WOMEN writing about sex. Until recently the vast majority of literature dealing with sex was written by men, and women's sexual experiences, feelings, and fantasies were filtered through the male perspective. As Lonnie Barbach wrote in the introduction to Erotic Interludes, an anthology of erotic fiction by mostly American women, "Unlike other emotions -fear, sadness, anger or tenderness, for example - sexual feelings expressed by women have been neither commonly nor comfortably represented in our literature." Since the publication of Erotic Interludes in 1986, many other similar anthologies have appeared. Even those edited by men have finally had to admit the female perspective on sexuality. In Alberto Manguel's recent erotic anthology, The Gates of Paradise, for instance, almost half the stories included are written by women. Women are writing short stories about sex, some women are even writing about sex without love what they are saying and how they are saying it is ultimately as various as what they are saying about any other subject.
In Sharon Abron Drache's newest book of short fiction (seven stories and two novellas), The Golden Ghetto, sexuality is always important. It may also be profane, sacred, surreal, and frequently funny. There is, for instance, the bizarre gynecologist Dr. Ginger and his invention in "The Gingeriascope, a story in which Drache takes an unflinching look at the indignities women must undergo in the pursuit of gynecological good health. There is a female dentist, Taubele Farber, who has sex with her patients in her office before working on their mouths:
With all the pain a patient suffered, it seemed like a good ideal better than putting him to sleep or a shot of novocaine .... The men got so brave after they finished!
(There are other dentists in this book: perhaps because for most of us an hour in the dreaded dentist's chair would have to be the complete antithesis of sex. Try to picture having sex with your dentist!)
Drache writes from the perspective of a Jewish feminist, a dual set of beliefs that would appear to be frequently difficult to reconcile. Her stories, generally speaking, are original, intelligent, and insightful. Unfortunately too many of them have a tendency to lose momentum and fall apart in the middle. The title novella, for example, begins well: Ellen Blooragarten wants a change. She quits her job at her husband's gift-and-china shop. She wants to be a writer. Despite her husband's disapproval, she takes a job as a Pinkerton security guard because she believes it will give her access to more interesting people, people with secrets, people worth writing about. Her first assignment is as a guard at Harbour-front in Toronto, where a famous Canadian poet named Ezra Greenberg will be reading. Great potential for burnout here. But after Greenberg is attacked by a group of four mate poets known as the Canucks, the story begins to meander and finally loses focus altogether. Too many of these stories are similarly disappointing.
To say that Evelyn Lau's Fresh Girls and Other Stories is also disappointing would be an understatement. Lau is best known for her book Runaway: Diary of a Street Kid, published in 1989. Since then she has published two volumes of poetry: You Are Not Who You Claim (1990) and Oedipal Dreams (1992), which was short-listed for the Governor General's Award.
Fresh Girls is a slim volume that contains 10 very short stories about young women, many of them prostitutes, having sex with old men. Lau writes a lot about sex but without humour or insight. There is a tiresome sameness to these stories that renders them indistinguishable and ultimately forgettable. Lau describes certain sexual practices in some detail In "The Session," for instance, she writes:
The carrot broke after a few thrusts, but the handle of the wooden spoon disappeared into him. She felt him clench around it, felt the grain of the wood grate against him. His eyes seemed to clench too. After a while he became open and depthless and she was able to slide most of the bowl of the spoon inside him as well.
This passage could have been put in any of the stories without making much difference.
The characters have no inner lives that might make the reader interested in knowing about their sexual practices or anything else. The writing itself provides no salvation for these stories: it is loose and uninteresting. In a recent interview (Books in Canada, May), Lau said she wanted to change the fact that (,a lot of the interest [in her books] has been prurient." Fresh Girls would not seem to be a step in that direction.