August 2005

Julie Boulanger

la marquise

Seduce Me

Some of you might have noticed that I have not yet written a review of an erotic anthology. There is a reason for that: I tend to stay away from them. With the exception of Susie Bright’s collections, short story erotica compilations have always seemed to be quickly assembled selections of unaccomplished and unsatisfying stories aimed to make fast money from a mass-market of women who don’t know what else to buy. Seduce Me, edited by Michele Slung, is just that. Excuse the obvious pun, but this collection has failed to seduce this reader in any way, leaving her wondering where the seduction was supposed to be. I searched. I swear I did.

As Slung states in the editor’s note, to amass (and to write) short stories destined for a book called Seduce Me, one must stop and think about what seduction is. A request? An order? A wish? The reviewer of a book called Seduce Me must ask herself that same question with a twist: What in an erotic short story seduces me? My first answer is language. Writing a language of seduction is extremely difficult. It must draw you in by its wording, its formulation. My second answer is story and description. If the language cannot seduce me, I want the story to. It can be raunchy or sensual, but it must turn me on. Third, avoid clichés. This is hard for writers who have no imagination about describing the senses. They end up writing the mechanics of love making. If the act itself is so much more than mechanics, shouldn’t its writing be also?

The last story, “Touching” by Susanna Foster, is the most sympathetic. It tells of a man who does his best to seduce a woman with words. Their dialogue sounds honest enough, and they both come off as fleshed out characters. Their eventual sex scene, though a bit short, comes close to what I mean by seductive writing. It does not only tell what they do, it makes you imagine… and maybe even feel.

Theresa Roland’s “The Butler Did It” and Maura Anne Wahl’s “Mama Said” both succeed in finding a clear and sexy voice. Roland’s is that of a spoiled and naughty teen of the sixties who comes home from boarding school only to toy around with the butler, seducing him in her somewhat adolescent way. Wahl’s story is narrated by a young teenage girl in the fifties who is asked out on a date by the town’s “bad boy.” Contrary to popular belief, she wants to be “ruined” by him and is crazy in love.

Also of note is Dana Clare’s “In The Dark,” which tells the story of a woman who is inadvertently seduced in cyber space by an A.I. The story is equipped with an interesting premise and good story-telling. Unfortunately the author felt the need to stick on an explanatory introduction and a ride-into-the-sunset conclusion, which unbalances the story at its extremities.

“Rising Son” by Gracia McWilliams starts off promising. In a Japanese house of pleasure, a worker decides to put on an extra show for a hidden client. This setting of exhibitionism/voyeurism is tantalizing. The “show,” though a bit simple, is also sexy and McWilliams uses a tone that sounds plausible. Yet the story falls flat in both its midpoint and its denouement where the two characters meet and profess their love for one another. Whatever sense of seduction there was flew out the window mid-way through the story.

That is the problem with most of the stories in this book. They are, some way or another, off-balance. Either a character seems all wrong, or the narrative feels like it has been composed by bits that belong to some other story, or the writing is filled with clichés that just turn you off. For example, the first story of the book, “In Her Garden” by Mia Mason, is cute in an Aphrodite kind of way, mixing the act of seduction with the blossoming of a garden. Yet the male character comes off as a chump, making the reader wonder why he would deserve such enchantment. As for Cansada Jones’s “Vanessa Takes Wings,” the dialogues are as unauthentic as can be. A particular low point is when a 30-something woman bitterly admits to her good-looking young waiter, for no purpose whatsoever, that she has not had sex in three years. The author adds this information to move the narrative forward while not respecting the nature of the characters she is creating. A 16-year-old might say something of the sorts, but a grown woman? Anyway, she “gets” the waiter, goes to his place and suddenly she is waking up. Are we to understand that she was so drunk after two or three drinks that she passed out once she got there? Is this what we are to understand as seduction? (I am sure that anyone who has brought someone home for a night of hot sex only to have the person pass out once they hit the bed would beg to differ.) And can we please move beyond the butterfly analogy?

The story I preferred was Georgi Mayr’s “Life Class.” Written in a curt language that only hints to a plot, it is the only story that exposes the negative side of seduction when one is so consumed by it that he or she loses their sense of self, what made them seductive to begin with. Original, compact and well-balanced, this story was a breath of fresh air, conveniently placed at the center of the book, amidst the others that thrive on stereotypes.

If this book is to be understood as one that engages different forms of seduction, one can accept its general lack of sex appeal. Yet even so, this book lacks interest. While reading this book I kept asking myself where was the seduction. I found it in crumbs. Not what the editor’s note promised. If you must read an anthology, pass this one over and pick up one of Susie Bright’s.

Seduce Me edited by Michele Slung
Venus Book Club
ISBN: 1582880794