Really, there is only one thing you need to know about Jeff Mann’s erotica.
It is hot.
(And coming from someone who admits to no interest in bondage, now or ever, that’s saying something.)
This is, of course, testament to Mann’s ability as a writer. Mann clearly writes what he knows; but it is a rare writer who can write about sex with such poignancy and humor (yes, humor!) and with such honesty and authenticity.
Consent, recently published by Unzipped Books (the erotica imprint of Lethe Press) collects ten stories by Mann, each previously published in other erotica anthologies, and all with a focus on bondage. A variety of scenarios set up the sex, but each one of his stories is a fully crafted narrative; although what constitutes a happy ending may be somewhat ambiguous in a story centered on BDSM. (In any event, this is an erotica collection, not a romance collection, so happy endings are not guaranteed.)
There is just one recommendation I would make concerning this collection, and it is this: Consent is not a book for reading entirely at one sitting (especially if one may be unfamiliar with bondage as part of sexplay). Doing so will cause the stories to blend one into the other: most are set in Appalachia, with one of the protagonists (the dom, usually) as a thinly-veiled stand-in for Mann. (Indeed, “Inescapable” and “Demon Seed” strike one as autobiographical recollections, despite the fantastical elements in the first story.) Best to savor each of these stories individually, like the bourbon that Mann obviously favors.
This volume also includes three original pieces. The opening nonfiction essay, “A Defense of Erotica,” in the vein of a classical apologia, reminds one of a similar essay written by the late John Preston about being a pornographer. “Erotica is about passion, and passion is about life, and life is most especially to be celebrated and affirmed in dark times such as these.” Mann, as a member of a life-affirming religion (neo-Paganism) makes a strong case for the religious aspects of his writing, and religious metaphors can be found throughout his stories, most notably in “Highland Sleeper” and “In the Shadow of Devil’s Backbone.” Mann’s passion for and about eros is a direct reaction to the shame he has been made to feel about his erotic leanings, a shame experienced by several of his characters.
The remaining two original pieces close the collection. “Triptych” is a retelling of the photo shoot (in which Mann himself participated) that produced the cover and interior photographs, entwined with an idealized, erotic reworking of that weekend as reimagined by Mann. “Triptych” is the most humorous piece in the collection, from Mann’s wry observations of the shoot, becoming laugh-out-loud funny when his fantasy really takes flight near the end. “Carpetbagger,” which closes the volume, is the longest piece, a short novella. Here Mann gives full rein to his erotic impulse, and even though this story too is set in Appalachia, with a Jeff Mann-like character, it is unlike the other stories in the collection, mostly due to several plot twists within the story that I will not disclose here. (An homage to Lee Thomas, it almost could be a Thomas story, with break-neck pacing and a captivating narrative that demands a reader’s attention.)
Appropriately, Mann’s sensual writing is accompanied by erotic illustrations, an additional appeal to the senses. Besides photos from the above-mentioned photo shoot, the introduction is illustrated with black and white drawings; unfortunately my advance reader’s copy does not credit the artist. Obviously this book will appeal to fans of Jeff Mann; however, collectors of well-written erotica will enjoy these bedtime stories too.
Reviewed by Keith John Glaeske