An anthology of literary short fiction exploring love and desire, BDSM, and interests across the sexual spectrum, edited by lauded writers R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell, and featuring a roster of all-star contributors including Alexander Chee, Roxane Gay, Carmen Maria Machado, and more.
... a tasting menu of real variety, with flogged bottoms and lust-drunk tops mingling with vanilla straights nervously trying out their first slap ... There’s delight in Kink’s sensory abundance, the same way a buffet delights more than a menu. The more you read, however, the less the stories have in common...Kink is the absence of the normal, not the presence of something concrete ... That it’s easier to refer to a story about the concept than it is to define it outright bespeaks the maddening difficulty of representing sex in words accurately, let alone elegantly. This conundrum also lays bare our heavy reliance on fiction to describe and taxonomize what sex means for the human experience ... Such is the occasional corniness of Kink, which is not a literary problem so much as a feature of almost all writing about sex. That’s partly because satisfying real-life sex requires that we get vulnerable and un-self-consciously sincere about our needs, which is a way of communicating quite foreign to the cool and intelligent distance of the professional observer (the curator, the novelist, the critic). Making things worse, we prize originality in our language arts, while sex has remained much the same across the centuries, making cliché almost an inevitability in any sex scene committed to paper ... Not every story in Kink is a happy one, nor is every one particularly erotic. But each is a portrait of the way sex can turn slippages and differentials in human society—between people trying to understand one another through language, between the strata of power hierarchies, between differing gender expressions—into a phenomenon only fiction can really get at. Kwon and Greenwell’s Kink is an excuse to dwell in this confusion of ideas and juicy social problems, and an invitation to enjoy the sheer inexplicable fact that the body speaks a language we can’t understand.
[A] titillating collection of stories about sex, fetish, love, and loneliness from a diverse group of literary authors. Although the collection includes detailed descriptions of sex acts, Kink is primarily an exploration of intimacy, power, and our human need to share an emotional bond ... Little is left to the imagination with respect to explicit and diverse sex, and the collection benefits from the variety of voices offering a wide spectrum of narratives. Cis-gendered, hetero-normative sex is a minority in this collection; rather there is an intimate look into an array of matches, which at times stimulate more than just the mind ... The collection as a whole benefits from familiarity and intimacy. Many of the stories read like memoir, a testament to the adroit control of authorial voice ... They have recruited an all-star lineup of notable contributors who deliver stories that are fun to read while thoughtful about relationships, power, gender, and expectations.
... the tales sit at various intersections of smolder and technical accomplishment. Many do exert an indirectness or subtlety that bends the straight line from longing to gratification. Of these entries, some are arresting—the characters precise, the language invitingly lush—and some are inert. Several contributions evoke erotica, and a few manage to be both sexy and illuminating, although too much thoughtful interrogation can diminish the sex, like explaining a joke. What becomes clear is that a perhaps irreconcilable tension exists between a good story about kink and a good story about what kink means ... Stories that cut, as many of Kink ’s do, in the other direction—toward metaphor, subtext, an interior world—conform to our idea of good fiction, but they also seem to waste an opportunity to explore kink as an aesthetic ... the book doesn’t offer precise definitions of its subject, and so its aesthetics are also imprecise, defaulting often to a diligent seriousness. Mainly, the book bestows visibility: on unconventional desires, on the authors who depict them ... You might secretly wait and hope for the acknowledgment of your own proclivity—who wouldn’t—but it’s also pretty clear that part of the book’s allure flows from what could (charitably) be called curiosity, or (uncharitably) voyeurism. This isn’t unique to Kink, of course. On some level, to read anything is to press your face to the keyhole of other people’s fantasies ... I would be remiss if I did not mention that several of the stories in Kink are abysmally bad. You can pursue the causes, consequences, and metaphors of B.D.S.M. so studiously that the acts themselves become domesticated. (Also, several entries are rife with cliché—and not the liberating kind.) It’s curious that the collection declares its subject to be kink, not sex; doing so embeds the gathered work in a firmament of norms and identities rather than one of hungers, sensations. But maybe this is by design; as the reader’s mind tracks back and forth between bodies and definitions, she begins to see those definitions’ flimsiness, and to wonder about the unexpressed depths that live in each of us. Cultural judgments are never fixed, and the imprecision of the word “kink” in some ways echoes the imprecision of the word 'literature,' which depends on a superfluity of truth or beauty that is impossible to pin down. In that way, at least, art is exactly like smut: you know it when you see it.