The thirteen "sensual tales" (some previously published) in this first collection by novelist Hiller (17 Morton Street, 1990, etc.), extolling the virtues of seduction and fantasy, in fact range from the insightfully erotic to straight porn.
The title story is among the best, a short, sharp dissection of one family's attitude toward the (supposedly erotic) mole above Muriel's lip; equally engaging is "Yearning at Yaddo," in which a mother of two goes to the Yaddo artists' colony "to start a new novel and have an affair" but finds herself isolated by her status as a mom and forced more deeply into her writing. The notion of yearning also surfaces powerfully in "My Lover's Family" as a mistress attempts to explain her complex feelings about her role. Unfortunately, though, the more conventional side of these tales is more prevalent, exemplified most damningly in "Final Assignment" and "The February Fantasy," both of which are driven by the hackneyed dynamic of an affair between student and writing professor, and more quaintly in "Bad Sex," in which a woman's method of ending an affair, because her lover wants to marry someone else, is to insist he do things she doesn't likethings that only drive him mad with desire for her. Somewhere in between is "Piazza del Popolo," in which a young mother returns with her family to the scene of a Roman orgy she'd had a decade before, and discovers that she is at last able to deal with her remembered feelings of shame and arousal.
As tends to be the case with erotica that lacks writing with a life of its own, the tales here are flattened by repetition in technique and content, relieved occasionally by the odd fine moment showing that Hiller is capable of much more than is shown here.