So the nice people at Cleis Press sent me my copies of Best Of Best Women’s Erotica 2, and the important question is whether it lives up to its title? Well, all I can say is, ‘Hell, yes!’ If you’re a seasoned buyer of erotica, the fact the contributor list includes Rachel Kramer Bussel, Alison Tyler, Donna George Storey, Kristina Lloyd, Saskia Walker and Kay Jaybee is a strong indication of the quality of the writing on offer. If you’re a newbie, this is as good a place as any to immerse yourself in the steamy, edgy, funny, imaginative world of one-handed reading by (but not exclusively for) women.
Violet Blue has put together a selection which cleverly covers all sexualities and a wide range of kinks, as well as vanilla storylines. She argues a great case for every story here, while acknowledging that each reader will have their own favourites. In truth, there’s nothing here which won’t appeal to someone. Some readers will (and already have been, given reviews of the story’s previous appearance in the 2009 collection) be pulled up short by Fly, Valerie Alexander’s adult take on Peter Pan, told from the point of view of Tiger Lily. Personally, I’m not wild about Peony’s Lost At Sea, as I’m not a great fan of mood pieces, but it can’t be denied it’s a good example of its type, with a hypnotic quality and a refusal to answer all the questions it poses for the reader.
What both those stories have in common with much of the rest of the anthology is that, on one level, they are about obsession in some shape or form. As is my own contribution, Heat, with a central character who is deeply sexually attracted to a man she can’t stand. As is Alison Tyler’s Worth It, in which the more Gina’s fastidious boyfriend is determined not to have anal sex with her, the more determined she is to try it. As is Heidi Champa’s Amy, where the narrator receives DVDs of her ex playing the same kind of hardcore BDSM games with other women he uses to play with her, and watches them while hoping he’ll one day punish her so thoroughly again. As is possibly the most unforgettable story in the whole collection, Kathleen Bradean’s Chill. It uses one of the oldest settings in the genre – an exclusive spa in which women can have any fantasy catered for – but the narrator here is into something way beyond cliché. In clinical detail, Bradean describes how the woman chills her body down so she can lie on a slab while a mortuary assistant masturbates over her ‘corpse’. It may sound repellant, but it’s incredibly skilfully crafted, with a wonderful ending.
In contrast, there are plenty of lighter moments – Kristina Wright’s Call Me, for instance, in which a woman tries to make an obscene phone call to her boyfriend, only to dial the wrong number – and be connected with someone who’s more than up for a spot of dirty talk. Or Teresa Noelle Roberts’ Voice Of An Angel, where a costume designer has the job of fitting a handsome and very well-endowed counter-tenor for some clingy breeches, and discovers his singing voice is as much a turn-on as his body. Or Jacqueline Applebee’s Penalty Fare, which takes another clichéd situation – sex on a train – and turns it into a wildly naughty encounter between a woman who’s looking for an excuse to be punished and the guard who catches her travelling without a ticket.
As for favourites, I really enjoyed Cate Robertson’s Just Watch Me, Rodin when it was first published in BWE 2006. It’s the story of a model posing for an artist who gradually pushes her into ever more explicit poses and situations, and how she responds to the raised stakes with an enthusiam which surprises her. Of the ones I read for the first time, the stand-out is Kristina Lloyd’s On My Knees In Barcelona, from the 2010 collection, the tale of a woman who goes into a seedy bar in search of ice on a sultry night and ends up being ‘coerced’ into paying for sex. Kristina makes no apology for writing transgressive fiction with some heavy female submission, and this is a fine, fine example of its type.
But don’t take my word for it – get your own copy of BOBWE 2, devour it, love it and go back to your favourites again and again. Just as I shall.