Sex is life in acclaimed Waikato writer Tracey Slaughter’s latest short story collection.
Of course it’s there in Slaughter’s stories about affairs. In those pieces sex thumps and pants and dominates, it goes so hard it knocks grit off the ceiling and onto the bed, it sets fire to a marriage, it ends in blood and ruin. But sex is also there, throbbing away, in a story about a man watching his wife waste in the face of late-stage cancer. And it’s there, rutting against a fence, in a story about a woman whose son is paralysed in a rugby match. There it is, even, in if found please return to, the gorgeous, heartbreaking story about dementia that we published last year.
In this book, even when sex is not happening it’s still happening. When a teenage girl appears you can bet her thighs are baby-oiled. When a woman stands up from sex and goes about her day you know she’s going to tell us about the semen in her knickers. When she lies down alone at night she’ll hear the people in the next room banging.
God knows how Slaughter maintains it, all the urgency, the want, but there it is, everywhere, can’t miss it. And in this book it’s almost exclusively women doing the wanting. And even when it’s love it’s always pinned down by lust. And it is wonderfully written. Streaks ahead of all that erotica-veiled-as-contemporary fiction that’s coming out right now. Slaughter does it differently – vivid and intricate, visceral but also highly intelligent, changing all the time: 13 ways of looking at a blackbird, except with sex.
The thing is, trying to describe Slaughter’s writing doesn’t quite do the trick. And so I made this list, against all my prim better instincts, as a celebration of a writer who takes female desire seriously.
1. Her mind feels thick and wild
2. Pressed down on the whetstone of his fingers
3. She’s about the countdown of buttons, the business of cotton getting shed, the hot cost of it all come undone
4. Raising thick roses of flesh, leaving her plush
5. Moving in her clothes all filmy and succulent, the pink hinge sending up bolts of electricity, so her trunk glides around, indifferent, gauzy, blissed
6. Seam wet as a full mouth
7. So the kiss could go on, could be wholesale with soft wet longing and dizzy with wishful heat, and he could part-lift her in his go-getter hands and even start some hijinks with her bra and she could … huff pleas in his neck until they were both a write-off
8. My shorts ended high and tight. Bull’s-eye
9. Your knees loose and hazy with warmth when you see him … in the hipline want is making you tense and sway with a non-committal rock
10. Watching the wet crook of everything we wanted
11. I wanted to be marble, I wanted to be silk, so I’d stretched myself for hours, to clean, to shave
12. He worked on her
13 Anything to have ridden his shuddering into a drowsy layout of limbs, still panting
14. There’s the billow of him, kicking off all the covers, before the fabric melts to your skin
15. I was twitching in the drift of my skirt. I couldn’t keep pinned to a seat at home for an instant. I’d be staring at the clock hands bang
16. Lie back with your thighs in his thumbs’ soft garotte
17 When you were thumb-deep in my opaque school tights and I’d arch and coo on their 70-denier pucker
18. She walks in wearing this dirty, heaven-sent dress
19. Rigid on my teenage bedspread, cast up on one hand, fingertips working along to swashbuckling detail
20. The hands are making her dip and rise again, arc and lap and rise
21. Kisses in the threshed barn, the itchy glow of hay. Catching her breath in his laboured clothes, his musk of pine and turpentine and honey
22. She used to lie awake to watch them tremoring, the sheets kicked dreamy in the aftermath of sweat
23. Its girth and pump. The pulse at its base, the pearl at its tip
24. Every small town we drive through has a Coronation Hall. And at least one place where I could fuck you