My latest review, not available anywhere else at the moment.
Writing Skin by Adriana Kraft (eXtasy Books, 2009).
“Bisexual” erotica that is intended to get the reader off immediately is hard to distinguish from “ménage” scenes in which three or more characters consummate their lust by wrestling like a litter of playful puppies. More thoughtful fiction about the complications of a bisexual life is often more tragic than comic: bisexual Sally, having been dumped by a straight-and-narrow boyfriend, has a crush on her straight girlfriend Jessie, whose husband would like to do Sally on the side. Or bisexual Stan has intense fantasies about his boyfriend Steve’s sister, even when he is in bed with Steve. (Or Stan is doing the sister while fantasizing about Steve – awkward in any scenario). Long-term relationships involving sexual and emotional intimacy are tricky enough for two people to navigate, let alone three.
Can an erotic romance involving three people have a happy ending for everyone involved? Is it even possible? Yes, at least in the plausible-enough world of this novel.
Writing Skin is a novel by a wife-and-husband writing team using a feminine pen name about a wife-and-husband team of business owners who develop a personal interest in their favorite erotic writer, a single woman with a sexual history that includes both men and women. The plot unfolds like the fulfillment of some vaguely Asian spiritual prophesy.
Erotic writer Lucy Parker spends most of her time writing in her Chicago apartment, and no longer has a sex life with another human being. Without labelling herself sexually, she is still in mourning for a past love:
“The longest, smoothest relationship she’d ever had was with Gina, but Gina had made it clear she needed to be a mother. She’d claimed that desire was embedded in her Italian genes.”
Gina is now married to a man whom Lucy finds repulsive. Since Gina left her, Lucy has tried dating others, with disappointing results: “Since then, she’d been with exactly four women and two men. The women lasted on average a couple months. Neither guy lasted more than three weeks.” One guy lasted one night.
Lucy’s older half-sister Kate, who raised Lucy after her parents died, is concerned about Lucy’s isolation, but Lucy has good reasons for focusing on the writing which has brought her a certain amount of fame, and which is more rewarding than dates which lead nowhere. As Lucy points out, she has a collection of sex toys and knows how to use them.
Meet the Fergusons, Frank and his elegant wife Chai, a part-Filipino, part-Japanese former masseuse, dancer, high-end Nevada sex worker, and level-headed businesswoman. (Groan! Not the exotic Asian stereotype! But Chai has as much individual personality as the white characters.)
The Fergusons like to take turns reading Lucy's novels to each other in bed. After one such session, Chai tells Frank that she wants to meet the author:
“’I really think she’s the woman we’ve been looking for,’ Chai Ferguson said, setting the novel aside on the nightstand next to the bed. ‘She writes with such passion. Her characters are sexy yet mysterious, sensual yet adventurous.’” It seems safe to assume that Lucy Parker writes like Adriana Kraft.
Frank knows that Chai has always been attracted to women and was never willing to give up lesbian encounters for the duration of her marriage. She is willing to share Frank with another woman, even in a long-term three-way relationship, and he has willingly shared her with another man from time to time.
The Fergusons aren’t shallow people, and neither of them is looking for a short-term thrill. They’ve been looking for a woman who could love them both and whom both of them could love. Understandably, finding the right woman to complete their household has proven as hard as finding the missing piece of a rare puzzle.
A sensible reader can see where the plot is going, but the journey is at least as interesting as the destination. In fact, "journey" is the word Chai uses for a spiritual experience which seems to involve leaving one's body temporarily. Lucy, as an imaginative person, "journeys" with ease the first time Chai gets her started. Each "journey" teaches Lucy more about her true nature.
Chai and Frank own The Four Winds, a restaurant and bookstore (where Lucy can promote her books), which is also a "New Age" gathering-place. As the relationship between Chai and Lucy deepens, Chai encourages her to explore the "four directions" of traditional spirituality, which take her to parts of her own psyche that have been closed off. Of course, The Four Winds is destined to multiply into a chain of four establishments, each in a different part of Chicago. Feng shui isn’t specifically mentioned, but location is important.
Lucy must get to know Frank as well as Chai, both separately and together. Chai and Frank must court Lucy in a way that doesn't make her feel threatened. Chapter by chapter, the characters and the reader wade steadily deeper into unmapped territory.
Somehow it all works, and the menu of the place has enough variety to please most appetites. The sex scenes range from gentle rituals to intense, spontaneous fucks, and each scene leads to greater trust among the characters. Throughout the saga, all three central characters keep the strangely innocent quality of people who never lose their ability to empathize with others. You'll be glad you met them.