The title "Sex: An Anthology" attracts attention. Intrigues you. Raises your expectations. Lifts your hopes. You anticipate stimulating reading. The cover blurb promises more. "What is pleasure, and how is it conveyed in fiction?" it asks. "These delightful stories explore the sensual and the sexual with an urban, open edge ū fearlessly, dramatically, and in spirited wantonness." Lovely, you think, and settle back into soft, plump pillows to be swept away by wanton tales of passion.
Yet this book doesn't quite deliver. Out of 15 stories, a scant four satisfy. The rest are weird choices with almost nothing to do with sex or love, unless mechanical breast milk extraction, an electric massager, and ghostly necrophilia turn you on. If this is sex with an urban edge, you should try sex in the country some time, where men and women shovel soil and sand, chop wood, lift heavy stones and sweat in the sun until they sink into soothing hot baths before relaxing on a couch in candlelight and reaching for each other, muscles used and tired, longing for soft caressesą
Ordinary, satisfying, good sex is not a big part of this anthology. Even the four good stories have unusual angles on sex. "A Visitor's Guide" by Marg Wilson shows a busy single woman on vacation in Cuba. She realizes that she yearns for sex after a long period without it, and has two or three opportunities during her holiday, but instead, ends up listening to resort guests in a neighbouring room enjoying themselves.
"Several Woman Dancing: an excerpt" by Paul Dutton is an amusing fantasy by a man having a first meetingłsince it can hardly be called a datełwith a stripper and aspiring artist. It is written in extraordinarily long sentences that fill as much as two pages, and convey the rambling hope of unrealistic desire. Dutton shows how tough it can be for a lonely urban man, forced to seek
women admired from afar, seen regularly either in business or social settings, in neighbourhood shops or in bars I frequented, seen until some familiarity is established and pleasantries escalate to conversations which transform into discussions that lead to invitations that meet with rejectionsą
There is a mix of mournfulness and humour in the narrator's Holden Caulfield-like tone, particularly when he becomes
ąpissed off at the lustful looks the patrons of the place were directingtowards her, thinking to myself, you bastardsąhere's a woman who's had a tragedy to contend with and all you can think of is how much you'd like to lay her, which, as I think of it, I guess I couldn't blame them for, since they had no way of knowing, really, and even though I did, I must admit I couldn't remove all such thoughts from my mindą
Notes at the back of the book state that Several Women Dancing will be published by The Mercury Press this fall, which gives Dutton pretty good promotion.
Another good choice is also an excerpt, this one from Carol Malyon's novel The Adultery Handbook. Clearly, the editors were having trouble finding enough sexy short stories. This excerpt reveals the gradual unfolding of love between Norman and Shelley, who tries to protect herself emotionally by keeping the perspective that the relationship is only one of casual sex.
"Whatever you do," she reminds herself, "don't fall in love. Don't fall. Don't." But just having sex slides into making love, and Shelley is surprised to find that good old ordinary Norman turns out to be a keeper. This is a charming and sexy love story.
Perhaps the most erotic story in the whole bunch is Kenneth J. Harvey's "Orange Shadows and a Sound That is the Two of Us." This is the story of one afternoon in the life of a couple who are expecting their child. It is a hot sunny day, with long orange shadows that creep in on their afternoon nap and cautious love making. The narrator is protective and in awe of his woman and unborn child. The story shows desire and great tenderness. "Everything that means anything is there in how her face changes when I move inside of her, drawing forth the sound that is the two of us."
There are several questions regarding this book. Are four sexy stories out of 15 good enough value? Without an introduction, how can the reader understand the context the editors had for their selections? Why did it take two editors to put this book together? The contributor notes show that all but one or two works were or will be published by The Mercury Press. Is it unwarranted cynicism to see this as a marketing ploy, a way to promote house authors under an attention-getting title? Sex: An Anthology just teases, then frustrates the reader.
Gloria Hildebrandt writes from Orchard House in the country near Georgetown, Ont.