2004, etc.) explains in his introduction that enough of these pieces contain autobiographical components to make the whole collection serve as a memoir. If that’s true, too bad for him, not because he’s had such a hard time finding the right partner to dominate him in a consensual S&M relationship, but because his relationships are so mind-numbingly dull. The introduction contains stock perorations about the importance of sexual freedom in our buttoned-up culture and the benefits of openness about sex in general. That’s all fine, of course, except that story by story, the hint that dangerous truths are about to be revealed in the service of such freedom leads to nothing. The 11 roughly chronological stories share the same narrator, who moves from the drug scene in Chicago to the bondage scene in San Francisco, driven by desires he does not fully understand, but which nonetheless seem to guide his every waking moment. He doesn’t find it at all difficult to meet women willing to dominate him, but most of the stories are about how such relationships fail to nourish him either emotionally or spiritually. He either gets what he wants from partners he doesn’t really like, or he doesn’t know how to get what he wants because he doesn’t know the rules of such sex play. Eventually, he learns those rules, and finds Eden, with whom he has a nice, normal relationship that incorporates plenty of the domination he enjoys. The narrator has a knack for descriptions of sex that walk a fine line between the clinical and the sensational, but for all that, he tends to fall back on unsatisfying and clichéd pop-psych analyses of why he likes to be dominated. His emotional fulfillment turns out to be rather too sweet a dish to end the collection.
The narrator’s callowness undercuts the sophistication of his topic.