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Review of Kristin Garth’s YOU DON’T WANT THIS
a very erotic short story collection
YOU DON’T WANT THIS. Kristin Garth. Pink Plastic Press. 2022. 161 pages.
Kristin Garth’s short story collection You Don’t Want This is a capillary-bursting, dopamine-cresting, psychosexual rush with a hefty side order of darkness. The majority of these stories revolve around a woman’s sexual experiences whether as a fully participating subject or as a sexual object taking in her surroundings and learning about the landscape of men’s and women’s desires. Those who have read Kristin Garth’s rapidly multiplying collections of poetry will recognize the heavily erotic subject matter but the form it is delivered in is slightly different and therefore there are slightly different shades of consciousness. That being said, the sonnet form, with combinations of internal rhyming patterns Garth has notoriously claimed as her own territory, does often survive in the prose of the stories, like a waltzing partner directing the reader to keep moving in time, keep stepping and whirling to a formal beat.
The title story, “You Don’t Want This,” nicely sets the stage for the secret world of transactions, delineations, understandings, and rules which populate the collection. A new, barely legal exotic dancer faces off with a customer in a strip club who dismisses her, saying he doesn’t want her because of her dangerously young age. As things happen she winds up giving him a little enticement in a lap dance before mastering him, cutting him off midway, and walking away with all of the power. The ending of the story as the dancer goes backstage to adjust herself is too much of an uppercut not to repeat: “I fix my braids and head out to find another you. I will be busy all night because you are everywhere. None of you want this. All of you are liars.”
The negotiations over power—who gets it, how it is taken or given, how it is enacted, what that differential means—gives the collection a strong intoxicating flavor of BDSM liqueur perfect for voyeurs. Dangerous encounters are best, if not for the characters, at least for the sake of fiction, it seems. Again and again the stories explore moments of sexual activation where control is lost—or transformed.
(Mild spoilers follow in this paragraph; if you are really curious about the predicaments and plot arrangements of Garth’s stories here, skip this paragraph and buy the book with no regrets.) Stories like “14 and Kneeling” and “Gynecology, Khakis, & Videotape” offer brief glimpses of young girls at crucial turning points and moments of what can only be called degradation. They are very difficult to read and contain bitter, harrowing, well-crafted endings that elevate them above being mere horror stories. “The Balletomane” is a welcome flash of humor as the director of an expensive ballet class has to contend with what is revealed by tardy payers. “Another Day at the Office” involves a woman and her friend invited to a hotel by an aging rockstar for whom such dalliances are commonplace, but not for the two women: sex can carve a vast gulf between its participants. In “You’re Just His Type” a young woman sitting in on a murder trial for a college course exchanges glimpses with the rapist-murderer on trial and becomes implicated in an unbearably intimate situation with him, with a shall we say “killer” ending.
It is not too hard to guess that Garth has learned from her prolific sonnet-writing how to tie a bow at the end of a narrative, how to give the material a final exquisite wriggle to expand the dimensions of understanding, how to peel away barriers to the revelation of truth. I am always won over by endings, the way they leave you hanging in mid-air with nothing to grab onto, and these endings were my favorite parts of reading the stories, some of which were very intense and had unpleasant themes. The final story of the collection is a novella called “The Meadow” and featured a sustained, vivid glimpse into the hermetic world of doms and subs. The interactions between the characters and the suspense was clever enough to keep me reading, even as the dire straits they were facing became more hellacious. The ending was satisfying, uplifting, and carried an important lesson for those of us who do not—at least consciously—inhabit such worlds of power and control and sexual transaction. For as arcane and specialized as the world of BDSM may seem, it might bear uncanny resemblances to the world of cloaked transactions and power plays the rest of us inhabit, without the reward of a clear sexual charge.
But is the book hot? Will it get you off? Under Garth’s management, the descriptions of the action are blistering and original and, not that I read a lot of erotic fiction, would seem to put other more tepid writers to shame. I’ve been watching Kristin Garth for a few years and can only say it’s heartening and inspiring to see her continue on her literary path and winning the game.
Follow Kristin Garth on Twitter at @lolaandjolie where I’m sure you can find info on how to buy the book which comes out March 31st.