Erotica That Reads Like Literature
I have enjoyed M. Christian’s work for a long time. His solo collection Dirty Words and his two multiple-author anthologies co-edited with Simon Sheppard, Rough Stuff and Roughed Up, are among my favorite volumes of erotica.
Which brings me to Filthy: Outrageous Gay Erotica, a new collection of gay erotic stories by M. Christian. To say this is a great book is an understatement. It runs the gamut of emotions, from anger to sadness to ecstasy to envy.
Here are capsule reviews of some of my favorite stories from Filthy…
“The Greener Grasses” in one short story captures the entire paradox of trying to reconcile a leatherfetish lifestyle into the humdrum world of 9-to-5 jobs and dishes to be washed more than volumes of scholarly non-fiction ever has.
“Flyboy” is a wistful tale of a man who has two lovers, one flesh and blood and one as big as all outdoors. Guess which one gets him in the end. You might be surprised.
“Love” reads as a tender valentine to all the gay men, imaginary or otherwise, who have inspired the author over the years to create his amazing tales of erotica.
“Suddenly, Last Thursday” is a haunting, harrowing riff on Tennessee Williams’s play Suddenly, Last Summer.
And “Friday Night at the Calvary Hotel” is an amazing tale that gets my vote for one of the top ten best short stories ever.
Filthy transcends its genre of erotica and enters the realm of literature.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
What makes a good short story? Felice Picano, in his forward to Filthy offers some of the more traditional takes: a deft handling of voice, of place, of character. But really, what makes a good short story - what makes a great short story - is a truly good idea.
Luckily for Christian – and luckily for us – truly good ideas are not in short supply in this collection.
A perfect example comes in "Sunset Boulevard," one of many tales that puts a queer twist on an old story. Christian, riffing brilliantly on the campness of the original movie, recasts the central fading screen siren as an aging gay porn star. And it might seem risible to allow the gloriously queeny Norman Desmond to intone, "I am big. It's porno that got small," but Christian pulls it off.
Christian isn't shy of a little shameless genre straddling with his startlingly imaginative ideas either. In "The Hope of Cinnamon" we enter a future world in which gay men have mastered the art of time travel in order to save their queer brothers from oppressive regimens of the past. But this tale is also a good example of how the short story format can be frustrating for the reader when presented with such a dazzling concept as this one. The idea is simply too big for the form. The problem presented – that the rescued men cannot cope with a life in nirvana – isn’t so much explored as thrown at us before we are hustled away for the next story.
This is where the book wears thin. The stories in this book are short, averaging ten pages of in-out wham-bam. After a while it starts to feel like Christian is torturing his readers, deserting his unsatisfied readers for fresh thrills before they have quite achieved emotional climax. Too much is left undone and unsaid. This collection could have featured just the five best ideas – including the wonderfully disturbing quasi-religious "Friday Night at The Calvary Hotel" – and served up five wonderful novellas.
In the final story – the most enjoyable of the whole collection – Christian once again attempts a daring feat and pulls it off neatly as he spins us a tale of a young gay reader so besotted with an author of outrageous gay erotica he takes a pilgrimage to his grave. Angered by his discovery en route that his hero was in fact in a relationship with a woman, he means to urinate over the author's last resting place, but ends up recalling too many of the author's purplest passages and doing something entirely different. It is no surprise when Christian reveals the name on the headstone of this soiled grave.
While Filthy is a wonderful book, and just the thing if you are in the mood for an enjoyable quickie (or twenty), it's not the place to turn if you are more in the mood for a story that can go all night.
– Mathilde Madden, Reflection's Edge
I read a guide to reviewing books recently. It said a reviewer should be impartial. I can see that point of view; the work should be judged on its own merit. However, it's impossible for me to pick up a book by M. Christian and not have expectations that are based on previous works I've read. So I guess it's only fair to begin this review with full disclosure: I'm a fan.
I'm torn over the idea of erotica as a distinct genre, and M. Christian's work is fuel for this internal debate. In The Hope of Cinnamon, a future society rescues gay victims from Nazi death camps and brings them forward in time to a sanctuary. Gen, one of the Helpers who works to integrate the Rescued into their new home finds out that few of the Rescued successfully survive the transition. He decides to travel back in time to experience the death camps for himself so that he will have a better understanding of why the Rescued fail to thrive in a society that fully accepts them. While this story does touch on sex and sexuality, it is a great example of speculative fiction that prompts further examination of our time and how current and future gay generations need to be aware of the history of gay culture and see it in proper historical perspective instead of viewing it, and judging, through hindsight.
As much as I hate the term coming-of-age tale, Utter West is a near-future story that shows a character coming of age, and more. Pony is the narrator's hero, the one who escaped their suburban hell and went beyond it to something wonderful and mystical - or so the narrator wants to believe. Unaware that he's destroying the beautiful myth that's grown around his disappearance, Pony comes back as an ordinary adult, prompting the narrator to break free and take the journey Pony failed to make into the beyond of the Utter West.
If noir is more your style, enjoy M. Christian's homage to Sunset Boulevard, Hollywood Boulevard, or sink into the corner pocket of the night world of pool hustlers in The Hard Way. That Sweet Smell is really the scent of corruption, but keep telling yourself it's success, because in this story, that delusion is all the narrator has to cling to.
Moby is purely tall tale, told with the flair of real yarn-spinner. Could anyone stink that much, be that cussedly mean, or be that hung? It's all in the telling - joyously and outrageously over the top.
Or maybe you're in the mood for bittersweet romance and love. Flyboy is the soaring romance we all long for, crashed down to earth by the military's Don't Ask Don't Tell policy. And Love is a writer's story, about how much it means to us when our stories are wanted, and how hard it is to separate the pure love of acceptance from the physical.
And then there's horror. Friday Night at the Calvary Hotel is the hardest story to read in this collection for it's intense mix of sadism, masochism, religious imagery and sex. Stories like that cling to you long after you've put the book down. You decide if that's a good thing or a bad thing, but I like that. Suddenly, Last Thursday is horror of a different stripe - lush and gothic, where you might have to read a line several times before your brain accepts what it's telling you. That slow dawning of realization is delicious and shivery.
In the movie Sunset Boulevard, Joe Gillis says, "Sometimes it's interesting to see just how bad bad writing can be." Yes, but it's gratifying to see just how good good writing can be too. It's unfortunate that erotic writing has a reputation for bad writing, but sit down with this collection and let M. Christian change that prejudice.
– Kathleen Bradean
“Filthy” is subtitled “Outrageous Gay Erotica”, it could also be called “the book that stole my Saturday”. It arrived in the mail and I intended to slot it into my reading queue after several other books that have been waiting patiently for my attention. I flicked over the somewhat dry preface to the first story and it was all over.
In 'The Greener Grasses' M. Christian shows us immediately that this is not a collection to be trifled with, picked up and put down. I was thrust immediately us into the point of view of a real flawed, sexual, vulnerable protagonist. The sexuality is always frank but blended with charming love stories like 'Heart in Your Hand' or '2+1' or folksy fables like 'Moby'. The writer’s skills are perhaps best shown in the apt blending of sexuality with darker threads such as in 'Bitch' where one man’s bitterness and hate escapes his control or 'Friday Night at the Calvary Hotel' with its queasy look at the blend of sadism and sexuality in religious symbolism. I found the homage stories 'Hollywood Blvd' and 'Suddenly, Last Thursday' just a little heavy handed but still engaging reading.
The stand-outs for me were simple stories, but perfect in their parts. 'Oroborous' uses a botched tattoo to contrast the pain and trouble of “fixing” what is “wrong” about us (not what we would choose) with the joys of embracing it what we are. After reading it I had one of those moments staring at the wall and letting it sink in. And there were actually tears in my eyes at the end of the tragic love story of 'Flyboy'. The speculative stories are also strong: 'Utter West' gives a new meaning to the youthful desire to get out of a dead-end town and 'The Hope of Cinnamon' shows a far future gay community that rescues persecuted gay men from the past and is shown, through their eyes, what may be missing from their apparent utopia.
All of the stories have a strong concept as well as explicit sexual content. I would quibble at calling it “erotica”. Erotic, yes, but not quite in the step-by-step manner intended for one handed reading. It’s one of those oft-quoted phrases that our biggest sex organ in our brain; I’m willing to bet that author M. Christian would agree. Almost every story in this collection is perfectly constructed for the intellect: set up, satisfaction and pay off within a few short pages. Some stories are unapologetically erotic and others nostalgically sensual, only obliquely erotic at all or proudly a little perverse—but the erotic is there to serve the story in the manner and amount the narrative requires.
If you are looking for sexually-charged fiction that also has heart and intelligence “Filthy” is the collection for you—just don’t pick it up until you have the free time to read it from cover to cover.
– Emily Veinglory