WASHINGTON, April 25, 2013 — This book is not what you think it is. Of course, I must confess I don’t know what you think it is. But I can tell you what it isn’t, regardless of what you think.
Best Sex Writing 2013 is not porn. Nor is it sex for sex’s sake.
Editor Rachel Kramer Bussel has culled a fine collection of 20 diverse and insightful stories written by credentialed writers from the pages of Playboy, Atlantic, New York magazine, Salon.com, L.A. Weekly, and other publications and websites.
Ms. Bussel is editor of some 40 books of erotica, as well as being an author in her own right with her own writings appearing in more than a hundred anthologies. (Makes one wonder what she does in her spare time, doesn’t it?) Understandably, she manages to drop one of her own provocative stories into this current mix.
Her latest book, published by CLEiS Press, has a foreword by Carol Queen, Ph.D., who also served as a judge in the selection of the stories that appear in these pages.
Among this reviewer’s favorites is the first story in the book, “Live Nude Models.” It is written by Jonathan Lethem, author of Gun, with Occasional Music and The Fortress of Solitude, a New York Times Best Seller.
The son of an artist welcomes models into his home almost every day for artistic purposes and establishes free reign to walk in and out of the room at will. (And he will.) A little later, in pubescence, he pretends to sketch the posing nude women while his father is engaged in painting them. As one can imagine, this teenage boy becomes the envy of his peer group as they beg for accounts of the goings-on and for detailed descriptions of the various beautiful models.
The residual of the whole experience for the young man, however, is that he becomes essentially inured to the sight of the naked female form. Unless. Unless…it is covered. Then he can experience the pleasure, in reality or fantasy, of disrobing the girl or woman.
“The Fourth-and-Long Virgin,” by Jon Pressick, who is the writer of a blog called “Sex in Words,” takes up the subject of the virginity and virtue of New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow. The story has a tongue firmly planted in the cheek, although it is not clear whose tongue or whose cheek.
Rachel Bussel’s own story, “Baby Talk,” recounts an experience in which a woman and man engage in such specific sexual role play that both are embarrassed by what they have revealed during their encounters. Then the relationship “just ends,” with neither of them reaching out to contact the other. The author concludes, “All I knew was the comfort I could take in this: no matter how old I get, sex always has new things to teach me.”
“Sex By Any Other Name” is written by Insiya Ansari. A young Muslim woman is unwilling to go “all the way” in sexual matters. She says, insightfully, “I made it clear at the beginning of our relationship that I was ‘waiting until I was married to have sex.’ Never mind that marriage was an abstraction to me….It was a handy demarcation for the Before and After of sexual intimacy.” After a night in which she breaks that glass ceiling of sexuality, she remembers a magazine article she once read about Christian girls who, having engaged in sexual intercourse, reclaim their previous abstinence and, thus, their spiritual high ground. These girls were called “born again virgins.” (And who said virginity was like a balloon?)
The best story in Best Sex Writing 2013 is by Nick Garnett. But this requires a disclaimer: he is my son; so, naturally, this could be considered nepotistic and biased, like the father who watched a parade marching by and shouted to the people around him, “Look! My son is the only one in step.”
This story first appeared on salon.com. It earned Nick and his fiancée, Denise, a guest spot on “the New Ricki Lake Show.” A chapter from his upcoming memoir, A Party of One, is titled, “When On Fire Island…etc.” The story details the excesses of a couple during a visit on Fire Island.
It encapsulates the declivity of the “anything-goes” mentality and lifestyle. Although he and his wife had been forewarned by a friend who was immersed in the ways of “the Island,” the couple engage, indulge, and end up lying on the beach like something washed ashore. Disillusionment is palpable and the reader, with or without sympathy for the pair, can feel it.
You can laugh at this next phrase, but the writing portrays the kind of disillusionment tantamount to that of F. Scott Fitzgerald. (Laughing yet?) This, then, begs the question, How would F. Scott be writing The Great Gatsby today?
Would Daisy Buchanan, the idealized married once-upon-a-time girl friend across the lake have more descriptive sexual appeal? Would Jordan Baker be merely the tennis player with “money in her voice”? Would the vivacious Myrtle Wilson be solely an adulteress with little or no indications of her voracious sexual proclivity? This story by Nick Garnett is well worth the read.
In fact, I did not find one story among the 20 that was not worth a read. The Best Sex Writing 2013 is, as its name boldly states, just that: the best.
Best Sex Writing 2013: The State of Today’s Sexual Culture, Rachel Kramer Bussel, ed. Berkeley, California: CLEiS Press, 2013. 222 pp. Retail: pb. $15.95. Kindle edition: $9.99.
Vance Garnett writes a weekly column for The Washington Times Communities titled, “As I See-Saw It.” He also writes occasional book reviews; this is one of them.
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