Night's Kiss

by Catherine Lundoff
Lethe Press, 2009

Mythologies have always offered fertile ground for nurturing fiction. Catherine Lundoff's wonderful new collection of lesbian erotica ranges widely through the landscapes of legend.

In "Arachne", Ms. Lundoff elegantly reshapes the Greek tale of the consummate weaver, who does not commit suicide as rumored but rather is whisked away to Athena's temple to serve her divine opponent/lover. "The Goddess Within" brings the many-breasted Artemis of Ephesus into a modern city, where she inspires a riot of sensuality. "She Who Waits", very possibly the best vampire story I've ever read, provides a seductive and chilling reinterpretation of the undead archetype.

Ms. Lundoff does not limit herselve to classic mythology, though. "Viva Las Vegas" takes on the modern myth of the King of Rock and Roll, in a rollicking tale of two female Elvis impersonators on the loose in the capitol of chance. "An Incident in Whitechapel", one of my favorite selections in the volume, revives the legendary Jack the Ripper with a twist that will leave you squirming in your chair. Night's Kiss also takes on the legendary figures of romance and popular culture: pirates in the sensual and swashbuckling "On the Spanish Main"; rodeo cowhands in the naughty "Cowgirls and Science"; seductive aliens in "Planet 10".

Not all the stories in the collection have fantastic or mythological elements. Some are more realistic, superbly capturing the thrills and ambiguities in lesbian relationships. When I first read "Phone, Sex, Chocolate" in Rachel Kramer Bussel's Sex and Candy anthology, I thought this sensual and messy tale of unrequited desire was one of the best stories in the volume; rereading did not change my opinion. "Burn" is an intense vignette, a peek into the details of a loving BDSM relationship - no plot, just emotion and sensation. And the bittersweet "Left Bank" unfolds mostly in memory, as the narrator goes to meet a lover whom she has not seen in many years.

Themes of dominance and submission wind their way through many of the stories. Though the reader will not find any stereotyped mistresses and slaves, at least half the tales involve surrender to a powerful woman (or, in one case, a female alien!) The stories with the most explicit BDSM themes (including both "She Who Waits" and "An Incident in Whitechapel") tended to be the ones I enjoyed the most. I don't know whether this says more about Ms. Lundoff, or about me.

The women in this book are lesbians, but the labels and categories so prominent in some lesbian erotica are mostly absent. Ms. Lundoff doesn't really say whether her women are butches or femmes, boyz or trannies. Her stories to a large extent transcend the pigeonholes of lesbian subculture. This may irritate some lesbians, but it made the book far more accessible to me, a bisexual who is strongly attracted to women but is totally clueless about all these distinctions.

All in all, Night's Kiss is a rewarding read on many levels. Thrilling, thought-provoking, arousing and entertaining, Ms. Lundoff's stories exemplify the depth and breadth of modern erotica.

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