I find it challenging to review anthologies as opposed to novels because my reactions are always as diverse as the stories themselves. Despite its lack of length, short fiction does not have to be shallow or unsatisfying—in fact, the characters found in Best Women’s Erotica 2014 are original, complex, and fun to root for. The new collection from Cleis Press offers up seventeen gorgeous stories, perfect to place on the bedside table for nights when you have twenty minutes to escape into another world. I kept it in my backpack and disappeared into its pages between classes, feeling unexpectedly meta as I read Oleander Plume’s ‘Out In The Open’ about a blogger who writes about her sexual fantasies as she masturbates in public. Later, on the subway en route to the Pleasure Chest in the West Village, I cracked open ‘I Hate Sex’ by Tasmin Flowers, about a sex shop sales woman who is seduced by a customer amongst the merchandise.
Sadly, that’s about where my resemblance to the characters of the anthology ends. My days acting in Shakespeare plays were never as exciting as Jerome and Diana’s heated spanking affair in Catherine Paulssen’s ‘Punishing Desdemona,’ and my current relationship with a younger man involves far less hotel room bondage and far more Netflix than Valerie Alexander’s ‘Monsoon Season.’ But that is exactly the point of erotica: to fantasize, to live vicariously, to have inspiration for your own life. Some of the stories feel tangibly realistic, inviting you in and making you feel at home; others spin off into exotic disbelief, hoping you will come along for the ride. Best Women’s Erotica 2014 is a tremendous sampler of what erotica has to offer: from the kinky to the creative to the downright funny. As is true of only the best anthologies, there is something here for everyone.
But like all anthologies, some stories left more of an impression than others. Weeks after reading it, Laila Blake’s clever ‘Her Forest, Her Rules’ still has me thinking about the sexual conquests of LARPers, and how inhabiting a new identity can free someone from fear of rejection or consequence. The characters of Alison Tyler are as always vivid and unpredictable, with ‘Close Shave’s sexual tension remaining fresh when I returned to it again a few days later. But the clunky dialogue of ‘Revealing’ by Ruby Ryder was less compelling, and Alyssa Turner’s ‘Reality TV’ was light on interesting tension. Overall, however, this anthology scores far more than it misses.
Lingering questions: exactly what is happening on the book cover? Is that woman dancing with a cat through a curtain?
Pick up Best Women’s Erotica 2014 from Cleis Press here.