Best American Erotica is my homage to pure sexual storytelling, with one exception: The Introduction.
It's my chance to exhale. It's the thought before the stroke, the mull-the-whole-thing-over part. Every year I am touched by the zeitgeist that gathers most of my authors around a certain theme, even though none of them know each other, or have talked about their preoccupation beforehand. This year, that theme was The Lolita Backlash:
Youth— the petal before it uncurls, that curious morning dew— aches with potential. Anything is possible, because nothing has been tried. Envy the young? Even the slightly older crowd wants to gobble them up— their very presence is an incitement, a rebuke to death.
But turn over the card. Power comes only with age, which the elders have in spades. Youth can’t drive, youth can’t hold the keys, and youth can’t lay claim— until youth grows the fuck up. The very phrase "seasoned lover” describes a life lived, adventures drawn upon. Beauty and strength may open doors, but it’s only wisdom that tells you how to cross the threshold.
In my fifteen years of editing BAE, I have never before seen such a yowling, lustful, spitting breach between young and old as I did in this volume. The threshold is getting thrashed.
When I was a kid, the phrase “generation gap” first came into vogue. So did the thrilling insult, “Never trust anyone over thirty.” Now those same baby-boomers are rather testy bunch, and trust no one, of any age. It’s coming out in their erotic writing, as well as their children’s.
The 60s generation, more than any before it, are outraged at the prospect of mortality and are determined to beat it. No Olympian Gods were ever so vain. They look at their offspring and feel a combination of possession, fury, and guilt. Love? Sure. But I’m talking about the darker side of Zeus’s parental ego, which in the Boomer set is a constant battle with narcissism.
I speak from the cusp of Boomer/GenX. I wobble on either side. I look at my daughter; and her beauty and vitality are so vivid I could faint. I want to lock her up— no, I mean, I want to empower her. Actually, no!— I want to scare her shitless. Oh, let’s be honest: I’m scared shitless. My generation has melted the polar ice caps, looted the bank, and my inheritance to her is: what exactly?
I can remember myself at sixteen so clearly. I wanted to know everything. I wanted to go to bed with everyone, especially the interesting, self-possessed, grown-up types. I fell in love at the drop of a denim belt loop.
I had one girlfriend, Ginny, similarly inclined, who became lovers with a political heavy who was the leader of a little radical group we belonged to. The "Chairman" was twice her age, with thinning hair, and 30-something.
I was skeptical— he was so homely— but Ginny shushed me. “He’s great,” she said. “I can wake him up in the middle of the night, and ask him any question; and he will always know the answer.”
That did shut me up. But it wasn't her thirst for knowledge that impressed me. It was “the middle of the night” thing that sounded so seductive— those witching hours, when only babies slumber. I wanted to grow up like that, too. I wanted to be that conscious, in that command, of every minute.
Today young people have a different kind of command, and it's their round-the-clock awareness of their sexual potential and exploitation. Some of them are shunning it, some of them are working it, but no one is unaware, at any hour.
When was the moment when our young people become so self-conscious of their charms, as well as their desperation? Every teenager knows the time to launch a career as a porn star is in the weeks following high school graduation. Celebrity journalism shows us that Hercules and Aphrodite will both be stripped, consumed, and thrown aside by their early 20s without a massive intervention. It’s no wonder the commodification of good looks and muscles has wrought an erotic backlash.
Virginity. Authenticity. The natural pearl. It is idealized and commercialized beyond all recognition. Fake sex—titillation— is for sale; real sex is elusive and underground.
Take this state of affairs, couple it with an pox of unprecedented meddling in people’s personal lives by the religious right, and we have a toxic brew. Privacy, freedom, and nature are gasping for breath. Hypocrites alone have something to crow about.
Of course, such observations are taboo. Lower your voice! Young people aren’t suppose to have a sexual bone in their bodies, right? And their elders, if they are immune to beauty, and make all the rules, should be able to keep it in their pants.
What a squawk. There is so much guilt and fear about the obvious— that young people do have hormones, and old people aren’t altogether blind—that helpful discussion in the public sphere has shriveled. It is left to fiction, for the truth to come out. As usual!
The truth looks like this: any conflict has the potential to become erotic. That might get complicated, tragic, or unpredictable. Erotica is kissing cousins with aggravation. The conscience of our society drives us to protect our young, to provide for them, to cheer and cherish their independence. But we wouldn’t need any conscience if it wasn’t a challenge, if it didn’t demand sacrifice. The temptations include neglect, exploitation, coercion, and dependence.
Every one of those emotions came into play as I reviewed this year’s erotica. As in each BAE edition, there was a serendipity of issue among authors, a time capsule where writers who had nothing else in common found themselves buzzing on the same theme.
This year’s tender spot was the brutal tug of war and lust between generations, in which tale after tale pits an attraction/ambivalence with youth one side and their elders on the other:
Kathryn Harrison's excerpt from her novel, Envy, is about a psychiatrist who discovers that one of his young clients, who tries to seduce him, is a daughter he never knew existed.
Dennis Cooper, legendary in his work about young men hustlers, takes on the story of a teenage prostitute, whose death or myth is exhaustively debated by the men who hired him and perhaps killed him. Call them The Sluts.
Alice Erian, the author of Towelhead, writes in the voice of a young Lebanese American teenager who, among other things, gets involved with a racist Gulf War soldier next door.
Jessica Cutler’s memoir from The Washingtonienne is about a young woman who drags Washington’s grey-haired elite down into a scandal pit, with nothing more than the crook of her pretty little finger.
Daniel Duane’s excerpt, from A Mouth Like Yours, traces a memory of a young woman who taunts her father, and terrifies her boyfriend with her sexual independence.
In Trebor Healey’s “Pancake Circus,” a young man is attracted to an indifferent handsome dishwasher his own age whom he discovers is on probation for sex crimes.
Shanna Germain’s story, "Entry Point," of a family camping trip, reveals a married couple who discover something in their own relationship because of their grown lesbian daughter’s example.
Peggy Munson takes a walk with "Daddy and Baby," dyke-style, who play an erotic game of Rock, Paper, Scissors.
Marie Lyn Bernard’s story, “What Happened to That Girl,” is about a bunch of kids from the same foster home who unexpectedly reunite after their 18th birthdays, when one of them becomes a famous porn star.
Finally, Matthew Addison, in his “Wish Girls,” demonstrates one of the sweetest endings to the pain of prolonged adolescence: a young man, nurtured by fembots, finally grows up and leaves them all behind.
There are a few stories in the 2007 collection that miraculously escaped the Lolita Backlash. You’ll find poker games, polyamory, kitchen grease, and other “dangerous games with competent people,” as author Kim Wright puts it. All yummy.
But I kept coming back to the gang of overwhelming coincidences. Nabokov came to mind in my deliberations. The Lolita Backlash stories made me want to revisit the history of Vladimir's book, which has been called the most exquisite novel in the English language.
Lolita was unique when when it came out in 1955. It wasn’t reviewed anywhere, and sales were terrible.
But a year later, as publisher Maurice Girodias recalls, “things started to happen— strange things indeed. Graham Greene mentioned Lolita as one of the the best books of the year. That provoked a demential reaction on the part of the editor of The Daily Express who accused Green and the Times of helping sell pornography of the lewdest variety... the overall result of that commotion was to create a great deal of interest in Lolita among partisans and detractors, an infinitesimal number of whom had read the book.”
Nabokov has been afraid to publish his opus: after all, it was written in the voice of a cruel and remorseless pedophile who ruins quite a few lives, including his own, in the passion for his “nymphet.” Light of my life, fire of my loins, my sin, my soul, Lolita. I remember chanting that passage as a vocal exercise in acting class, such was its legacy!
In Nabokov’s heyday, post-war parents were about to send all their kids to college for the first time. It was a prosperous, middle-class expansion, it was America Uber Alles. It was also the tremorous beginning of a beat/rock/art renaissance that would rip the covers off a variety of things Mommy and Daddy Would Rather Not Talk About.
It was a different time from today’s political climate in many respects. Yet it shares the same vibe of false consciousness— the pretty parade of fake news, fake sex, fake confidence, that can never cover up the bubbling pitch.
The tension and taboo between youth and age is not for the timid. For example, there is one story missing from my collection this year, that I wanted very badly. The finest erotic book I read the past twelve months was the English translation of Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s novella, Memories of My Melancholy Whores. Yet you won’t find the excerpt that I wanted to include in my book; it was refused to me.
Marquez' novella is about an elderly gentleman, a lifetime john of leisure, who decides that on the occasion of his 90th birthday, that he will spend the night at his favorite brothel with a pubescent virgin.
Our birthday narrator has every intention of bedding the young girl selected for him, but upon entering the small room for their "date," he discovers the child fast asleep on the bed. Not wishing to disturb her slumber, he sits beside her to wait, his own mind awash with the self-titled memorias melancholias.
The witching hours fall upon us once again, when those closest to death are the most conscious.
Marquez declined to be part of this collection— a disappointment to me, forty-plus years his junior. His reason was that the nature of his material was "too delicate." I, of course, had a reply that was just as sheer.
Everything in my anthology is ”delicate!” — is that what we're calling it now? Erotic reality is not for the clichéd. I don’t publish pulp about Mr. And Mrs. HappyPants waltzing down the shore to an ending you can see a mile away.
The more that public life discourages sexual maturity and honesty, the further truth retreats to fiction, to poetry. The lyric of dissent is delicate indeed.
Every author I publish who “crosses a line” does so— not because they have a prescription, or a solution— but because they are compelled to spell something out, and to spill something just as plain.
It’s hard to be blunt, to take a risk, to endure misunderstanding. If you are acclaimed as the finest writer of your time in the same breath that they damn you as a lewd pornographer, you’ll know you’ve unraveled something worthwhile! How many people know that Marquez's book, was one of the most exquisite erotic tales of the year? Not many! Its potent qualities were downplayed in favor of promoting his overall respectability.
Why bother? My god, he's finally the age where he really doesn't have to care! Take your fine lace and toss it— what we have here is aroused, conflicted— and very, very wide awake.
On the Eighth Day Vanesa Baggott
Dangerous Games with Competent People Kim Wright
from Fledgling Octavia Butler
Entry Point Shanna Germain
from A Mouth Like Yours Daniel Duane
Blackberries Nalo Hopkinson
from The Sluts Dennis Cooper
Blue Star Sera Gamble
If You Love Something, Set It Free P.S. Haven
from The Washingtonienne Jessica Cutler
Comeback Nicolas Kaufmann
from Towelhead Alicia Erian
The Rock Wall Peggy Munson
Best Friendster Date Ever Alexander Chee
from Envy Kathryn Harrison
What Happened to That Girl Marie Lyn Bernard
Heads Up Poker Susan DiPlacido
Taste Susan St. Aubin
The Sex Box Nikki Sinclair
The Pancake Circus Trebor Healey
The Razor Tsaurah Litzky
Dream Machine Lauraleigh Farrell
Wish Girls Matthew Addison
Introduction by SB reprinted from Best American Erotica 2007, now available to preorder at Amazon. More interview with the authors to come soon...
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Thank you so much... Susie