The fifteen erotic lesbian stories in this downloadable collection from GLBT publisher Torquere Press include historical sagas, reworked myths, fantasy or paranormal plots, and poignantly realistic stories that show the ups and downs of lesbian life at the very time they were written. The characters include a sexy dyke in a wheelchair, "women of color," women who impersonate men for fun, survival, or revenge, and women at various points in the spectrum from butch to femme or vice versa. And immortal women with supernatural powers, of course. Most of the stories include some elements of "power exchange," but organized BDSM as a part of modern, urban culture is nowhere in sight.
Roughly half of these stories appeared earlier in print anthologies, including Best Lesbian Erotica (from 1999 to 2006), several lesbian anthologies from Alyson Books, Naughty Spanking Stories from Pretty Things Press, the groundbreaking Zaftig (on "women of size"), two fantasy anthologies from Circlet Press, and Stirring Up a Storm, which includes stories by mainstream women writers such as Joyce Carol Oates. Finding fifteen of Catherine Lundoff's stories in one place saves the reader from having to search for them in numerous current erotic anthologies -- not that the search wouldn't be a pleasure in itself.
As the title suggests, most of these stories explore darkness, both literal and metaphorical. Several take place at night -- in the three distinctly different vampire stories, the reasons for this seem obvious. One of the two vampire stories set in colonial Mexico, "Beso de la Noche," is literally named "Night's Kiss" in Spanish, and therefore it could be read as defining the tone of the whole collection. Several stories begin, in classic style, with a pickup in a bar. (One of these is the most realistic vampire story, set in a modern American city where "goth" is assumed to be fashion rather than a nocturnal hunt for fresh blood.) "Viva Las Vegas " takes place in the desert city that never sleeps, where two dykes turn a cliché every which way but loose as they try to outdo each other as Elvis impersonators.
The role-playing in Lundoff's contemporary stories pales beside actual roles, particularly those of two women pirates of the early eighteenth century, Anne Bonny and Mary Read, whose remarkable partnership in crime has been described in several historical accounts. Lundoff also reimagines the Victorian London of Jack the Ripper, and suggests a reason why he suddenly stopped killing "ladies of the evening."
More stunning than Lundoff's historical realism, however, is her lesbian reworking of the Greek myth about a proud woman weaver, Arachne, who angers the goddess Athena not only by bragging about herself but by exposing the injustice of the gods in a tapestry which shows more than words can tell. This device has been used in other myths: the tongueless rape victim Philomela exposes her assailant this way before she becomes a nightingale. Protesting in pictures is a bold but admirable move on the part of the weaver and the writer. In Lundoff's story, the goddess herself is impressed.
In general, these stories are visual and sensory, containing just enough background information to clarify the setting, the characters, and the sex. The shortest story in the collection, "Burn," entirely consists of a scene involving two women and some hot wax:
"Tilting the candle slowly brings the wax down, white drops gleaming dully in the candlelight, little points of liquid fire splashing hard against your skin. With the flick of a wrist, I leave a small red trail on your pale back, each spot bigger than it seems, burning your body, stoking the fires inside until they scorch everything in their wake. I must seem almost impassive as I watch you tug at the cuffs, groans muffled by the gag as each tiny hot wax sun finds its way through your skin to your pussy."
The author's use of "you" in this and a few other stories seems to be her most experimental touch. Her style is generally realistic, concise, well-paced, and not overly introspective. One of the stories ("The Model"), while infused with sexual tension from beginning to end, includes no explicit sex. In this case, the mutual acceptance of a "woman of size" (the model) and the dyke photographer who wants her resolves the tension in a way that mimics and foreshadows orgasm.
Two stories set in European cities focus mainly on the eroticism of particular places: Florence and Paris. While the atmosphere in each story is engaging, the women seem less clearly defined. In "Left Bank," the bittersweet relationship between a Frenchwoman and an American visitor suggests a culture gap that calls out to be more thoroughly explored -- unless the reader is a sex tourist who can be satisfied with sensation alone.
The percussion (spanking and whipping) in several of these stories is surprisingly convincing as a consensual activity which is intensely desired by both Domme and sub, even though they never use such terms. The historical settings of some stories help in this sense. The young narrator of "El Tigre" (a kind of dyke retelling of the story of Zorro) shivers pleasurably when she remembers being whipped in a convent school in Spain, and the two women pirates in "On the Spanish Main" are familiar with naval discipline. Even in the most spaced-out fantasy ("Planet 10"), the sexual metamorphosis of the central character has its own logic. Nothing seems out of place.
The author shows her range in this collection. It would be interesting to see how much depth she could achieve in the longer space of a novel.
Causes Catherine Lundoff Supports
The Women's Prison Book Project - provides books to incarcerated women Theater Unbound - promotes theater by women: playwrights, directors, performers...