Please note: This piece discusses my personal sex fantasies and my tastes in erotica. Family members and others who don’t want to read that stuff, please don’t read this. This review was originally published on the Blowfish Blog.
If porn gets me off because it hits my particular erotic buttons… well, that’s not much of a test. I can, for instance, get off watching almost any spanking videos, almost regardless of whether they’re any good. I can get off watching some of the grainiest, cheesiest videos that SpankingTube has to offer. Where’s the sport in that?
The true test is this: Can it get me off, even though it doesn’t hit my particular erotic buttons? Can it get me off, even if it’s the actual antithesis of my erotic buttons? Can it get me to feel what the writer finds erotic about this kind of sex — and what the characters find erotic about this kind of sex — even if it’s the last thing in the world that would occur to me to think about when I’m whacking off?
“Bitten: Dark Erotic Stories” is that kind of book.
I should explain. Constant readers might think that a porn anthology subtitled “Dark Erotic Stories” would hit my buttons like a five- year- old in an elevator. Constant readers, in this case, would be wrong. Yes, I like dark porn. But “dark” isn’t the only theme of “Bitten,” or even the main theme. The main theme is… I guess you’d have to say Gothic. The stories aren’t just dark: they’re serious. They’re obsessive. They’re not particularly funny. And most of them are about the supernatural.
And supernatural porn is really not my thing. (No, not because I’m an atheist.) As constant readers may know, my number one fetish in porn is believability. When I read a dirty story, I want to feel like it might really have happened, like it might really be happening right now. That’s what gives me that immediacy, that feeling of being projected headlong into someone else’s sweaty skin. So porn about magic, about incubuses, about ghosts, about sex with the devil… it doesn’t usually do it for me. (Except for the Snape fantasies. That’s different. I can’t explain why. Shut up, that’s why.)
But I found “Bitten” almost completely compelling. Like, “reading it raptly until two in the morning, then masturbating as quietly as I can because I don’t want to wake my partner but won’t be able to fall asleep with these stories in my head until I do” compelling.
Because that’s what good porn does.
Good porn — like the porn in “Bitten” — gets you feeling what the characters are feeling. Even if what they’re feeling, and doing, is physically impossible. Good porn can get you inside the skin of someone who has the Devil’s cock shoved into their mouth, through their body, and out through their anus (“Get Thee Behind Me, Satan,” by Ernie Conrick). Good porn can get you inside the skin of a bar vamp who seduces men and steals their souls (“The Devil’s Invisible Scissors,” by Sera Gamble). Good porn can get you inside the skin of someone getting ravished by a shape-shifting incubus that can take the form of water and smoke (“The Unfamiliar,” by Allison Lawless — probably my favorite story in the book). Good porn can expand your libido, make it larger and richer, fill it with images and ideas that might never have occurred to you before but that you now can’t shake.
And Susie Bright has a unique eye for good porn.
I should tell you right now, in my official “conflict of interest” alert: I have no objectivity at all when it comes to Susie Bright. We’ve known each other for decades: she’s a colleague and mentor and friend, and I can’t review her work the way I would with just any old erotica editor.
But part of the reason she’s a colleague and mentor and friend is that I have such strong admiration for her editorial vision. We don’t always agree — her definition of “erotica” is often pretty broad and loose, whereas I prefer my porn to be pretty straightforwardly porny — but Susie has an almost unerring eye for stories that display first-rate writing, a unique voice, and a vivid sexual imagination.
And that eye was wide open with the stories in “Bitten.” They are unique. They are exceptionally well written. And to call them “vivid” is a grotesque understatement. Lore Sjoberg once wrote that iced mocha “makes me happy to be alive, in the literal sense that it forcibly alters my brain chemistry.” These stories forcibly altered my brain chemistry. It was like being violated, in the best possible way. It was like a masochistic fantasy in which a pitiless, unnervingly perceptive top forces me against my will, not just to do shameful and terrible things, but to want them.
Of course, I have one or two complaints. I almost always do. Like any anthology, some of the stories are better than others. “Historical Inaccuracies” by Julia Talbot was fine but didn’t do anything for me, and while I very much enjoyed Anne Tourney’s “The Resurrection Rose,” I though it needed some trimming: the concept of the perverted libidinous flower was neat and hot, but it was too much of the same idea for too long. But unlike many erotica anthologies where the stories range from “Meh” to “Good,” the stories in “Bitten” range from “Good” to “Fucking awesome.” I’m not sure that even qualifies as a criticism.
My other complaint is not so much a complaint as it is a consumer advisory. The stories in “Bitten” are excellent… but I couldn’t devour them at one sitting, the way I usually do with erotica anthologies. A few at a time was enough. The intensity, the passion, the seriousness, the other-worldlinessâŠ if I read too many in one sitting, it would all get to be much. Like a RenFayre nerd who never gets out of character, and never shuts up about it. Reading “Bitten” would be a wild, fantastical trip into imaginary sexual worlds for a few storiesâŠ and then, with just one more story, it would suddenly get cloying. I needed a good dose of raunchy humor or a plain old fuck story as a palate cleanser. It was like a strong, sweet, strangely-spiced dessert: a few bites was lovely, but if I ate a whole meal of it, I’d get sick of it. For me, this was a book best read in small doses, spread out over a few nights.
But again, that’s really not a criticism of the book, so much as an advisory on the best way to enjoy it. And if your tastes are different from mine, if supernatural Gothic porn is your very bestest favorite, you may gobble up this strange dessert like peanuts. If you like dark, spooky erotic fiction, you need to run to your nearest bookseller and buy this book right now. And if you don’t much care for dark, spooky erotic fiction but you’re curious to see what the fuss is about, I can’t recommend a better place to start.
Bitten: Dark Erotic Stories. Edited by Susie Bright. Chronicle Books. ISBN 978-0-8118-6425-1. Paperback. $16.95.