Porny Stories, by Eva Moran, DC Books (Punchy Prose), 189 pages, $18.95
Unisex Love Poems, by Angela Szczepaniak, DC Books (Punchy Poetry), 178 pages, $16.95
Reviewed here: Porny Stories, by Eva Moran; Unisex Love Poems, by Angela Szczepaniak
Desire - that restless itch, that violent ache, that plaguing affliction. In Eva Moran's debut collection, Porny Stories , characters grope wildly for relief in all sorts of places: a scuzzy bar broom closet; a "cougar and cheese" party; and, left alone, unrequited - "I will keep in touch. God! I will. I will touch myself while we keep in touch" ( How I Want You ).
A eccentric assemblage of narrative tales, Cosmo-style quizzes, how-to instructionals and odes to A- through D-list celebrities, Porny Stories is a rowdy romp through female desire: its dizzying attempts to stimulate sexually and simultaneously strike "romance gold," while various neuroses - insecurity, obsession, desperation and anxiety - consistently complicate, and frequently sideline, endeavours.
From the g-spot to the a-spot - "another invention to make you feel inadequate even while you are coming," quips Are You Dating a Man Ready for Middle-class Marriage? - Moran's cast (nameless, but for the suggestively candid first-person "I") is not easily dissuaded.
For all of its quick-witted "fuckaliscious" exploits, however, Porny Stories is no mere "soapy wet" Jessica Simpson "gyrating like a hood ornament … while wearing daisy dukes" ( The Glad Garbage-bag Man ). Nope. Moran - who's also a playwright: My Hand Her Story and Buried - incisively critiques those cultural mythologies that attempt to secure and regulate sexuality and desire.
Take the striking lead story, How I Want You . After a male friend jealously ascribes the heroine's numerous sexual sprees to low self-esteem, she finds herself anxiously unnerved, second-guessing her sexual prowess and suddenly unable to have sex; the very motivation with which she opened her story - "I want you to want me" (directed at the anonymous, absent object of her affection) - is suspect. When she begins penning "cream-scream"-worthy "gorgysporg" for the "lady-angular editors" at Harlequin, however, she begins to autopsy her previous sexual exploits. What follows is a deft examination of the disjunction (and liaison) between desire, the desire to be desired and perceptions of desirability. The results are hilarious and satisfying.
In Old , it's the post-30 "double bum - the regular bum and the cellulite bum just underneath the regular bum," and the general lack of "perk," be it "joie de vivre" or "glorious boobs" - that have got the narrator hung up on absentee genitals and the "pallid portrait" of her loneliness. Enter Lavalife, nightmares, a spiteful Whitney Houston, self-help books ("Happy Hypothesize," The Kitten Within insists) and a disapproving Einstein.
Gritty vivaciousness aside, Moran also finesses tenderness. Both Bun Head and Chuck-Chik exquisitely capture the volatility and vulnerability of teenage friendships that, fraught with infatuation, bruise violently within the temperamental and callous terrain of high school.
Sure, there are instances where the jokes fall flat. And yes, there are moments within which Moran's efforts to undermine cliché just aren't enough and the results are stale. But Moran, for the most part, sustains the fierce, boisterous clip of the text at large. And there are far too many sharp blows to skip this read.
Angela Szczepaniak's debut collection, Unisex Love Poems , also explores desire as affliction, but the contagion is made manifest through language: unruly words and letters that have glutted the body, confused meaning and contaminated articulation. An eloquent mash-up of poetry, prose, dialogue, monologue, snippets and shavings, Unisex Love Poems tells the story of an unlikely and awkward courtship that gains its momentum through the failures and possibilities incited by infection.
In Apartment 5d, slug has woken with "an h-rash. Raising the skin in weeping puffs. Delicious prickling itches, all haphazard across the belly." In attempts to isolate the germ-source of this "rogue typography," he begins to canvass the neighbours for similar "unaccountables and discrepancies," and finds a kindred spirit in apartment 4f's tightrope-walking klutz, butterfingers, who has developed a verbal rash, fragments that "trip crisp flutter" while she "floats gossamer over highwire and hardwood."
While slug obsessively dissects his lonely apartment for h-rash causation (Brown moth? Shower mould? Window pigeon?) and compiles intricate field notes, butterfingers, with keen lyricism, stutters and pinwheels through her dissatisfaction with relationships past - the imagined "vivisection" of this "bibliotheca of bygone beaux," stunning. She and slug's disjointed conversations - call, no response - beautifully straddle the stretch of alienation and longing within which both of their bodies are suspended.
Enter spitz and spatz, "the collapsible, diminutive legal duet." Clad in tuxedos and tap shoes, the pixie-sized "courtroom insurgents" have reopened slug's long-finalized divorce case in attempts to secure him a better settlement. Their slapstick high jinks tickle, flummox and distend architectures of meaning with delightful absurdity. As spitz notes when they lose slug's accent to the ex: "An apple or an acorn. Say you eat one of those. Then it becomes your property. See? On account of all the peristalsis and whatsuch." To that end, the "frog" in slug's "throat" is an "asset" that's up for grabs. "All your body processes are property," spatz explains. As far as he and spitz are concerned, slug is lucky he didn't lose his voice altogether. In effect, slug has lost his voice, given over, as it is, to h-rash musings: "Would you believe I've identified at least seven distinct fonts?"
While slug wrestles with the idea of enunciation, butterfingers yearns for "corporal fervour" and struggles to maintain her balance despite the "stray vocables" that "litter the wire chaotic" and threaten to stab her with "syllabic poison."
Interspersed throughout the narrative are recipes that court the consumption of vital organs (Larded Thymus Puffs, Stuffed Coeur, Butterflied Kidney) and excerpts from competing etiquette manuals: Gents are given advice on "snatching" one's "chance"; ladies are schooled in the art of chastity. Some of these interruptions add acute narrative depth to the curious relationship between slug and butterfingers, but it's the characters' ruminations that are most potent - be it slug's growing restlessness (insides "overrun by h-roots") or butterfingers' impatience with the conventions of romance, blighted as amour is by "sonnet stench" and "lexical narcissism," not to mention "haughty bridal banter."
Indeed, the "prattlechat disturbance" that's bullying butterfingers as it wafts in through the open window is "cookieblonde and pinkbowed with the insistence of ceremony and circumstance contractually obliged devotion."
At times, the relentless "syllable shifting" and "linguistic misadventures" within Unisex Love Poems verge on vertiginous and in the commotion, intricacies of character - namely, motivation and intent - are lost, along with our investment in the story. The concept, however, is fascinating, and Szczepaniak's contortions - fresh, witty and poignant - are worth entanglement.
Lisa Foad's story collection The Night is a Mouth has just been published. She lives in Toronto.Report Typo/Error