The Things That Make Me Give In by Charlotte Stein
The Particulars: Erotica single author anthology, Black Lace, 2010, In Print
Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I was so blown away by Stein's short story in the multi-author anthology Obsessed: Erotic Romance For Women that I immediately went looking for more of her work. This anthology was already on my wish list, so I bought it brand-spankin'-new.
The Review: After reading and loving Restraint last November, I've been itching to go on a Stein binge - but alas, pesky review books waiting for me. Luckily this anthology worked well with this month's TBR Challenge theme, so I could kill two birds as it were. Read more Stein and complete my January challenge to read "short." This anthology features 15 short stories that read like vignettes. Yeah, if you're looking for deep character development, it just doesn't happen here. Stein introduces her characters via their sexual identities, and given the short word count on all of these stories that's essentially as far as the reader gets to know them. This sort of thing works for me as an erotica reader, although admittedly I can understand how it won't for others. Here's a brief rundown of what's featured between the covers....
Because I Made You So features a female college student and a male professor who teaches a course on Romantic Literature. She starts spinning fantasies, jotting down a purple-prose-bodice-ripper style story featuring herself and her professor as the "hero." And naturally, she ends up turning it in to fulfill a class assignment. Gee, wonder what will happen next? A really sexy story that nicely tweaks old school romance conventions.
Spying is a voyeuristic story featuring a heroine who ends up spying on the hero in the building next door. They enter into a "relationship" of sorts, putting on shows for one another. A solid voyeuristic story, but albeit, kinda sad. I felt sorry for these two people at the end. They seemed incapable of moving forward. Melancholy erotica.
Lessons is a role reversal story featuring a smarty-smart heroine tutoring two big dumb jocks. I can see some readers having issues with the heroine "using" the two guys, and essentially not thinking very highly of them - but I liked it. I like when erotica explores role reversals, and allows the heroines to be "just as bad" as the heroes. On that score, this one works.
Yes/ is the first story in a duet featuring a married couple. As per an agreement, the heroine gets a day where she's calling the shots. Whatever she wants to do in bed? Yeah, the hero does it. Spicy, sexy, featuring a dominant heroine who is dominant without being tricked out in latex and leather.
Dirty Disgusting You features an unsatisfied married woman who enters into an affair with a friend of her hubby's. Hubby ain't interested in her, BFF very much is - and the two men couldn't be more opposite from each other. The woman screwing around with a guy who is "beneath" her is a theme Stein has explored before, and this story manages to be funny, sexy and sad all at the same time. It also features this epic line, where the heroine describes her life while "dropping off files" to the BFF as a favor to hubby (which is how the affair begins): "I often drop things off. This is my life - files, dry cleaning, my dignity."
Her Father Disapproves features a heroine hot for one of her father's associates, and now that they're all at Daddy's country house together? Yeah, she's going to take the bull by the horns. This is another story that is sexy and funny (she's pushing, he's resisting), although the ending strained a little for me.
For You is a really interesting, brave story that as a nurse's daughter I found really captivating. Heroine is a nurse. Hero is a patient, essentially near death hoping his number is called for a transplant. He starts telling her naughty stories, and while she knows she shouldn't - she can't help listening. Another story that was sweet and sad at the same time. Might be my favorite in the anthology.
Just Be Good features a porn plot but is still interesting in the aspect that the heroine is in the driver's seat. Starla is probably late teens and likes to get caught smoking pot by the local law. There's a new sheriff in town that she's really hoping will punish her - uh, repeatedly. The fly in the ointment? The sheriff is a wee bit Beta and needs some coaxing....
Phoned In features a couple who have a "phone friendship," until one day when the heroine starts reading the hero naughty stories she's writing for a magazine. A bit like the earlier Spying story in the respect that this one is kind of sad. It features two people who seem afraid or incapable of having a tangible "in person" relationship. However, unlike Spying, this one ended on a more hopeful note for me.
/Yes finds our married couple back in action, this time with the hero calling the shots. His plan is to get the heroine really, really worked up. A nice bookend story that compliments the couples' earlier appearance.
Sometime Soon is another story that is borderline sad. "Plain" heroine gets her rocks off with a "grease monkey" mechanic. She likes the whole use-me-baby-dirty-girl thing, and he's more than happy to oblige. Again we have a heroine really going after what she wants, and taking control of her fantasies and sexuality. It's the ending here.....it gives me pause. It makes me worry that maybe she has "issues."
Different On The Inside is about a heroine who hangs out with a yuppie sort of crowd but doesn't
really fit in. It's while she's away with "the group" for a weekend
that she has encounter with the hero, a slightly awkward geeky sort who
totally has her pegged. Lucky for them that someone in the group
suggests a rousing game of hide and seek.
All Ways is by far the most romantic story in the bunch. Former military hero comes home damaged goods and reunites with the heroine, who was a girl he messed around with slash dated in high school. Sexy, yet tender. Also, it's very sweet in parts. Could easily see a story of this nature being developed into a full-length erotic romance.
Toby Hood Tastes Candy was the weirdest story in the bunch, and probably my least favorite. Hero is going to his grandmother's house when his car breaks down. He encounters the heroine in the woods, and then later....in grandma's bed. I suspect the author was shooting for Twisted Fairy Tale, but it just was a little too odd for me.
The Things That Make Me Give In is a meditation on the part of the narrator, looking back at past lover's and recalling what it was about each of them that made her "give in." That moment when she knew, "Yes, I'm going to have sex with you." Very good writing, but yes - very much a meditation. There's not a lot of meat and potatoes to this particular story, but it does an excellent job of exploring one woman's sexual past.
A lot of folks who don't read erotica often say (incorrectly) that it's nothing more than sex. It's not a "real story" - it's smut on the page. In this instance, yes all of Stein's stories are very heavy on the sex, but that's pretty much the point. It's about exploring sexual identity and fantasy. It's about women who, even if they might be playing a submissive role in some cases, are "in charge" of their sexuality. Every woman in this anthology is calling the shots, in some form or another. Which at the end of the day? Is pretty much why I read erotica. It flips a feminist switch for me. I also loved that Stein managed to convey many different moods here - funny, sexy, sad, sweet, it's all over the map. While my enjoyment level for each story varied anywhere from "OK" (C) to really, really good (B+) - as a whole this anthology was extremely well done, well thought out, interesting and challenging. Damn, Stein is talented.
Final Grade = B