Embraces: Reviews The Sharpe Tongue

Pop quiz time! Give the first answer that comes into your head - what is dark erotica? For some smut lovers, this might mean sexy vampire stories, demonic lovers, or at least large quantities of blood. Come on, at least a ghostly kiss, perhaps a wee bit of necrophilia? Isn't that what dark erotica is all about?

Some readers avoid the darker side of the genre for that very reason, because in the minds of many, it's a subgenre filled with cliches. If you see yourself in that statement, then get ready for a mind-blowing, horizon-broadening experience in Embraces a new anthology of dark erotica edited by Paula Guran. The 21 stories in this fine collection are bizarre, it's true, and there's no lack of bloodshed or horror. But much to my great relief and entertainment, each one looks at the underside of erotic life through fresh eyes, some even bordering on the experimental -- and each one is a treasure.

I always know when I'm faced with a well-done anthology, because I have difficulty choosing my favorite stories. Maybe it would have to be "Torpor" by Charlee Jacob, a story of a man who finally finds his true love in someone who shares a gruesome secret with his past, a secret that has caused him no small measure of guilt over the intervening years. "First Love", by Jay Russell, takes the concept of being "born again" to new levels. "Homewrecker", by Poppy Z. Brite, is a tale about the demise of a rather strange family - but a family all the same, albeit with a bit of a Jerry Springer spin.

I found myself drawn to a pair of stories: "Payback's a Bitch" by Thomas S. Roche, and "Director of Dolls" by Anne Tourney. "Payback's aBitch "is a rock'n'roll lesbian love story and, as the title suggests, it's also a tale of monumental revenge. The characters in this tale, legendary rock star Erica Scream and her porn star object of adoration, Miranda Icepick, are particularly well-drawn. As for "Director of Dolls", having been both a doll lover and a thespian in my younger days, I saw more than a little of myself in this one! Editor Paula Guran warns readers right away, "If you want unsurprising, comfortable 'erotic horror', you've got the wrong book in your hands." She's absolutely right. Many of these stories may make you uncomfortable, or frighten you -- and they'll all make you think. It's an excellent collection, even if it might keep you up a bit at night. -- J.Z. Sharpe

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