The Best American Erotica 1996by Susie Bright
The Best American Erotica 1996 is the ideal collection for all lovers of first-rate erotic literature. Edited by Susie Bright, whom the Utne Reader calls "one of the leading thinkers and visionaries of our time," this fourth annual edition of a best selling series brings together the most outstanding erotic writing of the year - including peculiarly/i>/i>
The Best American Erotica 1996 is the ideal collection for all lovers of first-rate erotic literature. Edited by Susie Bright, whom the Utne Reader calls "one of the leading thinkers and visionaries of our time," this fourth annual edition of a best selling series brings together the most outstanding erotic writing of the year - including peculiarly dark and dangerous takes, as well as cutting-edge forays into the world of cybersex.
Read an Excerpt
Short Story Excerpt
Introduction by Susie Bright
I have an announcement to make. In fact, I thought of calling this chapter "The Announcement" instead of "The Introduction." It's something I never dreamed of saying this soon, this early in a "Best of..." series that's only three years old. But now that the facts are in, the news is here, well, I'm sort of relieved.
Erotica is dead. I've felt her cold little fingers tap-tap-tapping on my shoulder all year long, occasionally reaching over to pinch my tits and laugh at my irritation. Then just to show how really far gone she is, when Erotica got sick of all my denials and rationalizations, she'd take my head away from my computer screen, turn me toward a full moon shining outside my window, and begin to HOWL.
You see, when I say erotica is dead, I certainly don't mean lifeless, quiet, or finite. I don't mean that the literary lovers are all wearing black, that what once was a stroke book is now a vale of tears. It's just that certain tenets of the genre have finally kicked the bucket.
Chief among those dead mysteries is "What is the difference between erotica and pornography?" No one can stay awake for that one anymore. There's a new question about sex writing and it comes straight from the authors to the readers: "Did I move you?"
The E. vs. P. debate is the modern version of an ancient set of class distinctions that are also wisely bowing out of the picture. That old chestnut was whether REAL literature could be sexually explicit, or if REAL porn could be literary. A lot of writers have been in hiding for years over this taboo, their pseudonyms hovering like protective cover. But now the bell has tolled. Those pretensions and snobberies are yesterday's hangover and no one wants to hear them anymore. The questions readers put to writers today are: Were you honest? Was it real? The sex doesn't always have to get us off, each and every one, but we damn well better believe it had its author by the short and curlies.
Erotica's death is a rebirth, a bonfire of old values and a kick in the pants to the end of the century. The artists writing about sex today are writing more prolifically and competitively about sex than ever before. There is a spontaneous consensus gathering that contemporary erotic writing is not about a warm, trusting glow or "expert" lovemaking, but about the hair-raising, erection-bolting, clittingling chills coming at you from behind. Erotica is dead, not like a doornail, but like a grip that you can't shake.
Some of the new school of erotic writing does flat-out embrace horror and the supernatural. In past editions of The Best American Erotica, we've seen Anne Rice's notorious vampires, Nick Baker's antihero possessed by a horny succubus, a werewolf making his match, and assorted other blood-loving Casanovas. Their adventures were a pure gothic delight and so romantic we couldn't help but fall in love with them too.
But now, naturally, the ante has been raised. Many characters in this volume of The Best American Erotica are non-gothics, as alive as you and me, but like their supernatural predecessors they are not afforded redemption. The flame is never extinguished. Neither the protagonist nor the reader ever makes it off the hot seat.
When I first read Lucy Taylor (her story "Choke Hold" represents her work here), she had me so bugeyed I didn't know whether to call a cop, a priest, or just turn the vibrator up a notch. Taylor's work represents a new genre erotic horror that takes every precious notion of the intact body and punches right through it. Another example this year is Aaron Travis's story "The Hit," which mixes a grisly crime thriller with hungry sadomasochism. Travis told me his story was rejected by the gay leather mags that he routinely publishes in not because of the sex, but because of the "crime" the moral outrage out of the bed rather than in it. Travis was ahead of his time, a predictor to the pop cult sensations of films like Pulp Fiction. Another prime example is this past year's most talked-about erotic crossover novel, in the cut, by Susanna Moore. Moore is just as relentless as Travis in her deliberate and heterosexual, this time mixture of suspense, fatal attractions, and the erotic persuasion of submission and domination.
The power of sexual desire to take us out of ourselves, our normal behavior, is legendary. The very nonsense of "normalcy" is really what the erotic funeral is all about here, because authors of the new school are spitting on the grave of conventionality, of moribund expectations Sometimes I think this volume is one angry answer to that chart-topping bestseller, The Book of Virtues, by William Bennett. Bennett, a politician, offers a list of character traits that make a man great, the qualities that make for a stand-up sort of life. He's got the WASP work ethic down to a "T," but his list is a list for a toy soldier, not a person. It completely omits the fire that makes us creative: our sexuality, our erotic thumbprint our desires so fierce they defy what is expected of us.
If William Bennett, or one of his followers, were to critique the turn in erotic fiction today, I think they would say that the reason there is so much PERVERSION, VIOLENCE, and CYNICISM man is still putting out a press release saying that he slipped through. in today's fiction is that this whole country has gone to hell in a handbasket of MORAL DECAY. If everyone would just take a good hot BATH and refresh themselves in the ten commandments, GET A JOB AND STOP BELLYACHING, then we would see stories about good old-fashioned romance and marriages that last.
It's a snap to give the status quo explanation of what's happening to arts and entertainment today rather than to contemplate the contradictions of real life. For starters, there are no jobs, not the way Americans ever understood a "job" to be, a place of security and opportunity. The very notion of "job" sounds like a retro item, something to pitied and escaped from, as writer Doug Tierney's protagonist does in "The Portable Girlfriend." As for bellies aching well, they are. We have the ache of need and betrayal among the have-nots, and the ache of fear and loathing among the haves. Bellies are churning, period.
"Perversion" is the right-wing code word for gender chaos, the alarm that boys and girls are not keeping their pink and blue uniforms on at all times. Ken and Barbie don't live here anymore, and there's no putting that fragile little relationship back together again. Women have had it with the madonna/whore game, and authors in this volume like Amelia Copeland, Camille Roy, Linda Smukler, and Shar Rednour prove it. Over on the boy side, there's a similar antipathy for the double standard. Men know that the only thing more terrifying than being swept away is to never have been lifted off their feet. See this year's authors Estabrook, Robert Gluck, and David Shields for more persuasion. Word is out; to succumb is bliss.
Next up on the conservative's naughty list is violence. Liberals are similarly alarmed. Sex-and violence is that two-headed dog with a wet and very sensitive nose that won't go away. Every time we try to push him away, say he's not right, he comes back even more persistently he can smell you and knows you're hiding something.
You've heard all the standard explanations about the whys and wherefores of sex and violence's allure. Wonder why they still leave you doubting? That's because no one has really got this number pinned -not the shrinks, not the cops, not the media executives. They're equally desperate to keep the lid on, with their various punishments, medications, and dubious statistical reports. Whatever their lid is, their suppression has become one of the most important elements in proving the power of sensation's appeal.
The erotic combination of sex and violence has this in common: they both assume an entrance into our body. Before sex, before a violent act, our bodies are closed, there is no tear in the fabric, we are intact a safe, but impenetrably blank, place to be. It's only when a thread comes undone, when we unravel, that our peril and pleasure spill out: the come, the blood, the tears, the shit, the cries. We can't not be affected, and of course, our real bodies can only spill so much. In our erotic storytelling, though, we spill over and over, on a vicarious level that we can't live without.
Finally, we have the smudge mark of Cynicism, the black humor in erotica that I find so prevalent in all fiction these days. Cynicism begs the question "Ask me if I care?" and the thing to pay attention to is not the question, but the begging. My favorite book title this year was The New Fuck YOU: Adventures in Lesbian [Reading (from which I've excerpted "Morning Love" by Linda Smukler, in this volume), and I can't help but smile every time I pass it on my bookshelf. It's irresistible, that punk, never - mind the - bollocks - it's - the - sex - pistols kind of attitude. Only this time, my sex pistol is in my own pocket, loaded, ready to squirt at all the lies and delusions I'm asked to digest on a daily basis about what is great literature, great beauty, great politics, great religions. Mainstream propaganda has reached surreal proportions. Who honestly believes that supermodels are the essence of feminine power, or that the White House is the leader of democracy, or that Christianity is about the righteousness of one man over another? The eye of that biblical needle is just as slim as ever, but the fat. Our literary cynicism is a necessity because the gap between the advertisement of our culture and what's really going down is so gigantic that all we can do is free-fall, laughing and bellowing all the way down.
Some corners of our erotic minds are still soft and precious. In a story like Bonny Finberg's "Light," the erotic experience is about being so innocent, so new in the world, that all love is erotic, all body is sensuality, there are no definitions yet. Sometimes erotic love is the tender and exquisite part of nature, as in Bob Zordani's "A Fish Story" or Cecilia Tan's "Pearl Diver." Yet even there, someone gets caught you always have to think about the drowning.
Erotica does have the capacity to be timeless; it's eerie that way. That's what's so confusing about trying to spot new trends when doing a yearly series. You can pick up a stroke book today and find the same pizza delivery boy, traveling salesman, nympho housewife, farmer's daughter that you found twenty years ago. In fact, commercial porn purveyors are well acquainted with the fact that the smut that sells the hottest today is the material that is nostalgic.
Fin de siécle sensationalism that thrills and titillates members of the current generation will undoubtedly nestle in their groins twenty years from now...it will just be more sentimental and cherished than we can ever imagine now. I'm no good at predicting the future; I can't tell you exactly what erotica in the year 2000 will look like when I'm still reeling from 1996. I'll tell you this, though and you won't find it in any national advertising, after death comes only one thing: reincarnation. Erotica is dead Long may she live.
Copyright ©1996 by Susie Bright
Short Story excerpt from "His Little Plan Backfired"
by Amelia Copeland
"Well, his little plan backfired," Suzanne chortled to herself gleefully, but without any real rancor.
She couldn't really blame Frank for trying. She had a record as long as, well, nearly as long as The Thing for misbehaving herself in the past, and he had always taken it with remarkable good humor. He did get a little pissy sometimes' but under the circumstances that was generous. And the way in which he attempted to assure her fidelity this time was certainly innovative.
"Come on, honey," he'd said, "just try it. It's only for five days. I had it customized especially for you."
"It's a goddamned chastity belt, Frank. I will not wear a fucking chastity belt."
He'd smiled at her choice of adjective. "Well, no, honey, it's like a chastity belt, but you'll have fun with it. It's made out of that flexible silicone you like, you can run it at three speeds with three different kinds of action and, get this, sweetie, it has this great water attachment which you can use either for hygienic purposes or to stimulate yourself!"
"And it just happens to chain on! How convenient!" She'd been trying to sound angrier and angrier, but had begun to crack. It was a totally ridiculous idea; on the other hand, Suzanne was dying to try the thing out. It did look like fun. And she couldn't imagine a more good-natured way for Frank to assure her loyalty.
"Just try it, Suz," he was saying, "if you don't like it, I'll never ask you to wear it again."
So they'd made a little ritual of installing it, testing all the speeds and action types: three speeds, three actions: nine different configurations! Adding the water attachment and another attachment for clitoral stimulation, well, the possibilities were just endless. Frank had always been a master with a vibrator, and The Thing (as she took to calling it) was just the tool for the job. After he'd showed her how all the switches worked, they'd strapped it on and had the hottest wrestling match that Suzanne could remember as they'd grappled between her legs for the controls. Just when she'd been ready to let out a yell the size of all outdoors, Frank had yanked The Thing out and plunged The Real Thing in, pinning her arms down to the bed.
"Well, The Thing is great, Frank," Suzanne said when her power of speech returned, "but it's the giver I truly revere." She bit him hard on the neck.
"Yeh, don't you forget it."
She wasn't quite so accommodating when he strapped The Thing onto her the next morning before she left for Chicago. She felt like a naughty child, and discipline was to her like throwing down the gauntlet. But she succumbed as she had agreed, and stumbled out the door strapped into her luggage and her personal cage.
Because Suzanne was in a self-righteous, independent mood and she wasn't going with Frank she denied herself the luxury of a taxi and elected to take the Train-to-the-Plane, or what she referred to as the Train-to-the-stairs-to-the-Bus-to-the-Escalator-to-the-Plane. Bad idea. Not only was it packed, but it was late, and she had to run to her gate, encumbered.
However, her travail did give her the opportunity to note how comfortable The Thing was; she really didn't notice it at all. It wasn't until she finally plopped herself down in her seat next to a weary-looking business type that she felt it...and let out an involuntary "Oooh." Her neighbor glanced at her over the top of his glasses, and with a pleasant little plastic smile, Suzanne said, "Nice to sit down." Then she jumped back up to grab a blanket out of the overhead bin.
"Chilly in here," she muttered, flashing him the smile again.
"Mmm," he muttered back, noncommittally.
Spreading the blanket over her lap, she did some experimental wiggling around and discovered a nice comfortable position which drew firm but indirect pressure from the clitoral stimulation contraption akin to how it felt when Frank stood behind her and pulled her toward him with his hand between her legs. Rocking her butt under and back, she found she could get some nice friction going.
She made herself a promise that she wouldn't come (the first time) until after the movie started. During long trips she liked to set some milestones... But she worked herself into quite a frenzy during the in-seat exercise video! Press, relax, press, relax, she kept their tempo dutifully, and actually performed the appropriate arm movements too, taking special care to brush up against her hardening nipples whenever possible. When her seatmate looked over, probably incredulous that Suzanne was actually doing these ridiculous exercises, she wanted to grasp his head to her breast and yell, "Shut up and chew!" but instead she deflected him again with her best toothpaste-commercial grin.
At the end of the video the plane hit some turbulence and Suzanne was hard pressed not to blow it. She tried to slither back in her seat, out of range, but kept slamming down onto The Thing, and each time, little pangs of pleasure would shoot through her. The inevitable tension from flight anxiety wasn't helping a bit (although knowing her neighbor felt it too made her less self-conscious). Soon all Suzanne could think about was her cunt, how slippery The Thing had started to feel inside her. She was just dying to enlist any passing body from the aisle on her left and her bespectacled neighbor on her right to suckle and chew on her now engorged tits. She yearned for the exercise video so she would have an excuse to stimulate her breasts, but really she just wanted to whip one out of her blouse and suck hard on it herself. Eventually she took out a book which she pretended to read for just a moment, then leaned it, open, against herself to rub and press it into her sensitive nipples with the top of the binding.
Thank God the movie was about to begin. But, alas, her neighbor was not going for a headset. Suzanne was getting sort of irritated with him and was dying to lean over to him, rip open her blouse, and say, "How 'bout these for a headset, fella?" She stole a look at his ear and wondered how he'd feel if she just jammed a nipple into it, and the other in his mouth. She imagined grabbing his glasses, setting them on one of her breasts and making him try to get them back on his face without using his hands. She considered reaching over, grabbing his crotch and saying, "Pleasure or pain, the choice is yours," but fortunately, the movie was starting. Neighbor be damned, she plunged a hand under her blanket, ready for action.
"When the opening credits are over," Suzanne said to herself Director, producer, starring...music by...lift off; she set herself to vibrating. Oooh, she liked this toy. Her legs had that don't try-to-stand-up feeling. She could feel the sensations building up through her torso and traveling into her arms. Already quite aroused, her orgasm was beginning to take shape, expanding throughout her entire pelvic region. She pressed her cunt forward and took the full pulse against her clit. At last the feeling focused into a bright hot spot at her clit and a flash of intense pleasure shuddered through her body. She couldn't stifle a loud sigh and noticed her little businessman glance at her, then up at the screen, and quizzically back at her. She turned her head to hide a smirk.
It was a lovely flight. Suzanne checked into her hotel with a smile on her face, looking forward to a quiet evening of personal hygiene. She tried to call Frank, but got his machine, so she left the message, "I've been unfaithful to you already. But the man of my dreams won't take me away he says he can only marry a silicone girl."
Copyright ©1995 by Amelia Copeland
Find out more about Susie Bright at her own website.
Meet the Author
Susie Bright is the editor of The Best American Erotica series and host of the weekly audio show In Bed with Susie Bright on Audible.com. She has been a columnist for Playboy and Salon, and has been profiled in USA TODAY, Los Angeles Times, Esquire, Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, and Vanity Fair, among other publications. An international lecturer on sexuality and feminism, she won the 2004 Writer of the Year Award at the Erotic Awards in London. Ms. Bright lives in Santa Cruz, California.
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