The eighth in Bright’s series of hit-or-miss pillow books has a little something for everybody, but not much of anything for anybody.
Noting in her Introduction how far the genre has come since her 1993 inaugural volume, which could have been titled The Only American Erotica, the editor cites the explosion of erotic fiction on the Web—a phenomenon that makes contemporary erotica “the fastest-growing fiction genre ever seen.” Given the endless fields she’s gleaning, however, the 22 stories chosen as the most “arousing yet literary” of their kind are a disappointing lot. It’s not just that the sort of literary values you might associate with the O. Henry Prize winners are in short supply, or that the most obviously literary stories (with the happy exception of Charles Flowers’s sharp, funny boxing memoir) aren’t very successful as either lubricant or lit. What turns some readers on (Todd Belton’s prodigiously expanding breasts, Cara Bruce’s exotic dancer seduced by a female client, Dodie Bellamy’s adventures of a woman who really is from Venus, James Williams’s paean to “Jason’s Cock”) will send others looking for greener pastures. As in earlier volumes, the leading principle of selection here, pace Bright, isn’t “sincerity” but variety; Bright seems determined to leave no sexual preference or practice unrepresented, and the result reads less like The New Yorker than like National Geographic. There’s masturbation (Matt Bernstein Sycamore), serial sex (Damian Grace), sex before waking (Hanne Blank), sex professionals (Nathan Englander, Wendy Becker, M.J. Rose), hopeful young love (Dani Shapiro), remembered old love (Jack Murnighan), and the usual generous helping of gay, lesbian, and interracial couples and multiples.
As with a photo album whose every picture dissatisfies some member of the family, every user returning to this volume after the initial survey can expect to reread one or two stories devotionally and ignore the rest.