Playing With Fire - erotic book by Cleis Press Inc. - review by Jenny Swallows

Some Like It... Lukewarm?

A surprisingly unadventurous collection that simultaneously allows its contributors way too much wriggle room around an already creaking central premise.
Worth browsing, so long as you don't take the title too literally.
A few of the stories are way too short, and a few more are way too dull.
Rating by reviewer:
useful review
Among the friends with whom I share my love of reading erotica, Alison Tyler definitely appears to be something of an acquired taste. A little too eager to shock, and a little too willing to sacrifice a storyline for the sake of an unexpected twist. Which are not bad qualities by any standard. But they can be disorienting.

Which means Playing With Fire was something of a shocker, in that even its theme is tamped down and guarded. I'm not quite sure what I expected from the twenty-two stories within, but a few tales of fucking too close to the firelight, the odd human ashtray and, of course, the sexual heat of the habitual arsonist would not have been far from the truth. Instead....

Instead, Tyler's own contribution to the collection, "Some Like It Hot," might well be the most conventional tale in sight, a movie usherette torn between two men, so she has them both and then seems surprised when one of them has someone else. As her opening words explain, there are a lot of different kinds of heat, and this might well be one of the hottest.

Elsewhere, pyrotechnics continue to light up the sky, but they do so figuratively (Sommer Marsden's "Fire Woman," about a girl with a thing for the smell of firemen), rather than literally. True, Christopher Tolian's "Fireboy" is a blazing pyre of immolative euphemism, but it reads like a piece of sophomore homework, so wrapped up in its own literary cleverness that it forgets to actually tell its story. Thankfully it's at the end of the book (the last but one story) so it can't put you off.

Flick back a few pages. (It's okay, a lot of the stories are very short.) Heidi Champa's "The Last Cigarette" leads the charge, but there's a lot of smoking taking place in these pages, and there's a lot of friction, too. PS Haven's "Out of the Frying Pan" begins with two guys discussing what they can and can't do with one another's wives, and the immortal opening line, "Lynn told me you came in her mouth," and ends with the same speaker sniffing "now we're even." In another, Kristina Wright's "Where There's Smoke," the boyfriend's first words are about his unfaithful partner's secret lover. "Is his cock bigger than mine?"

There's the groupie journalist who gets her big break reporting on an orgy at a pop group's party (Thomas S Roche's "Hot Off The Press"), and Janine Ashbless' "Scorched" which comes up with a sentence that I really wouldn't care if I never read again: "Greg's fingers... found the sinkhole of her cunt." So I reread it three times, just to make sure. A male submissive gets himself so hot and bothered that he all but combusts to his Mistress's commands (JD Waters' "Flick That Bic"), and so we sizzle on in a collection whose titular unity is ultimately achieved only through the titles of the stories therein. Yes, there are many different ways of "playing with fire," but frankly, this book left me cold.

Which does not mean there aren't some excellent tales (rubbing up against some rather dull ones), some spellbinding writing (ditto) and some glorious sex scenes (double ditto). Just that they're not the ones, to repeat my opening observation, that you might expect or hope to find. Which means that Ms Tyler has done it again, and turned your own predictions inside out. And for that reason... yes, she remains an acquired taste.
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  • XxXxX
    Great job, thanks for sharing!
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    Thanks for your review!
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