By Lisabet Sarai
I recently read and reviewed M.Christian’s sci-fi erotica story Bionic Lover. This tale follows the disturbing and intense relationship between a shy, struggling female artist and a butch woman of the streets who, when the story opens, has a magnificently crafted artificial eye. Thinking about the book after I wrote the review, I realized one reason it moved me so deeply: the author never really explains anything. We see the near-irresistible attraction between Pell (the artist) and Arc (the increasingly bionic butch). We watch as Arc replaces one body part after another with prosthetics, as Pell falls ever more deeply under her spell, as Arc vanishes then returns to the arms of the woman who somehow makes her whole–but though the emotions feel genuine and true, we never know why anyone does anything. Unmediated by reasons, we experience the desire, the longing, the loneliness, directly. The tale remains hauntingly ambiguous as well as overwhelmingly erotic.
In contrast, much of the erotic fiction I read focuses considerable attention on explaining the source of the attraction between the protagonists. Sometimes it’s something as superficial as big breasts or washboard abs. In other cases, the characters clearly complement each other, in terms of personality or history or mutual fantasies or kinks. In all too many stories, the erotic connection is pretty much a foregone conclusion, because the author has made the reasons for that connection painfully obvious.
Desire isn’t necessarily like that, though. Attraction often cannot be explained—except by amorphous concepts like “chemistry”, which is no explanation at all.
I remember one of my lovers, from my sex goddess period, when I blossomed from a self-conscious nerd into a flaming nymphomaniac. I met him at a mutual friend’s wedding, and wanted him from the very first instant. This wasn’t due to his physical appearance. He was cute, but no movie star. It certainly wasn’t because of his personality. He turned out to be arrogant as well as somewhat dishonest. None of that mattered. I wanted him. He wanted me. We had sex within four hours of meeting. Over the next few weeks, we shared some wild times, pushing the envelope (as they say), until I came to the conclusion that I didn’t really like him that much.
Call it chemistry if you like, the inexplicable force binding two souls, two bodies, who by rights shouldn’t be together at all. Whatever it is, it cannot be predicted, or explained.
Another wonderful literary example of this phenomenon is Willsin Rowe’s searing novella The Last Three Days. If you’ve ever thought lust was trivial compared to love, read this book. Rowe’s protagonists are in some sense addicted to one another. Insatiable need draws them together again and again. The pleasure of their encounters tempers their mutual antipathy. The emotions become so tangled that neither the characters nor the reader can sort them out—but they feel incredibly real.
There’s a clever little acronym frequently cited in author circles: RUE, which stands for Resist the Urge to Explain. Usually, when someone invokes the RUE principle in a critique, she’s commenting on a back story dump or an excess of description that slows down the pace of the narrative. Meditating on these two exemplary stories, I see that the RUE particularly applies to the erotic attraction between one’s characters. The more surprising, unexpected, complex and inexplicable that is, the more compelling the tale.
Desire cannot be summoned at will, nor can it be reasoned away. Desire simply is. And we erotic authors are but its chroniclers.