Sexologist Bright’s annual paean to the more physical aspects of love.
Since the Internet has affected every aspect of life in the 21st century, it’s no surprise that several of the 23 stories in Bright’s 14th anthology feature it. These include Dennis Cooper’s contribution, an excerpt from his novel, The Sluts, which tells the story of a gay-for-pay hustler named “Brad” through successive customer reviews on a hook-up site, and Alexander Chee’s “Best Friendster Date Ever,” which charts the progress of an online connection that takes on a (very) physical dimension. Six of the entries this year are excerpts from literary novels. There is Kathryn Harrison’s Envy, in which a young patient seduces her psychiatrist (who turns out to be her father); Jessica Cutler’s The Washingtonienne, featuring a cocaine-fueled threesome; Alicia Erian’s Towelhead, offering a look at make-up sex; and Daniel Duane’s A Mouth Like Yours, in which a tenth-grade boy’s dream comes true right under the nose of his girlfriend’s father. Not all the stories possess the same level of skill, but most match Bright’s exuberantly positive attitude toward sex. Among the best of those are Susan St. Aubi’s “Taste,” in which two late-night bakers treat each other to secret delicacies, and Susan DiPlacido’s “Heads-Up Poker,” featuring a strip-poker game where every player comes up a winner. Inevitably, there are entries that push so far into sexual fantasy that it becomes difficult to suspend disbelief. Some of the too-blue-to-buy stories include Nicolas Kaufmann’s “Comeback” and Marie Lyn Bernard’s “What Happened to That Girl.” It is the imbalance of collecting gorgeously sensuous writing with genre claptrap that is this anthology’s weakness and its strength. The great writing shows the hackneyed slap-and-tickle prose in the worst possible light. But to exclude the latter would be to deny part of the diversity and proclivity of human sexuality. And Bright has always known that.
Another year, another celebration of sex.