As my birthday approaches (tomorrow!) I’m once again struck by how totally Gemini I am: always of two minds, alternatively Pam the swooning romantic and Molly the shy p0rn0gr@ph#r.
Two genres, two ways of shaping a story.
On the romance side I see arcs of redemption, the closure and satisfaction of the HEA always immanent even in the darkest, most hopeless moments of the plot. Whereas the BDSM story — almost by definition– is an ever ascending, never completely satisfied spiral of anxious consent and escalating control, where the ending (pardon the pun) is always up for grabs.
In the wake of the 50 Shades juggernaut, of course, lots of writers have been publishing BDSM romance, and lately I’ve been experimenting with it myself. But I’m also still a sucker for the tough, smart, challenging BDSM story that keeps us guessing where it’ll end up. As a reader I’m like Molly Weatherfield‘s BDSM heroine Carrie: eager and grateful to be pushed and shoved, whacked and prodded through the dangerous thickets of narrative, by a voice and a sensibility tougher and more sure of itself than my own.
Which is why I fell so hard for Greta Cristina‘s writing, first almost a decade ago when I heard the author read the story “This Week,” and again when I read the story for myself, this time in the author’s story collection, called Bending: Dirty Kinky Stories About Pain, Power, Religion, Unicorns, & More, recently published and available as an eBook (find the links below).
And yes, there really is a story about a unicorn. And a couple of others that poke their inquisitive noses into the sexy, scary places where faith and control bump up against each other (without the secular redemption implicit in the romance form). But “This Week” might still be my favorite, for its clarity of diction and purpose, the way its cadenced phrasing get me every time. “It’s the voice,” one of Anne Rice’s erotica characters muses: the careful yet leisurely arrogance of a certain species of narrative voice is all I need to feel mildly scared (in a good way) and totally that I’m in hard, capable hands.
“A girl, a college student, is being spanked by her college professor,” the story begins, with a crisp survey following, of the characters’ manners and mode of dress (the professor’s “trim beard with a hint of gray”; his student’s “regular modern clothing that merely implies the schoolgirl look: a short skirt with a flare, a simple blouse, white panties”). When the story instructs me that “the white panties are important,” not only does my Molly side believe that they are, but does so in a frisson of guilty complicity followed by a sharp surge of lust to know more.
Because like a sexual bottom who learns to be patient and pay attention, the submissive in any careful, curious reader is willing to go wherever a story chooses to take her. Receptive to the subtlest of signals, we don’t have to be told twice how to respond. And if we do catch a repetition (as when the narrator of “This Week” assures us — twice in the same paragraph — that the professor’s “not an idiot”) we know how the same words, skillfully repeated, can mean something different each time. Reading as power exchange: the tit-for-tat being that readerly bottoms are choosy beggars and a good hot writer is hard to find. Which is why Bending‘s wonderfully hot and not-quite-comfortable stories of erotic discovery are such cause for delicious, squirm-in-your-seat celebration.
Just don’t say you weren’t warned about the discomfort factor. Greta Christina warns us right up front that “these are not nice stories.” They’re “dirty, kinky stories”: “erotica, she continues, “in the sense that ‘erotica’ has become the term of art in publishing for ‘dirty stories with some vaguely serious literary intent’.”
I appreciate her fine disdain for a term that too often oozes facile self-regard and unexamined expectations. Sometimes all a good writer has to do is use an over-used word to make you question what it really means. And all too often these days, “erotica” is taken to mean nice, acceptable stories of sex, guaranteed not to shock, challenge, or… perhaps reveal something you might not have wanted to consider, deep in your fantasy life.
In Bending, on the other hand, the good, readerly bottom is expected to pull up her big-girl panties (white or not) and deal with the fact that not everything that happens in these stories is absolutely consensual. Characters sometimes betray each other’s trust, and sometimes there’s something inescapably hot about this. Because in the hands of a smart, honest, skillful writer, what’s unacceptable in real life situations might just possibly be compulsively readable within its (virtual) covers. Since after all (as the author widely points out) the consensual moment already happened when you agreed to read the book in the first place.
Am I getting too serious here? Like Carrie, my bottomly readerly self loves nothing better than a fine distinction, a scary moment, and a new idea to chew on. But too much seriousness might scare you away from the book itself and that would be a shame. Just as it would be a misrepresentation not to assure you that there’s also plenty of humor and sweetness here, from the careful negotiations between a couple who decide to seriously investigate the limits of “done,” and enough — to that trash-talking unicorn banging a boozy rainbow.
Read Bending. And here’s where to get it.