[This is a review of an erotica collection. It should not be read by anyone who is too young to read erotica.]
Published in 2010 by Xynobooks.
I’ve long been of the opinion that there ought to be some measure of subtlety in the writing of sex. A panting slather of erogenous zone names, rubbed together on the page, leaves me distinctly… dry. A preponderance of “bulging, turgid members” meeting “quiveringly helpless mounds” leads to a laziness of craft—just because the parts fit together doesn’t mean a writer need mash them in textually ’til they’re sore, and we’re bored. Portia Klee Jordan’s audacious, poetic and elegantly perverse collection, And Then Her Mouth, works toe-curlingly well for me because it doesn’t aim to evade the subtle artistry of good writing. It dives into it, gaping-mawed, and sucks us in—and we go; willingly, we go.
A principal selling point of this gathering of dirty divulgences is that they’re not a precocious tween’s teeth-cutting panty twisters (though you might stumble across at least one ingenue ripe for the picking among these pages). These are eighteen investigations of a persistently purple desire. The word ‘purple’ comes at us at many a turn in these tales – lurking ’round one too many a corner, for my liking. Still, if it best expresses, for Jordan, a particular aura, a no holds barred zone of throbbing openness, then a few too many purples are a miserly toll, spare change you won’t miss as you speed along this open highway of well-weathered pleasure-seekers. One gets the impression, while reading, of lives dipped deeply in lust and self-examination alike, which flavours each vignette with intensity, fire and fever, meriting belief and arousal. Whether these dirty stories are drawn from the velvet of the author’s own beaded bag of tricks, or not, she is owed a nod of approval for sparing us staid contrivances and sophomoric storylines.
Moral ambiguity makes the sensory ravaging you’re offered from each tale all the sweeter. You’re liable to find a kink for each sexual bent in Jordan’s repertoire, delivered sans ethical interference. In “Pretty Me”, following a nerve-humming exchange with Marcel the drag queen, formerly staid Patricia wrangles a cross-dressing, gender-torquing fetish out of her husband Gerald, with the aid of electrical tape, fishnets and theatrically imposed cruelty. The entirety of “III. Onomatopeter” is a single wicked sentence in celestially sordid punning. “II. Statutory Grape” plies us with the stream of consciousness hunger of a thirty year old observer for a girl whose “breasts are so new they’re surprised to be there”. Far less is on the menu than one might imagine, in “Eat Me”, the concluding piece of the collection, in which Melanie and the narrator have earned their absent gag reflexes for reasons culinary and otherwise. The author keeps scales of reckoning, blind or otherwise, out of her telling. The result: we get to decide how we feel about each scenario, and the freedom of this safe, sultry space is in itself back-archingly good.
My favourite of the eighteen (eighteen being such a primed number for this collection, in quietly declarative ways: the ‘official’ threshold for sexual release, versus the organic compulsion to explore the body/bodies of others much, much earlier than that) is unabashedly, hands-down, skirts-up, “Summer is Cold Here, Linnea”. Beautiful lesbian Dianna finds ways to thaw the nights of her work-imposed Alaskan chill, and intersperses her anatomical explorations with thoughtful missives to her lover Linnea, who (we assume) languishes for her, back home. The narrative cleaves cleanly down a line of epistolary versus confessional styles, rethreading the chasm between the couple, while emphasizing how much grey space there is between what they know about each other, and what they imagine to be true. As Jordan serves this wryly reflective tale that twists into us by turns both tender and intemperate, we marvel at the supple flow of her prose, the authority of her character construction. The introduction of Dianna establishes a plausible portrait of a flesh and blood Sapphist, not a cardboard and estrogen The L Word placeholder.
“Dianna loved women. She loved them. Her personal attachments, the emotional depth requisite for any long-term, soul-serving relationship, these were always with people of her own gender. She knelt down at the altar of worship and buried her mouth overflowing with the physical manifestation of love and awe in the tufted, fleshy crevices of the sex of the Goddess, the Mother of Us All, with whole-hearted, unshaken devotion. And sometimes she had sex with men.”
In the length of time it takes to share a clove cigarette with a dark-eyed stranger, “Summer is Cold Here, Linnea” breathes potent draughts of queer identity interrogation into us, and sweetens their consideration with two artfully lubricated sexual forays. A tour de force in miniature, it’ll leave you just as reflective as ravaged, and solicit many a damp-fingered reread. If you deem the last line of the story to be anything other than the epitome of tongue in cheek wordcrafting, plotwrangling excellence, then let me know—we’re ripe for a debate.
The poetics of Jordan’s pornography establish her as a sensual raconteuse well worth the consideration of the refined reader, the one who’s bookmarked special tracts in his sexual textbooks, the one who’d wager that she knows a thing or three thousand about fiction that enlivens, thickens the breathing, alerts the pulse. These lines from ‘Manipulation, Retribution’ display evidence of how beauteously the author connects our excursions into eros with her deft mappings of human emotion.
“The sounds coming out of my mouth aren’t conscious, aren’t really my own; they are from some other place, some Lovecraftian pit of tentacled grief. I give voice to a sorrow so great it has no name, to a feeling of loss so yawning and empty that from the first it sent us back shaking and looking over our shoulders to the warm cave fire, to rub shoulders with the others of our kind and turn our backs on our understanding of mortality.”
We glean these grief-soaked revelations from the story’s protagonist as he lies across his homemade sawhorse, abandoning his body to a brutal cropping from two courtesans, in the dungeon he and his late lover Martika made, together. ‘Manipulation, Retribution’ is as much a submissive’s playground of utter delight as it is a wise, emotionally spent man’s retrospective on all the things he’s hewn, and all the losses he’s incurred, through living and loving, and the well-stretched canvas he’s made of his life, in the name of non-conventional lust.
If And Then Her Mouth swiftly becomes your 2011 Bible for all things decidedly non-chaste, do let me know. If you’ve been reading those colour-by-numbers guides to literary kinkiness, consider this study in sex and the human psyche your graduation certificate… but please, try not to smear it. Unless, of course, that’s your thing. Portia Klee Jordan wouldn’t judge, I daresay, and neither will I.
A free electronic copy of this novel was provided by Nick Maloich at Xynobooks for review. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own, and are not influenced by his generous gift of gratuitous literature.