Meh, meh, and more meh. I can’t recall when I was last so disappointed in a book, but Editors Hillary Jordan and Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan’s Anonymous Sex supposedly erotic anthology was so disappointing it was almost disturbing—I’d been conned.
Last week Numero Uno called me, asked if I’d seen the morning New York Times book review about a new collection of sexy stories. “We could read this together!” “I’m on it.” I dropped everything and read the review.
Then, I promptly ordered the book, which arrived in two days, and read its 351 pages in six days, having dropped the two books I’d been deeply engaged in.
After all, Allison P. Davis’s book review was so very enticing. She said the editors aimed to create “the kind [of book] that doesn’t just ‘turn you on,’ but ‘makes you see sex in a new way.’” So Anonymous Sex is supposed to deliver to me the reader both a turn-on and a new way of perceiving sex. Huge promise, hubba hype.
Ms. Davis assured me the editors were, “Taking a sapiosexual approach (appreciating, say, the power of the erect nipple as not just erogenous zone but intellectual exercise).” Very groovy! I’m all for that:
encoded—love me for my brain.
But I was destined for disappointment. I came across scant erect nipples; if anything the book is slanted heavily on the cerebral at the expense of the erogenous. The story “En Suite” held promise with its pair of lesbians approaching their first sexual encounter only to have it derailed by the hetero couple in the hotel room next door whose antics are loud and clear—“Tongue fuck me!” the two women overhear, resulting in a fit of giggles, and the heat of the moment is cooled.
Davis also asserts in her review that the editors “wanted to give writers the freedom to really let their freak flags fly,” thus none of the stories is attributed to its author. Rather, we have a list of contributors—with notables such as Louise Erdrich and Paul Theroux—and are left to guess who wrote which story. What a juicy little puzzle for the cognoscenti to solve at cocktail parties. The gimmick of having the stories anonymous is just that, a gimmick.
“Asphodel” epitomizes the lameness of such a gimmick. This bizarre (if elegantly written) story is sci fi about two far-forward-in-time disembodied human consciousnesses, a mother’s and her daughter’s. No sex is entailed whatsoever. Not a whit of erotica. Hiding behind anonymity? Whatever for? Yet Davis concludes: “Even if the sex isn’t quite as shocking as you’d hope (what turns you on is yours alone), the gambit works.” It does not.
I probably shouldn’t have put so much credence into a single book review, but it was in the New York Times, so I was predisposed to accept the reviewer’s praise. And, as a collector of erotica (with close to eight linear feet of shelving devoted to the genre, not including the many editions of Lady Chatterley’s Lover on their “shrine” shelf), I should have realized that Anonymous Sex was going to be sex-lite.
My visit to Amazon should have tipped me off when I ordered the book. I did a basic search. There it was. Openly listed on Amazon—not under the harder-to-search Adult Content section, which requires an advanced search. The Adult Content section is where the juicy stuff is, and, interestingly enough, for a few days where my new book, My Body the Guitar landed when first listed. Amazon’s “adult content” algorithm must have stumbled across enough references to “sex, drugs, and rock ‛n roll” (I refer to a “cock-rock” guitarist and used the word “vagina’ in one poem) tripped the warning and landed my book in the XXX Zone. Thankfully my publisher, Ken Kelbaugh at Before Your Quiet Eyes Holograph Series press, and Amazon sorted the problem promptly and My Body the Guitar is where it should be: among the easily searchable PG-13-type books! That Anonymous Sex was so readily searchable should have told me, had I listened: the book is tame, sanitized enough for the hoi polloi.
Of the twenty-seven stories in the collection three were somewhat intriguingly titillating, the others are head-shakers. “History Lesson” was the best of that trio. Two distinguished history scholars meet annually at a professional conference where they engage in sexual antics (e.g., bondage) that are not part of their routine marital physical engagements. It’s a story about not only extramarital sex, but sex that pushes boundaries for both Michael and Denise—beautifully depicted by the anonymous author. With Michael’s iPad videotaping their tryst, we see:
“Take everything off but your bra and panties,” he said, “and lie down.”
She did, with her head at the higher end, and from under the table he pulled four straps—two for her wrists, extended above her head, and one for each of her ankles, spread to the outer edges of the table. She tested each with a slight tug, and when she saw how tight they were, how genuinely tethered she was, she felt as if he’d turned up a dial somewhere inside her.
Well, the author turned up mine! As did the author of “This Kind,” about a lesbian who takes a male lover, meeting him for their after-hours assignations in the nether reaches of his commercial bakery. The author turns up the heat pronto in line nine of the tale: “I don’t belong here,” she said. “I’m not this kind of woman.” He sat her in the chair and got on his knees. “No,” he said, “you are this kind.” The mere suggestion of the baker “on his knees” raises the temperature that keeps heating up through the story’s too-fleet eight pages.
While three truly erotic stories of twenty-seven is a lousy percentage (and poor return for my $28 investment in Anonymous Sex), many of the stories are quite elegantly penned. “Pearl River” comes to mind. Set in what appears to be China, the story follows Cao Ming who is torn between two lovers, his country woman whose touch “would render him blind and dumb with craving until his final release of roaring, shouted joy” and his city woman with whom he has decided to settle because of her ability to bring laughter to their bed as well as her deft touches that could “revive his fading rigidity” to that “point of reaching a glory he’d never yet known.” However, what’s most beguiling about “Pearl River” is the descriptions of those two worlds: country and city with the river as a thread of beauty connecting the two:
…beads of foam, round and white as the finest pearls, breaking free of the rushing water, rising and falling back. Over and over, pearls rising and falling, a never-ending cascade. Today the sunlight coaxed a rainbow from the water for the pearls to dance through.
(Was this from the hand of Paul Theroux? Methinks!)
There are no “freak flags” flying in this tome. Rather I imagine poor Anaïs Nin and Pauline Reage rolling over in their graves. Wearing nipple clamps, I like to think. And, if you’re desperate for some authentic contemporary erotica, click on over to https://literotica.com/.