Monday, November 10, 2014

Antonia Crane: Spent

Writing memoir as a woman these days is a dangerous profession as the general reading public is quick to criticize and/or judge women who write about their sexuality and/or their experiences as sex workers. I rank Antonia Crane right up there with Rachel Resnick, Kerry Cohen, Lidia Yuknavitch, and Chloe Caldwell as women who write memoir they way they want to write it without pandering to their audience or trying to pacify or appease the masses.

Spent isn't a happy story. It's not even redemptive, if you define redemption as a sex worker who announces at the end of the book that she married Richard Gere's character from Pretty Woman. As of the printing of the book, Antonia Crane is still working in the sex industry. She hasn't found a "Prince Charming." No one has "rescued" her. She is, however, close to rescuing herself.

Like Rose Hunter, who wrote a story collection called "Another Night at the Circus" that details her experiences as a hooker, Antonia Crane doesn't apologize for her work in the sex industry. Nor does she spend a lot of time psychoanalyzing the reasons she ended up in the industry. We understand the writer doesn't have a relationship with her father. We understand she idolizes her beautiful mother. We understand she dislikes her body, suffers from bulimia, and finds validation, like many young women, in the male gaze, in male approval, in feeling desired by men. Sex work is an addiction just like alcohol or drugs or food, and we understand that, too.

Perhaps the best line in the book is this one, when Antonia Crane speaks of her mother. "She hadn't raised me to sell my body for money, but she hadn't raised me not to sell my body for money either." The reader can interpret that any way he or she wants. It's loaded. It's complex.

Admittedly, I had to set this book a side a couple days because the story was breaking my heart. This isn't a criticism. In fact, it's testament to Antonia Crane's ability as a storyteller. Her narrative got under my skin. Antonia Crane writes without flinching. She also writes with lyrical flair. Her prose mesmerized me the same way she mesmerizes men spinning around that pole.

Antonia Crane's WEBSITE.
Antonia Crane on TWITTER.


Thursday, November 6, 2014

Andrew Van Wey: A Hollow Dream of Summer's End

"This one is for my childhood friends. We never left each other to the monsters. We grew up. We became them." A Hollow Dream of Summer's End.

Aiden, Freddie, and Brian have just finished their fifth grade year in school. The summer promises weeks on end of sleepovers and camp. When summer ends, they'll have to start all over as the low men on the totem pole, sixth graders in middle school. Freddie has a tendency to lose his temper. Brian stutters. Aiden struggles to come to terms with his parents' divorce. Aiden's father has recently come into money and now resides in a mansion on a sprawling stretch of land surrounded by woods. Likewise, the new woman in his life, Julie, the one who has replaced Aiden's mother, is young and beautiful. Aiden attempts to separate himself from his father, and his father's new girlfriend, out of loyalty to his mom, but when Aiden and his friends gather at Aiden's father's house to celebrate the final weekend of their summer, Freddie and Brian are impressed by the mansion, the surrounding woods, and Julie, especially after she presents the boys with three laser tag kits. The boys hit the surrounding woods to play at killing each other. During the game, Aiden stumbles upon a mysterious drain that emanates an unusual sound. When the boy works up the nerve to peer inside the drain, he sees piles of tattered clothing. He also senses he's not alone and runs. Something gives chase. Something that says "Tick, tick, tick" and "Gweeee!" Aiden stumbles headlong into his friends, who lie in wait, then blast him with their laser guns. Game over.

Aiden convinces himself nothing was in the woods.

The boys retire to a tree house for the night.

Morning never comes.

A Hollow Dream of Summer's End is a little Stand By Me meets It. It's part horror, part fantasy. It's the first chapter in a series of books that examine how childhood ends. A Hollow Dream of Summer's End explores friendship. It explores loyalty and ties that bind. It's a book about how those binds loosen then fall away when children are forced to make selfish, nightmarish decisions.

Andrew Van Wey's WEBSITE.
Andrew Van Wey on TWITTER.


Tuesday, November 4, 2014

J.M Darhower: Monster in His Eyes

Monster in His Eyes is narrated by Karissa, an eighteen-year old college student who is having a difficult time in her Philosophy class. She must write essays about abstractions like happiness and murder. The professor is a real dick, although not a hot and sexy one.

When we first meet Karissa, she is schooling her best friend, Melody, on the difference between Pluto and Plato. Melody is well meaning but air headed. She's also from a wealthy family. Karissa is at college on scholarship. Her single mother struggles financially and moves around a lot. (That moving around a lot becomes important later, as does her mother's wicked bouts of paranoia.)

When we first meet Karissa, she's feisty and confident despite her humble background. She eats a lot of Ramen and borrows Melody's clothes. Mainly, she's thoughtful and intelligent. I like her.

When Karissa meets Ignazio Vitale, a thirty-seven year old mafia hit man, her IQ slips a notch and she reverts to saying "Uh" often. Okay. My IQ would have slipped, too, if a drop-dead gorgeous man in his thirties had pursued me at eighteen. You could have written "Uh" on my forehead.

On Halloween, I told my college freshmen, "If someone in his or her thirties shows up at your parties, they are there for the wrong reasons. Don't trust them. Stay away."

Karissa's mother doesn't get the chance to offer her daughter similar advice until it's too late. I longed for more interaction between Karissa and her mother. Something about her mother is interesting and complex. I want to dive deep with her daughter and discover what that is.

Ignazio Vitale has dark and dangerous motives. The first clue is when he almost chokes Karissa to death during sex. Although she's freaked out, she experiences an orgasm to end all orgasms, although not literally.

A thirty-something guy told me the other day that older men like younger woman "because of gravity." I'd like to see Ignazio Vitale grapple with a woman like Angelina Jolie. Sex play like the above would feel a bit more complex, not to mention the players would begin on even ground.

I picked up Monster in His Eyes because the title intrigued me. I also liked the tag line, "What if the Prince Charming in your fairytale was the villain?" Bring on the asshole. If he's hot, rich, and sexy. Aside from fucking the hell out of her, orgasm after multiple orgasm, Ignazio courts, woos, and impresses Karissa with his money and connections, and all the while he has lethal plans for her that never reach fruition because he falls in love with her.

The ending of this book is sort of happy sort of depressing. There's a second book, Torture to Her Soul. Yes, I'll read it.


Visit J.M Darhower's WEBSITE.
J.M Darhower on TWITTER.

More Praise for Dog Men (XO)

"Dreamy, dark, heartfelt, and all-the-way alive, Alana Noel Voth's DOG MEN goes right down to the place where damage meets desire and comes up shining." -- Paul Lisicky, author of Famous Builder, The Burning House, and Unbuilt Projects.

Purchase DOG MEN. XO.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Francesca Lia Block: Beyond the Pale Motel

Beyond the Pale Motel is narrated by Catt, a thirty-something hairdresser living in L.A. She's not your typical "California beauty--" blond with blue eyes, long legs, and big tits. She is painfully aware of her "physical imperfections" and forever compares herself to other women, mainly actresses, models, and her best friend, Bree, also a hairdresser, who embodies the typical California beauty, although she dyes her blonde hair pink, lavender, etc., in what feels like an attempt to elude the stereotype or stand out as an individual. This is impossible, however, since men covet her sexually, thus filing her right back where she belongs, with all the other sexually objectified women, and in this book, especially, little more than body parts gathered by gruesome means by a psychopath the media calls "The Hollywood Serial Killer." Catt becomes not so much obsessed with the killer as with the women he targets, all of them the typical California blonde with long legs and big tits.

One thing I appreciated about Francesca Lia Block's book is how it examines not only the objectification of women, and how women sometimes objectify themselves because they feel unworthy of love, but also the fragile and complicated relationship between women, how women are capable of experiencing true, selfless love for one another even while competing with one another for men, for attention, for validation. This is complicated stuff Block handles with sensitivity and grace, especially at the end of the book, when we discover Catt's sacrifice.

There's a moment in Beyond the Pale Motel that will forever stick with me, when Catt receives a message on an Internet dating site called "FU CUPID," which is creepy and abusive. Rather than delete the message or report the sender, Catt reads the message, stares at it a while, then files it away. The implication is clear. Women sometimes tolerate, even entertain, such abuse because they feel they've "asked for it" or are helpless. Ultimately, Catt isn't helpless. She's brave and heroic and spills over with love, just not, of course, for herself.

I carry a collection of books in my heart, the ones I love above all others, and Beyond the Pale Motel just joined that collection. In Francesca Lia Block, I've discovered a "spirit writer," someone who shares my obsessions: beauty, addiction, violence against women, etc. I empathize with Block's narrator who forever chases perfection and is innately drawn to pain.


Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Emerald: If . . . Then

Emerald's If . . . Then is the most love affirming collection of erotic stories I've ever read. I'm in love with all the love in this book. These stories never venture into the sappy or sentimental. The author writes with precision and grace. Her characters feel authentic: they move as real people through a real world and wrestle like the rest of us with pain, loss, insecurity, and vulnerability. What is unexpected, is the way Emerald's characters regard one another with such respect. Their lack of ego is stunning. Their generosity inspires me. My favorite stories in the collection, "Relative Anonymity" and "Then," both involve threesomes (M/M/F). In "Relative Anonymity," a woman's ex husband invites her back to their farm house where he reveals a couple secrets, which she accepts without judgement. In "Then," a husband offers his wife what she wants, a new sexual partner. Again, the generosity of these characters, not to mention the trust they share with one another, is mind blowing and inspirational. Other stand out stories include "The Plant on the Mantle," "Rain Check," and "No Such Thing." In the first, a couple are drawn to a plant that once belonged to the woman's grandmother, which leads to the woman revealing something she had learned about her grandmother to her male partner, something most of us will never learn about our grandmothers, but wouldn't it be nice if we did? In the second, a woman makes herself sexually vulnerable to a kind and persistent lover. In the third story, a woman taps into the healing power of orgasm. What the author of If . . . Then implies with her collection is that desire is human but emotional intimacy is divine. XO.

Visit Emerald's Website.


Monday, October 27, 2014

Praise for Dog Men (XO)

"DOG MEN is a collection proving that desire is as dangerous as it is unstoppable.  Alana Noel Voth plays at the intersection of the erotic and the vulnerable, the frightening and the enlightening.  Her stories move inside the electricity of first love, the shiver of the paranormal, the complicated bonds of family, the allure of the stranger. Her protagonists feel real, long-inhabited: fighters, moving through treacherous landscape with limited information, battling their own darker impulses, trying to do the right thing in a world with no moral center.  DOG MEN will stay with you." -- Sera Gamble, writer, executive producer, and show runner of Supernatural