“I wanted to write about people who were not just out, but out there, people who lived their sexual lives in ways most of us could only imagine … and for whom the flavor vanilla had absolutely no appeal. I interviewed porn stars, prostitutes, self-proclaimed sex pigs, and delved into bizarre sexual practices. It was eye-opening, arousing, and a lot of fun (but never, never good clean fun). I also include here my favorite dirty stories. They all explore a side of life that exists not in the twilight zone, but in my favorite destination … the sexual underground.” ~ Rick R. Reed ~
Tales From The Sexual Underground: Fact, Fiction and Stranger Than Fiction by Rick R. Reed is a daring and provocative collection of forty-three short non-fiction essays and fictional stories that explore the fringe of gay male sex – “fetishes, porn, misdirected affection, misguided objects of affection, polymorphous perversion or just plain perversion.” Both the title of the book and much of its substance are borne of a weekly column Mr. Reed wrote for a Chicago entertainment magazine called Nightspots. These non-fiction essays are complemented by the author’s favorite fictional dirty stories and the collection represents some of the author’s best writing to date.
The essays and stories themselves are grouped thematically exploring such themes as the power of sexual fantasies and solitary pursuits, sadism and masochism, various taboos, promiscuity and sexual thrill seeking at any and all costs. In addition to interviews with rent boys, “cum” sluts and gay porn stars like Jeff Stryker and Dawson, Mr. Reed also provides witty “how to” pointers on, among others, rimming, bondage toys and the hosting of an orgy. He also provides insightful commentary on a wide variety of issues pertaining to gay sex and sexual culture, including, on the politics and etiquette of cyber-dating and hook-ups, infidelity and monogamy, drug use, the gay porn industry and the truths and myths about being a slut.
All of the stories are extremely well written and Mr. Reed alternates perspectives between the first and third person in his fictional accounts. The author also provides a brief introduction for each story that cleverly hints at its subject matter but doesn’t reveal a thing. The collection begins with My Perfect Date easing the reader into the comforts of home when it comes to sexual gratification and ends with a Faustian-inspired tale of “mirror, mirror on the wall” in The Mirror. And in between, the author takes the reader on a whirlwind reading tour of the sexual underground – not a physical place, but rather a state of sexual life and being for many of the men featured in this collection.
While this collection as a whole is categorized as erotica, and many of the stories just downright sizzle, being the sexual underground, a few of the stories are inherently dark and by degrees unsettling. Having honed his craft as an author of the horror story and the suspense thriller to the level of standard-setting in both genres, Mr. Reed employs what I term as the “gotcha” technique for some of the darker stories. It is highly effective, whereby the reader is casually reading a seemingly hot erotic tale and all of a sudden the ground shifts and the bottom drops right out from under. And owing to the author’s rich descriptions and brilliant mood-setting several of the tales are strongly visual. Initiation immediately comes to mind as one story that could easily be retold as a chilling erotic horror film.
But not all is of darkness and the bizarre in this collection. Mr. Reed is quite flirtatious and cheeky with the reader by inserting himself in some of the first person stories teasing and challenging the reader as to their auto-biographical nature and some of these stories are hysterically funny, such as Sick Day. Then Mr. Reed swings back around with some sobering reality of the consequences of life on the sexual fringe with a grouping of very thoughtful and moving stories that include Off to See The Wizard of Poz, It Still Happens and Last Date.
Although there are many stories in this collection that stand out and I have several personal favorites, Stranger Danger remains the most unforgettable to me. It is not the darkest in this collection, but its main character young Bradley Sheffield continues to haunt me because of what he is willing to risk in his quest for sexual pleasure and gratification.
I make no bones about the fact that I am a fan of this author’s writing and stories. Aside from the fact that he is a solidly good writer and I enjoy his versatility in genre writing, whether in the realm of horror, the suspense thriller, erotica or romance, what attracts me to his stories most is that they are highly imaginative, they push boundaries and they challenge me as a reader. Tales From The Sexual Underground accomplishes all of this and more. And while a handful of the stories in this collection took me outside of my comfort zone leaving me wide-eyed and breathless, the thrill and anticipation of what was to come as I continued to turn the page was like an aphrodisiac.
There is a little bit of everything to sample and taste in this collection, but it may not be for everyone. Those readers who seek out more romantic themes and vanilla sex with perhaps only a touch of kink for spice in gay erotica will likely find some of the stories disturbing. However, those with a more libertine outlook on life, sex and sexuality will no doubt enjoy Tales From The Sexual Underground.
NOTE: This review was originally published online at Rainbow Reviews.