Four great pieces of erotic writing, and why they’re so good.

An Early Winter Train by C. Sanchez-Garcia 1

An Early Winter Train examines the relationship between a husband and a wife who is suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s.  What makes it such a powerful story is that it looks at the concept of consent in a powerful, poignant, honest way. Sanchez-Garcia is a careful crafter of prose with an outstanding ear for true inner and outer dialogue.  The story uses devices of time and repetition to masterful effect, disorienting the reader to lend us some sense of the wife’s disorientation.  The erotic element of this story is central to the whole. There are a number of sad, poignant stories of losing someone you love to Alzheimer’s but the erotics of the story bring the terrible truth of its reality home.

“You alright, honey bunch?” At the sound of his voice she turned to look at him, with that fearful trapped look in her eyes again.

“Where is your wife?”

“She’s right here, Aimee.” He reached over and took her hand from the wall and held it. “Don’t worry so much.” She smiled for him and for a moment seemed to know him again. He gently wrapped his arms around her and hugged her close, feeling the swell of her breasts as she moved against him. She was still a damn fine looking woman. He should give her diaper a little check before lights out.

She is still a woman, he still desires her. She is comfortable with him, unconsciously sensual with him. It is their physical familiarity with each other that so powerfully underscores the person he is losing, the personhood to whom he has to say goodbye. Sanchez-Garcia doesn’t pull any punches. He depicts the very real issues of maddening frustration, disoriented fear, the easy violence and mindless seeking of simple physical comfort.

Even in her misery, her fog and her confusion, she was still the most desirable woman in all the world to him. All the more beautiful, because they were at peace with each other and she needed him and trusted him completely.

The reader is always there, in pain, in arousal, in anger.  This story would not be the literary masterpiece it is without its eroticism.

Fucking Ugly by Mike Kimera 2

Kimera’s writing never strays far from the theme of sex-guilt and how it carves its long, broad scars on the entire personalities of those who bear it. In a society screaming to proclaim its sex-guilt-free status, Kimera reminds us that the cultural texts of the past are powerful, deeply entrenched and not so easy to dispense with.

However, Fucking Ugly is one of his lighter pieces. It’s a short story of an aging woman who has been shoring up her sense of self through her conquests with young lovers. While cruising in a bar, she’s confronted by a pushy, crude and cantankerous man, as far as could be imagined from her usual sexual diet. Primarily a piece of dialogue, the story examines the fear and anxiety that the chronic sexual pursuit eye candy hides.  This isn’t a story about meaningless sex versus love. It’s about the difference between fucking to make yourself feel better and losing yourself to the erotic experience. In Lacanian terms, it’s a story about the difference between sexual experiences that are predominantly Symbolic and those that approach the Real.

It wasn’t that I was worried about getting old. It was just that the pretty boys got on my nerves more than they had in the past. No matter how good they were at sex I always made them leave before morning and I was always glad when they’d gone.

“So that’s what you think I want is it?” I said, keeping my voice controlled but letting my contempt show. “That’s the insight you came over to share. You think I want young boys in my bed?”

“No. In fact I’m certain that’s not what you want. Tonight, when you were checking me out in the mirror, I saw ‘The Look.’

Although no sex takes place in the story, discussions of what might take place are there in abundance and carefully written with an eye to their erotic impact.  The reader, like the protagonist, is seduced by the possibility of eroticism free of the narcissism that fills our media-driven, commoditized lives.

Spar by Kij Johnson 3

This story first appeared on the Clarkesworld Magazine website. Although it won the 2009 Nebula Award for Short Fiction, its reception within the sci-fi/fantasy genre has been mixed and criticized for its transgressive subject matter and its explicit language.  However, as a piece of erotic fiction, it’s outstanding and has recently been recognized as such by its inclusion in the 2014 Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica Vol. 12.

“In the tiny lifeboat, she and the alien fuck endlessly, relentlessly.”

After a mid-space collision, the protagonist of the story finds herself rescued, trapped in a tiny escape craft with an alien with whom no communication is possible.  The only discourse is their physical interactions and even the meaning of these is not clear.  Penetration becomes abstracted.  Consent on the part of both the protagonist and the alien becomes a moot issue in the absence of language. The line between sex and violence is stripped away.

Johnson uses this scenario, and the memory of the protagonist’s deteriorating relationship with the boyfriend her took her into space, to examine how language and communication are central to our perceptions of reality, identity, time, memory, subjecthood and all the things that come to define us as human.  It is, at its core, a marvelously Lacanian text, imagining the full horror of an inescapable encounter with the Real.

She tries to teach it words. “Breast,” she says. “Finger. Cunt.” Her vocabulary options are limited here.

“Listen to me,” she says. “Listen. To. Me.” Does it even have ears?

The fucking never gets better or worse. It learns no lessons about pleasing her. She does not learn anything about pleasing it either: would not if she could. And why? How do you please grass and why should you? She suddenly remembers grass, the bright smell of it and its perfect green, its cool clean soft feel beneath her bare hands.

She finds herself aroused by the thought of grass against her hands, because it is the only thing that she has thought of for a long time that is not the alien or Gary or the Ins and Outs. But perhaps its soft blades against her fingers would feel just like the alien’s cilia. Her ability to compare anything with anything else is slipping from her, because there is nothing to compare.

There are readers who would not find this an erotic text. It’s not clear that Johnson herself found it so.  In an interview with the magazine, she said: “This is a story I love […] without liking it at all.”  4 Yet I think there is a deeply erotic aspect of the story in a sense that perhaps someone like Bataille or Foucault would recognize – a terrible, ecstatic agony of wordless experience at the edge of the abyss of unreason.

She’s used sex as the semiotic anvil against which communication and consent are beaten. The abject horror of this piece would never come through without the eroticism that accompanies it.

Twentysix by Jonathan Kemp 5

Twentysix is an alphabet of beautiful mouthfuls of eroticism.  It is, in its entirety, longer than any of the previous pieces, but each chapter offers up its own luxurious morsel of existential insight.  I chose this work because it follows on, so well in the examination of both the necessity and superfluity of language. So useless and even intrusive at the moment of orgasm, language is essential to our construction of the memory of that experience.

“These sounds you give to articulate your pleasure are far removed from the discreet insistencies of language. I snap at the darkness and swallow them like a
bird plucking flies from the air. I too want to give up these sounds from a body rendered voiceless by language.”

“I wish I’d kept them, those marks on paper which form a loop that binds us and pulls us back to my flat.”

Like Sanchez-Garcia, Kemp also uses time erotically, nostalgically, contrasting the vacuum-sealed moment of sexual ecstasy with the dripping tap of memory. But, most significantly, I think Kemp, in chapter D, eloquently encapsulates why writing sex, and writing it arousingly, is an act of so much literary worth. Because it addresses us, the reader, as the complex and constructed beings we truly are.

Sexuality is part of our behaviour, part of our freedom, something that we ourselves create. It is our creation, and much more than the discovery of a secret side of our desire. With it we make and unmake the world. With it, we speak a different tongue.

Finally, I’d like to add that I think the one of the best tests of whether erotica has deep literary value or not resides in a single issue. Well-written erotic fiction should arouse you, if only cerebrally, regardless of the sexual orientation of the sex described or yours.  As much as Kemp’s work represents a gay man’s orientation, its eroticism resonates with anyone willing to admit that their erotic desires shape their lives in essential ways.

________

Of these works, only Kemp’s Twentysix is not available to read free, online. But there’s a video of him reading a chapter from the collection here and can be purchased here.

Notes:

  1. Sanchez-Garcia, C. (2010). An Early Winter Train. In L. Sarai (Ed.), Coming Together Presents C. Sanchez-Garcia. Baltimore: Coming Together. Retrieved from http://www.erotica-readers.com/GD/TC-EF/An_Early_Winter_Train.htm
  2. Kimera, M. (2010). Fucking Ugly. In M. Jakubowski (Ed.), The Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 9. London: Perseus Books. Retrieved from http://mikekimera.wordpress.com/2009/08/08/fucking-ugly/
  3. Johnson, K. (2010). Spar. Clarkesworld Magazine. Retrieved November 24, 2013, from http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/johnson_10_09/
  4. Jones, J. (2010). A Terrifying Mix of Honesty and Rigor: A Conversation with Kij Johnson. Clarkesworld Magazine. Retrieved November 24, 2013, from http://clarkesworldmagazine.com/johnson_interview/
  5. Kemp, J. (2011). Twentysix. London: Myriad Editions.

4 Thoughts on “Four great pieces of erotic writing, and why they’re so good.

  1. Oh dear gods thank you. Thank you for reminding me. Easy to forget life (Eros) when submerged in the Day Job. What a year. Interesting picks. Straight erotic leaves me cold but like you say: the intellectual stimulation. I love language. Looking forward to these. And remembering sex is a creation not a discovery. That is a position statement I would not have agreed with once upon a time.

  2. Oh, I could have picked so many more. These just happened to dovetail together for the some of the themes they chose.

  3. Catherine Mazur on November 26, 2013 at 1:19 am said:

    I’m disappointed that I’ve only read half of these. Clearly I am off my game.

  4. That’s probably because the Johnson and the Kemp are not ‘genred’ in erotica.

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