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"Pleasure and the Text": Christine Smallwood on Paul Chan's New Lovers series


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At the Bookforum website, Christine Smallwood reviews a few recents books published by Paul Chan’s New Lovers imprint, which releases novella-length erotic fiction wrapped in a signature purple cover. Smallwood writes about My Wet Hot Drone Summer by Lex Brown, Burning Blue by Cara Benedetto, and Fantasian by Larissa Pham, lavishing particular praise on the latter for its non-idealized yet steamy descriptions of sex. Here’s an excerpt from the review:

Erotic prose attempts to do the impossible—to fully describe the sexual act, to give it some kind of linguistic plenitude. The fantasy of erotica is the fantasy of satiation—of orgasms so shattering that they leave a person drained, exhausted, satisfied, done. In its desire for plenitude erotica has something in common with realism itself, which aspires to a complete description of the world. What makes Fantasian smarter than most erotica is that it doesn’t try to convince you that these orgasms are The Best Orgasms of All Time. It’s not that interested in impressing you with brute acrobatics. And instead of la petite mort, it ends with actual, literal death—three of them. After the ménage à twins, the narrator douses the bed in gasoline and lights a cigarette. It’s an auto-da-fé of rage.

My Wet Hot Drone Summer also comes to a violent end. Mia, the lawyer, beats and zip-ties the villain who’s been interfering in her case. Then the cyborg Wes attempts to rape Mia. Her friend Eva saves her by ramming the electromagnetic dildo in Wes’s ass, which gives him a seizure. Mia then beats Wes’s dick with her fists, and crushes it underfoot. She drags him into the hallway, where he lies on the floor, convulsing. All that’s left in the room is “a few drops of blood remaining as proof of what happened.” But that’s still not the most shocking thing that happens in the New Lovers series. In Burning Blue, the narrator is going through . . . menopause.

Image via the Paris Review.