Literotica: The Very Best of Edited by Lori Selke, paperback, 236 pages

Feb 02, 2011

As the title implies, this book is a collection of stories first published on the Web. The title might also imply that these stories are literate, erotic, and good, but to assume that would be wrong. For the most part, these stories suck. Many are as painful to read as the amalgam “Literotica” is to pronounce. (What were the editors thinking? Am I the only for whom this word conjures up visions of a cat box?)

The stories “Vast,” “A Fireman’s Prayer,” and “Still Life with Teeth” were peopled with obsessive, desperate, unhappy characters engaging in desperate, unhappy, unfulfilling sex. Each in its own way brought to mind typical French art house fare – movies which always seem to be about unhappy, obsessive couples who argue in the kitchen and fuck a lot then decide to kill each other. One story about a middle-aged woman who becomes orgasmic through the joys of anal sex was, I think, attempting to show the light hearted and funny side of sex, or maybe it was just trying to be funny. In any case, it turned out to be just plain juvenile. But maybe that’s to be expected, as it was written by a person with the pen name Dirty Old Man.

About half the stories suffered from appallingly pretentious writing (little zingers like “I have painted my need, and controlled destruction is therapeutic”) while others suffocated under the weight of an author so enamoured of her own writing the story got lost in the elaborate, “literate” wordplay of it all. (Take, for example, this gem: “So I looked upon you with wonderment, but you were lost in contemplation of the two colors of my areolae, one so weak, one now so large and bold… I began to feel gossepimples on the smoothness of my strange skin.”)

Despite my previously mentioned objection, Dixon Carter Lee’s “A Fireman’s Prayer” was really quite good, and considerably softened my thoughts toward the whole tiresome enterprise that is Literotica. His story was well written and – more to the point – hot hot hot. (Of course, his real genius might lie in his ability to choose a universal sex object as a protagonist. You can’t really go wrong with a fireman as a lead character.) His other selection, an excerpt from Jazzy Girl, was just about as sexy and was equally well written. It contained some really skillful dialogue in which two people who had just met and are just about to have sex actually sound believable. But this story, like an excerpt from Hostile Takeover, suffered from an odd editing choice. The stories just stopped, suddenly and unexpectedly, and left me thinking “surely there was a more natural point at which to close this story.”?

I was however thrilled to realize that Anessa Ramsey’s story “The Games We Play” was a goddamned, certifiable historical romance piece. It seemed like a fairly standard piece of genre writing and I was surprised the editor thought it edgy enough to include in this arty little anthology, but whatever, I thought, I’ll take it. Sadly, “The Games We Play” turned out to be a classic example of the crap Romance fans put up with in hopes of finding that one fabulous story that makes their toes curl. It’s the longest story in the collection and it contains just about every element that gives Romance its tawdry and undignified reputation. There is the Too Stupid To Live heroine, the prose so purple you cringe, the “I Hate You Lets Fuck” mode of foreplay, and the Big Misunderstanding that could be resolved with a simple, honest conversation but instead causes trauma and melodrama for pages and pages and yet more unnecessary pages. Aside from the above Universally Bad elements, there were the annoying particulars, like how the main characters spoke only in paragraphs – sometimes a page long, and how plot progression was so incoherent from scene to scene I frequently had no idea what was going on, or why. I’m sure, given time, Ramsey can learn to craft a better story. The real sin here belongs not to her but to Lori Selke, the editor, for her lousy decision to include the story in this collection. People who have never read Romance before will read it and just assume it’s all like this.

I guess the same could be said about this anthology as a whole. There’s a lot of kick-ass erotica out there – it’s well-written AND it turns you on, so don’t let Litter, um, Literotica fool you into thinking otherwise. -Sara Isett (Black Books, PO Box 311555, SF, CA, 94131)


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