Saturday, March 07, 2009

Focus reviewed by Book Wenches

Title: Focus: Highlighting the Power of the Short Story

Publisher: eXcessica Publishing
Release Date: January 2009

Length: Anthology of Short Stories
Genre: various
Sensuality Level: 4
Rating: 4

Focus: Highlighting the Power of the Short Story is a collection of 17 short stories by a diverse group of authors. These stories run the gamut of genres and themes: from straight to gay and from erotic to literary to horror. Each of these stories has a forward written by the editor that helps to explain the story and put it in perspective. These small forwards are an unusual touch that I find enhances the reading experience greatly.

Butterfly Wings
by Renee Blaine:

Locked away in a mental hospital, a young witch who has been driven mad by her power begs the man who once loved her for help ending her life.

This is a lovely and evocative story. The heroine is like the butterfly that she holds in her hands: she is too damaged to continue with her life yet too whole to die. Death for her is the ultimate kindness.

Dancing Wildly by Will Belegon:

After suffering the frustration of a long-distance relationship and six months of the delays that life can bring, a young man reunites with his girlfriend. Although he is initially uncertain of the reception he will receive from her, it soon becomes plain that their connection is as strong as ever.

The author of this short story has combined a poem with narrative to tell a tale of young love and joy. Although I am not a fan of poetry overall, this one is very well executed, and its use in this story is very effective in evoking an emotional reaction.

Monday by Selena Kitt:

A schoolgirl who is being raised by her drug-addicted mother is shocked and frightened when she witnesses her mother turning a trick for her dealer.

Since the action in this story is seen through a child’s innocent eyes, it takes a moment for the reader to realize what is happening, although it is immediately evident that the little girl is somewhat neglected. Much of the tension revolves around us knowing that although she files the experience away and remains a carefree child, it will surely affect her when she reaches adulthood.

Virgin Tracks by Natalie Lamont:

In order to pay off her family’s debts and have college tuition, a young woman sells her virginity to a high-class brothel. The money is necessary, but she is resentful that her first time will be with a man who pays for it. However, the greatest shock is not her actual deflowering, but what happens after the customer leaves.

This is a very surprising and original story where what you see is not necessarily what you get. There is not a lot I can say without giving away the plot twist, but I can say that the author has created a very well executed and clever surprise for her readers.

Prince Raskolnikov and the Rusalka by Norman A. Rubin:

A prince, weary from battle, rests beneath a tree. He awakens to find a beautiful sprite of a woman who so inflames his lust that he follows her into the river to make love with her. And there he finds that she is no ordinary woman but a beautiful – and deadly – spirit of the water.

This story is told with an air that makes me think of traditional oral storytelling. I can almost envision a bard sitting in a great hall entertaining the people with his story. The language is poetic and descriptive and feels almost like a song in some places. Well done…very well done, indeed.

Linda Turns Another Page by Ralph Greco, Jr.:

As his girlfriend reads a book and ignores him, a man with a breast fixation masturbates in her lap, deriving sexual pleasure from the humiliation of her supposed indifference and her indirect dominance of him.

This is a very funny story, and I dare you not to be entertained by it. The narrator is a somewhat perverted fellow, but the reader will like him in spite of – or even because of – this. He has a very appealing voice, and one cannot help but be amused as he recounts this sexual experience.

Float by Tessa Buxton:

In a hotel on Jupiter’s moon Io, a man falls in love with an android. Although he has made the artificial boy the object of his obsession, the man also knows that there is no future in his feelings. Because the android is at the end of his life cycle and is slowly dying.

This little bit of science fiction reflects the pain and yearning felt by the main character very effectively. While it may seem to be strange for someone to fall in love with an android who is so obviously not human, one can’t refute the depths of the main character’s feelings. This story is sad and sweet although not just a little bit twisted.

Knead by Alessia Brio:

A woman recounts her experience receiving a professional massage. While her body enjoys the attention, her mind races as she deals with a lack of self confidence and the discomfort of her body image. The experience is highly sensual while not being sexual, and the narrator reflects on the meaning of beauty.

This is a very relaxing and contemplative read, and it is incredibly well done. Indeed, after reading this story, I really want a massage! The narrator comes out of her experience with a renewed confidence and a changed body image, and it is a beautiful thing to witness.

In Their Shoes by Kev Henley:

A woman’s cat becomes a human man hoping that his love for her will make her happy after a string of lovers have not. However, he finds that nothing can force her to be happy when that is not what she actually wants.

This somewhat sad story, told from the cat’s point of view, underscores how human nature tends to overanalyze issues. The woman cannot allow herself to let go and find her dream but must instead talk herself down into believing that she must be miserable in life. The cat’s perspective is a unique one. His actions and thoughts are a well executed composite both the human and the feline and made this story very enjoyable for this cat-lover.

Thank You, Sensei by Amy Lee and Annastasia:

After suffering an emotional meltdown after a BDSM session with his dominant, a young man slowly comes down to reality and re-centers himself with the help of his Master.

This story makes it very clear that both of the participants in the BDSM relationship – both the masochist and the sadist – have needs that are met by their activities. Even though those of us who don’t understand this scene might have a little difficulty seeing how someone might take pleasure from pain, it is obvious that the act of submission and masochism gives Jonathan satisfaction as well as expressing his adoration and gratitude for the man he calls Master or Sensei. The emotional scene at the beginning of the story is clearly an aberration from the norm for him.

Amanuensis by Tessa Buxton:

A winged woman sits in a cage with no door and thinks back on her youth, ruing the choice that she made to leave her own kind and live with a human man. She has given up her freedom for a life she does not enjoy and is sinking into madness and self-neglect. Nothing forces her to stay, but she makes no attempt to leave this life that makes her so unhappy.

This is a poignant story that will make the reader feel sad for the caged woman but at the same time frustrated that she takes no action to change her situation. There is a deep feeling of melancholy and loss on the part of both of the characters as well as a sense of helplessness as their lives wend to an end. This story left me feeling unaccountably upset, but it is quite well done.

Downriver by Gwen Meyers:

Every year, the most beautiful girl in the village is sacrificed as an honor to the gods. This year, the chosen girl prepares for her ordeal but is instead rescued by the young man who adores her. After they avoid capture, the two affirm life with sex, switching the sacrifice of life with one of the girl’s virginity.

After reading this story, I can’t help but wonder about the people who have been sacrificed to various gods over the ages and what they must have been feeling at the time. It seems like such a terrible practice, yet it was the cement that held societies together. I appreciate the fact that this one young sacrifice doesn’t make it to the alter in this story.

Faith by Selena Kitt:

An angry and depressed mother finds out that at age forty she is once again pregnant. As her pregnancy progresses, her anger grows, and she does everything she can do to harm the baby growing within her. She is determined not to let the unwanted child ruin her life, regardless of the wishes of her husband.

In this story, a woman practices her own method of abortion. Although the narration is from her perspective, she is drawn to be an extremely unsympathetic character – she dislikes her husband, envies her own children their youth, and wants only to maintain her career. The person in the story we feel sorry for is the husband, who still loves his wife for all that she has tried to kill that love. Although the conclusion is sad and shocking, it is not unexpected.

Triple Forged Coupling by Anthony Beal:

Hiding in the recesses of a closet, a man watches his lover cheat on him in fascination and pleasurable agony. As the couple has sex, he begins to see them as machines instead of people. After they are finished and the woman departs, the voyeur rejoins his lover, who no longer looks mechanical but is once again the man he loves.

This story is something of a surprise, and it is a tale of voyeurism rather than cheating. The imagery in this story is very well done, and as the two spied-upon lovers copulate, they are redrawn in the readers’ eyes with machine parts instead of soft flesh. In the eyes of the voyeur, it is the act of sex that makes man (and woman) into something mechanical. It is an intriguing and quite original viewpoint.

To Save a Witch by Kiki Howell:

When an inept young witch uses the power of the full moon to case runes and look into her past and her future, she conjures a dangerous ghost and must be rescued by a man who has loved her from a distance. She finds that she is doomed to always want and never be fulfilled unless she can learn gratitude.

This is a story about a woman learning from the mistakes of her past lives and finding love by relaxing her pride. It is mildly entertaining, but I didn’t find it especially memorable as some of the other stories in this anthology are. Still, a happy ending is always pleasurable to experience.

Alabama Hotel Room by Renee Blaine:

In this story, a man seeks retribution for the murder of a young woman by systematically killing everyone involved in her death. He sees himself as an executioner and has followed those who he believes to be human monsters around the entire continent.

This story is a journey into the mind of a killer, a man who may very well be sliding into insanity and who is aware that he is turning into a monster himself. The atmosphere of horror is thick and ugly, and the reader is left wondering if the dead woman is just an excuse for the main character to go on a killing spree.

Gender Issues by Elliott Mabeuse:

When a man meets a young woman at a party who is dressed as a man, he is intrigued and wildly attracted to her. All he can think of is making love to her, so does that mean he’s gay? It’s all very confusing to him, but in the end, it doesn’t matter if she is a boy or a girl, and it is equally inconsequential whether he is straight or gay. What they have found is a connection that goes beyond gender and that wipes the slate of their pasts.

This story ends this anthology with a bang and is the shining star of the collection, in my opinion. It is well written, surprising and extremely sensual, and it raises some interesting questions about gender identity while at the same time raising an eyebrow or two. No toss-away read, Gender Issues will linger in your thoughts well after the conclusion.

--BD Whitney

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