Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Book Review: "Amorous Woman"

I read it a while back, but I wanted to write a review for Donna George Storey's book Amorous Woman, because it's rare that an erotic book captivates me as much as this one did. I had been eagerly awaiting its release since I first heard about it, and not only did it not disappoint, but it even managed to impress this old jaded reader. And with 23 5-star reviews on Amazon- almost unheard of in terms of book reviews, especially erotica, which rarely can satisfy all the disparate predilections of its very diverse readers- it's destined to be a classic in the genre.

Don't let its rather tacky cover fool you: it really should be a Caucasian woman on the cover, since that is its protagonist. As the book blurb says, "For a sum much smaller than a plane ticket an American woman can travel to a rustic hot-spring inn where anything goes after midnight, don the gorgeous kimono of a Japanese bride, romp in the dungeon rooms of tacky love hotels, act out an orgy straight from manga porn, and slip inside Kyoto’s most exclusive restaurants for exquisite dinners of seduction. The Amorous Woman experiences almost every flavor of erotic pleasure Japan has to offer—and she’s happy to take you along for the ride. Inspired by Ihara Saikaku’s 17th-century satiric novel of the pleasure quarters, this story of an American woman’s love affair with Japan— and many sexy men and women along the way— gives readers a chance to journey to a Japan few tourists ever see."

It's interesting . . . I read Amorous Woman in the same period of time that I read Sheridan Prasso's The Asian Mystique: Dragon Ladies, Geisha Girls, And Our Fantasies of the Exotic Orient (as I am wont to do . . . too ADD to focus on one at a time, I suppose), and the effect was disorienting: one book critically dissecting the racism, stereotyping, objectification, and imperialist fantasies that provide the erotic charge and fetishization of Asia, and the other blatantly encouraging it (well, not the racism- mostly just the objectification), relishing in the exoticism in what could almost be considered an affair with an entire country, and not just the men in it. And yet while she's certainly fetishizing Japan, it doesn't feel bad in any way (I wonder if I'd feel the same if it was written by a white man?). Donna's love and respect for Japan and Japanese culture comes across as strong and pure.

I'm sure, of course, that I'm bringing my own experiences to the reading. Certainly, the history-drenched Kyoto Prefecture is as different from Ibaraki Prefecture (where I stayed) as New York differs from, say, Houston. But the experiences of a foreigner in Japan seems to be mostly the same everywhere, and everything resonates beautifully, from the evocative descriptions, the perfectly selected details, even to the sex (as someone shocked by my attraction to other foreigners who I wouldn't have given a glance in America, I appreciated the gaijin-gaijin fling in the book- it rang very true for me). Those who have visited Japan will undoubtedly be instantly transported back, and those who haven't will be introduced to a rich panoply of cultural landscape.

And then there's the next best thing: straight Asian guys! Yay! They still may not have much of a/any representation in porn, but Storey definitely adds to the small but precious list of eroticized, heterosexual male Asian characters, with loving, hot descriptions that come from someone who truly 'gets it'. (For all you looking for more, I've compiled a short list of some other Asian men in erotica- got any more?: the scrumpdidilyupmtious character of Takeshi in Madelynne Ellis' Dark Designs, David Imakita of Emma Holly's In The Flesh, the unnamed lover of Marguerite Duras' The Lover, and the collection On A Bed Of Rice).

But enough discussion of the Asian/Japanese aspects of the book (since, I'm aware, there are folks out there who aren't as in love with it as I am). This book is well-written. I mean, seriously well-written. I'm not talking about your usual "hey, hot erotica without typos and grammar errors!", but about the kind of writing style, in terms both of lyricism and structuring, that almost gives you chills. Everything seems crafted to add deep layers of eroticism and emotion, from the general outlay of the narration (it takes place as Lydia's recounting of her experiences to two men preparing to go to Japan), to the clever introduction that foreshadows the tale, and the neat tricks used to jam-pack sexy action in and up its levels of heat without turning our heroine into a cliched slut or throwing away reality. And this is only the structure. The sensuality of the words, the way they flow and build- it's all very, very delicious. The entire novel has a deep mood about it that's almost haunting. And the story is good; good enough that I'd be willing to read it even with all the sexin' taken out. Not to mention that so much of the book goes back to feeling real (probably because a good deal of it was autobiographical . . . how much, I'm not sure, though I certainly am curious). I won't give away any plot points, but it's rare for an erotic book to address some of the unsexy issues here, and to do it so well- the portrayal of an entire woman, instead of just segmented-off sexuality and happy-ending-no-complications romance. But don't be fooled- the sex in here is wonderfully varied and very steamy.

So yeah. Amorous Woman gets 6 stars out of five for making me pull it out of the drawer more times than anything else- and for making me daydream about it when I'm not reading it.

1 comment:

Donna said...

I just happened upon your wonderful review and wanted to comment, although it's hard because I'm pretty much speechless! If you asked me what I'd hope someone would say about Amorous Woman, you've pretty much covered it all here--my fantasies come true.

And since you mentioned you were curious, a lot of the book is taken from my personal experience, although I always pushed the limits, and the characters tend to be composites of a number of lovers/friends. So it's definitely all true where it matters ;-).

Again, thank you so much for your generosity in reading the novel and writing such a rich review. Taihen osewa ni narimashita!