As deadlines loom for me, I’m having a bit of a struggle carving out time to write anything. But I thought I’d point you in the direction of a few writers I’ve come across in the process of putting together exemplars for my PhD on new eroticism.
So I thought I’d take the opportunity to invite you into the strange, dark erotic world of a couple of erotic writers you might not have heard of.
Paula Bomer’s Inside Madeleine is a collection of stories, mostly quite long coming of age stories that explore emerging female eroticism with an unflinching eye.
They are all set in the US and may resonate a little more with people who have grown up on that continent, especially in the Midwest, more than with me.
That being said, I cannot praise her highly enough for eschewing pretty much every erotica trope in order to get to the core of what it really means to be a young woman with growing sexual desire and being constantly under pressure to frame it in non-threatening, pretty and comfortable ways.
Bomer most importantly gets into the theme of desire and body image among women in a way that makes for a queasy and uncomfortable ride, and yet manages to bring the fierceness and singularity of how that desire, contorted into strange and erotic shapes emerges.
The novella, Inside Madeleine, ends the collection. I think more than story I’ve read, Bomer gets to grips with what it means to be a slut – a defiant, unrelenting, total slut – in the most visceral way. She unpacks the power of embracing the slur as well as the isolation that it can confer.
The writing is literary in that very post-modern, American way. Not particularly poetic. Stark and Protestant in its refusal of adornment and sentimentality. I would like to see us have the guts to be able to write about desire in perhaps a more measured way, move past this level of dispassion and yet resist the trap of insipid romanticism.
The second book, also a set of shorts, I’d like to tempt you into reading is Twentysix, by Jonathan Kemp. Although varying in length, some of the stories in this collection are actually flash fictions. One for each letter of the alphabet, Kemp offers intense, super-concentrated hits of gay male desire.
Unlike Bomer, Kemp luxuriates in language much in the way a poet does, and brings that writing skill to bear on universal themes like time, memory, abjection and the sublime. And although Kemp also acknowledges that unbridled desire has its dark side, he does, in my mind, find more exultant ways of facing down the spectre of that paradox. That’s not to say that his stories aren’t also intensely subjective. They are.
But, while Bomer’s stories are probably not going to find much appeal to a male reader, Kemp manages to transcend the aspect of sexual-orientation specific desire in his stories onto a more universal plane. While the characters are gay, and the sex is unapologetically homosexual, most of the pieces are going to resonate with everyone. He’s got a true gift for peeling away the wrapping and uncovering the kernel of the erotic – the engines that turn our wheels. Also, there is something almost redemptive in terms of the way he portrays erotic desire pulling us down into depths and up to heights of experience, and often revels in the paradox of doing both at the same time.