This single-author collection of lesbian erotica by Sacchi Green includes stories that first appeared in anthologies such as Best Women's Erotica, Best Lesbian Erotica, Best Transgender Erotica, and two anthologies edited (and co-edited) by Sacchi herself. It's a pleasure to find them all in one place.
The strength of these stories is in the imagery, especially the sensual descriptions which seem to have no direct connection to sex. In every story, the setting sets the tone and blends with the sex scenes and the physical characteristics of the characters. In some cases, a spectacular natural environment (the Grand Canyon, the coast of New England) seems to inspire sex between women which could not have occurred anywhere else, or in any other way.
In "Petroglyphs," a woman who is at home in the wilderness senses that she has company:
"Something moved among the Douglas firs where the forest sloped upward toward burnished rock. The short hairs at the nape of Sigri's neck prickled with the sense of being watched."
Sigri's mare shows a similar reaction.
A person with skin tones to match the burnished rock attacks Sigri, who fights back with the skill of long practice. Then the reader learns that the wrestling match is a game, not a historical battle of First Nations warrior against Viking explorer. The two women have an old agreement about which moves determine the winner. As the play-fight segues immediately into grappling of a different kind, the reader learns more about their relationship, and Sigri's commitment to her "wife" on the ranch.
Rock formations play a large role in this story, as well as in “Of Dark and Bright,” “Long Meg,” and “Bright Angel.” The distinct shapes, textures and density of rocks in natural settings suggest the physical and emotional strength of butch women who have survived beyond youth. In lesbian culture, rock suggests “stone” (an unwillingness to be penetrated or to be sexually passive), but the women in these stories are willing to give as good as they get, and vice versa.
The fantasy elements in these stories all seem connected to earth magic, the power of the natural world to transport a susceptible person into another era (which the rocks, the trees and the rivers “remember”) or another dimension. The effect of the descriptions is uncannily plausible.
“A Dance of Queens,” set in the time of Shakespeare and Good Queen Bess, combines several of the major themes in the collection: the power of the natural world, gender-fluidity, and an actual person (the queen herself). In this beautifully-written story, the author makes good use of the theatrical tradition in which all roles were played by males. In the artificial world of the Elizabethan theatre, feminine-looking boys were chosen to play women, and women who wanted to act had to appear to be males with an exceptional talent for playing female roles. (This is the plot device behind the film Shakespeare in Love.) In this story, the narrator is an actor whose "love" is another member of the troupe, and the Queen's messenger is a magical female dwarf. Anything can happen on Midsummer's Night.
In another famous-person story, "Dietrich Wears Army Boots," Marlene Dietrich entertains American troops in Europe during the Second World War. As a German actress who defected from her country, she knows how it feels to be an outsider. When she meets a Red Cross ambulance driver who is not as male as he looks, she keeps his secret.
The author convincingly evokes the live-for-the-moment atmosphere of wartime. In two stories, "To Remember You By," and "Alternate Lives," an American nurse has an affair with a woman pilot in 1943, then reconnects with her in 1978. The queer politics of the decades after 1969 are simply not relevant to this plot. Kay, the narrator, is a sexually inexperienced young woman during the war, and she is swept off her feet by Cleo, who loves the open sky. Kay has an epiphany:
"I'd admired women before, but only esthetically, I'd rationalized, or with mild envy; and, after all, I liked men just fine. But this flush of heightened sensitivity, this sense of rushing toward some cataclysm... This was unexplored territory."
The two women are pulled apart by circumstances at the end of the war. For years, no one in Kay's life suspects how deeply she was affected by her wartime romance.
Eventually, the wife of Kay's grandson proposes to make a documentary about American nurses in the war, and her questions bring all the memories back. These memories include the story of her bittersweet reunion with Cleo in Alaska in the 1970s, when women are finally admitted into the U.S. Air Force and "the WASPs of WWII got a little overdue recognition." By then, it is too late for Kay and Cleo to pick up where they left off.
This saga hits all the right notes. It seems as believable as my own mother's story of her lesbian romance in New York City in the late 1930s, when "gay" bars were unheard-of, but "Bohemian" culture and special circumstances created social space for same-sex relationships. In the social mainstream, a lesbian identity was hard (if not impossible) to maintain, and my mother's wartime photos include shots of her wedding to my father, a dashing U.S. Navy officer.
The title story of the book, "A Ride to Remember," is a historical piece with a steampunk flavor. In fin-de-siecle London, a young woman opera singer is invited to spend a decadent weekend with a group of young men-about-town, disguised as one of them. A mechanical genius unveils a steam-driven carousel as the climax of the house party. His audience seems unimpressed until the mechanical animals reappear with live female riders, all naked except for masks, boots and headdresses. The circular, up-and-down movement of the animals facilitates a dazzling sexual display. The young woman in trousers has a life-changing experience.
The different historical eras dealt with in this book are parallel to different stages of an individual life. Several of these stories show the "second adolescence" of an older woman in love. In "Of Dark and Bright," the narrator contemplates her crush on another woman:
"Where does this surge of raging hungers fit into life's cycle? ...You'd think some wisdom would have been gained, in all that time; but not enough to ease me through this turmoil."
The author's own experience has clearly resulted in a richness of perspective. There are only thirteen stories in this book, but each is almost as complex and absorbing as a novel.