"Nymph," Francesca Lia Block

Pros: Surreal, supernatural, interconnected erotic fantasies; unusual
Cons: Somewhat staccato style; telling; some purple prose
Rating: 3 out of 5

First published 6/17/2003
Review copy courtesy of Circlet Press.

Francesca Lia Block’s “Nymph” is a tiny little collection of erotic short stories of an unusual nature. They’re largely interconnected (some of them through small details; in others we see returning characters), and they’re of a modern urban fantasy genre. Plum, for example, finds that every time she makes love to someone, shortly thereafter they find their true love (and somehow, it’s never her). She consoles herself by telling herself it’s her gift, that she can make others happy with it.

Coco wants to be a dancer, and she’s willing to do anything to have her dream, even accept a man’s offer of free plastic surgery to make her more beautiful. But when he told her she’d look like a goddess, she didn’t know it would be quite such a literal thing.

Pretty much all of the characters seem to be living messed-up lives in the pursuit of love and other people’s happiness. Nurse Karen Milk spends her time giving her patients a last taste of pleasure before they die. Sylvie and Ben’s relationship is on the rocks–until the night they sneak into a haunted house. Tom Mac seems to have given up on his life, until he meets a most unusual woman in a wheelchair who seems to know everything about him.

In “Nymph” sex is a thing of desperation, control, and ultimately, healing. It is the connection between people that destroys and rebuilds lives. The stories are quite explicit in nature, but I believe they fit well into the category of “erotica” rather than “pornography.” Sex is a means to an end in these stories, not the end in and of itself, and it’s more a depiction of the relationships between people than something meant purely to arouse.

The style ranges from staccato and plain to somewhat purple and flowery. Sometimes the stories spend a fair amount of their time telling us how someone feels, giving us a bit of a trip through their mind. I find it to be a somewhat awkward style overall.

There are nine little stories in here, in a book just a few inches across and tall (my paperback copy could fit in a good-sized pocket, easily). I read the entire thing in about an hour, but perhaps the best way to read it is one story at a time.

If you’re looking for an unusual sort of bedtime read, something definitely different, this might well qualify. These stories are sad and beautiful, depicting the best and worst of our search for love–taken one step further into a world of metamorphosis and haunting magic.

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