A review of

My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up

by Stephen Elliott

Central question: Is it possible to be tenderly abused?
Format: 123 pp., paperback; Size: 5.5" x 8"; Price: $13.95; Publisher: Cleis Press; Book design: Karen Quigg; Cover design: Scott Idleman; Cover art: Laurenn McCubbin; Typeface: Egyptienne; Level of accuracy in the title story, according to author: 100 percent; Author is founder of: the Progressive Reading Series; Author is executive director of: LitPAC, a literary political action committee; Why we shouldn't self-censor according to author: “If we don’t take credit for our sexual identities, we don’t have any political power”; Representative sentence: “I was an ugly child, fucked once from kindness.”

One of the vexing mysteries of modern letters is why so few authors choose to write about sex. I don’t mean sex as peddled by Madison Avenue, or the San Fernando Valley, but sex as it actually exists in our lives: an insatiable, ecstatic, and profoundly fraught experience. Thank God, then, for Stephen Elliott. In this slim volume of stories, he writes about almost nothing but sex.

“This could have been a sexual memoir,” Elliott notes in his wry introduction. “Ultimately, I made the poor marketing choice of calling this a book of stories because there were too many things in it I knowingly made up.” He didn’t make up the rude bits. Those, he assures us, are lifted directly from his life.

For Elliott (a frequent contributor to this magazine) sex is not so much a source of pleasure as a gateway to the trauma of his youth, much of which was spent as a ward of the state of Illinois. The typical Elliott liaison is the precise opposite of the airbrushed misogyny that passes for erotica in the popular imagination:

Mr. Gracie didn’t ask me if it was OK and he didn’t apologize afterward. When I masturbate at night I think of him, not of his image or his malty smell, just the darkness and the fear and the pain… And that’s what I think about when Bell buckles into her strap-on and pushes me over the table, her thick hand around my neck closing my windpipe, the weight of her wide hips pressing against me.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please visit our store to purchase a copy of the magazine.

—Steve Almond

Steve Almond is the author of the story collections My Life in Heavy Metal and The Evil B.B. Chow. A collection of essays, (Not That You Asked), comes out in September.

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