Friday, June 01, 2007
Fantasies I: Four Tales of Erotic Fiction
By Alessia Brio, Leigh Ellwood, Bridget Midway, and Ann Regentin
Review by Lisabet Sarai
Short stories can be frustrating. Just when you're getting interested in the characters, really eager to discover what happens next, the story ends. Sometimes, too, a short tale can produce sexual frustration; there's rarely enough space for more than one steamy scene, and who can really be satisfied with just one?
Fantasies I, an eBook published by Phaze, offers a solution. This volume is comprised of four multi-chapter erotic novellas, each about sixty pages long, by four woman authors. Each can be read in a single sitting; each offers a generous helping of sexual shenanigans along with more plot and character development than could be crammed into the word limits of a typical short story.
Alessia Brio leads off with "¡Pura Vida!", a sizzling exploration of polyamorous, pansexual relationships. Charlie hasn't seen Stormy in a while, but has white-hot memories of their previous encounters. When his travel business brings him to Costa Rica to consult with Stormy about an advertising campaign, she meets Charlie at the airport with her handsome Latin assistant Pietro in tow. She makes it clear that Pietro is her lover as well as her business associate, but that doesn't bother Charlie - if anything, he finds it exciting. He's used to sexual groupings that are flexible with regard to both gender and partners, since his company back in the States is made up of individuals who tend to mix business with pleasure. In the course of this story, we don't meet Jess or Sam, while Mia and Richard are just voices on the phone, but we're told that:
"If intimacy was the sun, they orbited it like planets – each independent, but influenced by the pull of the others...While their interactions might seem seedy and tabloid-worthy to the unfamiliar, within their ranks they functioned much like a Heinlein family."
The reference here, of course, is to Heinlein's classic exposition of free love, Stranger in a Strange Land.
Stormy, Charlie and Pietro embark on a quest that takes them through the exotic landscapes of Costa Rica, trying to capture the essence of what makes the country so special as a travel destination. At the same time, they explore the sexual territory of their mutual interactions. Ms Brio treats the reader to a variety of couplings and menagés, including an intelligent, realistic and arousing scene in which Charlie and Pietro help Stormy to truly release control and simply allow her body to react. The tale climaxes with an incandescent male-male scene that is no less intense for its inevitability.
I grew up with Heinlein. I find nothing sexier than mixed gender, multi-person menagés, where inhibitions and prejudices drop away and nobody is jealous because everyone is sexually and emotionally satisfied. Hence, Ms Brio’s story strongly appealed to me. However, I felt that it suffered from excessive description and too much backstory.
Costa Rica provides an appropriately exotic backdrop for this amorous tale. Sometimes though, the author seems to forget that this is just the setting. I think she's personally in love with the place, and it shows. However, I occasionally found myself getting annoyed at all the cultural details. I wanted to focus on the action.
This story is clearly part of a series involving the same characters. There are too many references to these past adventures, including allusions to events that seem irrelevant to the current tale. It may be that Ms Brio is trying to influence her readers to go back and read the other installments. Personally, though, I think this made the current story less coherent and compelling.
The second tale in Fantasies I is Leigh Ellwood's "Midnight Passions". Colleen is a divorced single mother who's trying to balance her own sexual needs with the desire to be a responsible parent to her pre-teen daughter. Her self-centered boyfriend Daryl doesn't make life any easier, but he turns Colleen on so much that she doesn't dare to complain. She endures his crassness and sexual selfishness, until the night she discovers that he's also seeing other women. As she tries to throw him out, her rented duplex begins to rattle and shake and the air is filled with a menacing voice, ordering Daryl to leave. He scuttles away, terrified, clutching his jeans in front of his genitals.
Naked and dazed, Colleen steps out onto her front porch to survey the damage from what she supposes is an earthquake. But all is quiet. Just as she realizes that anyone in the neighborhood can see her nude body, her neighbor and landlord, Professor Spence, steps up and offers her a luxurious satin robe to cover herself. Thus begins a series of erotic surprises that ultimately bring Colleen more love and fulfillment than she had ever dreamed of.
The delightful and unexpected twists in this story are one of its best points, so I won't spoil the experience by revealing any more of the plot. All I'll say is that it involves literature, magic, and lots of sex. "Midnight Passions" turns out to be a genuinely fantastical story. The outrageous events later in the story, and its sexy fairy tale resolution, contrast sharply with the painfully mundane but realistic description of Colleen's relationship with Daryl. In fact, if I hadn't been working on a review, I might have given up the story in the face of Daryl's churlishness and Colleen's insecurity. They were just too real to be enjoyable. I'm glad that I kept reading.
"Service Recall" by Bridget Midway is the third story in this collection. This is more of a conventional romance; an impoverished, discouraged and sex starved divorceé meets the man of her dreams when she calls for a plumber to unplug her sink. Although this is familiar territory, the story is engaging and well written. Unfashionably voluptuous Carla is convincingly needy but has a bit of sass. Duke is competent, solid and warm, middle-aged attractive and believably unsure of himself. Their torrid couplings will raise your temperature, and you're guaranteed to despise cruel and sarcastic Roy (Carla's ex) and the cold, upwardly mobile Allyson (Duke's previous girlfriend).
The final tale in this volume is Ann Regentin's "Midnight Conversations". Although it includes romantic elements, this story is also a beautifully crafted exploration of individual and societal attitudes toward sex, as well as a sensitive portrayal of the effects of emotional abuse.
The story begins in the middle of a conversation between two unidentified voices:
"'He was amazing in bed. That's why I married him.'"
"'Tell me,' I said. I needed to hear as much as she needed an audience."
The story of seduction continues, the speaker and the listener both find release, and we still do not know the participants in this conversation.
Gradually Ms Regentin reveals the truth about the voices, ghosts in a house left vacant for thirty years because of its haunting. Little by little we get to know the narrator Cass, a frightened and angry woman pursued by her own ghosts. As Cass works on the old house, strips the wallpaper away and rips up linoleum to expose hardwood floors, we slowly learn more about Cass and her past and why it is so difficult for her to trust anyone. Meanwhile, the ghosts converse with her in the night, sharing their experiences of sexual highs and lows: audacious seductions, impossible attractions, extramarital affairs and forbidden loves.
Gradually, too, Tristan Millman, the former owner of the house who originally refused to sell it to her, woos Cass, tries to show her how the future could be different from the past. She resists him every step of the way, despite being drawn to his generosity, calmness and self-confidence. The story is over before the two of them actually climb into bed together. Still the growth of their mutual attraction mirrors the intensity of Cass' midnight conversations, and the result is a story at least as arousing as the three more explicit tales that precede it.
Together, the four tales in Fantasies I offer a welcome relief from short story frustration. I look forward to reading other offerings from Phaze.