The erotic imaginings of 24 American authors.
Radio host and sexpert Bright’s introduction pays tribute to Andrea Dworkin, who died this year after a life spent crusading against the victimization of women. Bright believes Dworkin’s activism helped institute an important distinction between pornography and what the editor refers to as “sex-positive” erotica, her basis for selection in this 14-year-old series. Many of this year’s stories are pleasurable romps, including Maxine Chernoff’s pillow-talk dialogue, “The Sound”; Will Heinrich’s rollicking tale of a man who wakes one morning to find his penis has grown a thick, black, well-groomed mustache (“Stalin’s Mustache”); Gaea Yudron’s elegantly updated creation myth, “Coyote Woman Discovers Email”; Donna George Storey’s “Ukiyo,” which shows a foreign woman in Japan seeking to rekindle sexual passion while touring Kyoto’s pleasure district; and the charming “Granny Pearls,” by Salome Wilde, who imagines a string of pearls regaling other jewels in the vault with the saga of the most erotic evening in their owner’s life. The nonpareil entry is an excerpt from John Updike’s novel, Villages, whose marriage of sensuality and literary art casts a shadow on lesser stories like the rock-’n’-roll groupie fantasy “Fifteen Minutes,” by Gwen Masters, and “From Brass,” by Helen Walsh. Not every reader is looking for art, however; stories that focus more mundanely on delivering titillation include Carol Queen’s “Grifter” (a con-woman gets her comeuppance) and Bianca James’s “Paradise City” (lesbian cruises self-help groups to find women she can lead to the 13th step). Some may find the surprise entry from David Sedaris too funny to be erotic, but the real shocker is Bright’s decision to conclude with Steve Almond’s dour “The Nasty Kind Always Are,” in which a Hollywood exec takes a header off a 29th-floor balcony: sex-positive, Susie? What’s up with that?
An uneven, sometimes bumpy ride.