Once upon a time, a young woman stood at the edge of the library stacks, wondering where, oh where, she’d find her perfect story. Years went by, and she continued to seek the perfect story. One was too hot, one was too cold, very few were just right.
Still she kept reading, deciding that no one tome would fit her every mood. She settled on a mix of stories, figuring variety was the spice of fantasy. After all, there is a great difference between story and reality. One always ends just right, the other, well, you know how it is when you wake up to cat vomit. Or morning breath. They sometimes smell the same.
Nancy Madore’s Enchanted is a collection of erotic bedtime stories for women. Being a woman who goes to bed, I am totally the demographic for this book. The stories in this collection are based on fairy tales and popular female fantasies. You know, the little dreams that help us get through our days.
In theory, this is a great concept. The idea of the fairy tale as erotic story was most popularly mined by Anne Rice (writing as A.N. Roquelaure). She told the tale of Sleeping Beauty and her awakening. Suddenly fairy tales were less horror stories and more female fantasies. When these books were published, they were both mainstream and utterly shocking. They were also emotionally cold. Despite the intense themes of dominance and submission and humility and the right of kings (also, queens), the stories were told from a distance. Emotions skimmed the surface of the characters. Never once did we feel like future rulers of Rice’s kingdoms had experienced true humility in a way that made one think they’d be considering the little people when they raised taxes.
Madore’s fairy tales have the same type of emotional distance. In her introduction, she, rather assertively, states that the stories are based on the most popular female fantasies…but, never fear, they’re going to be quite safe. No reader kinks will be harmed in the telling of these stories. And I will remain fully feminist and self-determined at the end of the process. Not that I worried.
Rarely has an introduction made me feel less…aroused. I don’t need to be reassured by the author – up front – that these stories (and the very real fantasies they represent) won’t harm the women’s movement. The whole point of these fantasies, in my opinion, is the fact that they suggest all manner of politically incorrect things, an element of danger. Real women don’t fear their fantasies.
I deplore rape and all of its connotations and denotations (seriously, buy me a glass of wine and you’ll get a good hour or so on the topic, complete with loud ranting and raving, possibly pounding on tables); still, I, like many women, can understand a rape fantasy. Mostly because I understand the difference between said fantasy and actual violence upon a body. Likewise, I’m happy to read about situations I (probably) wouldn’t participate in personally. I mean, I’d be completely happy with six dwarves-turned-princes. Seven is overkill.
All the usual suspects are present in this collection.Beauty and the Beast. Snow White. Cinderella. Cat and Mouse. In Beauty and the Beast and Cinderella, particularly, Madore starts with a bold position: happily ever after ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. Beauty starts off the story collection noting that she misses her beast, and despite my lack of engagement with the story and characters, ends with one of the most surprising, wrenching lines I’ve read in a while. Had that raw emotion been present throughout the story – nay, book – this would be a different review. You know me, I rarely get tingly over sentences (okay, not true; I force great sentences upon innocent bystanders). This one convinced me to read on.
Cat and Mouse showed great promise as the characters played with notions of dominance and submission, but it, sigh, devolved into every “alpha male and the woman who tamed him” romance novel you’ve ever read. With considerably cooler sex. Again, it was the lack of emotion emanating from the characters. Madore employs a storyteller voice throughout this book, and given the subject matter, an omniscient third person point-of-view is distancing for the reader. Also, the odd reluctance to put real names to body parts. Fairy tale characters surely have slang terms for penis, otherwise my faith in fiction is completely dissolved.
Today’s erotica often relies upon very graphic sex to titillate readers; this is why it feels disposable and dull. Good erotica evokes deep emotional (and, okay, physical) reaction. Like the Rice novels, the stories in Enchanted create a barrier between the reader and the characters. I never wanted to turn the page, and probably wouldn’t have finished the book. But it turns out there’s a “you have to finish the book” rule here at PBR.
As I write this, I am living a sort of fantasy of my own. A robot is scrubbing my kitchen floor. A. Robot. Is. Scrubbing. My. Kitchen. Floor. I mean, it’s like watching a man vacuum. I can look and see visible evidence of cleanliness. And I feel great pleasure. I feel intense joy. I am anticipating what happens when said robot encounters the secret space under my desk. The deep recesses of the bathroom. The hidden spots that I like to call forbidden.
Fantasy comes in many shapes and forms, but it must touch an emotional core. I love the idea of alternate versions of fairy tales – anything to erase the horror story aspects they suggest – but the distant voice employed by Nancy Madore in this collection of stories left me cold. Maybe I’m old-fashioned or maybe I’m just old, but I don’t want my erotic bedtime stories to put me to sleep…