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Brutal, Tender, and Taboo

Jack, recently done with university in Boston, returns to New York City restless. He knows that this is his “last summer” before becoming an adult and getting a job, and he wants to make it count. He talks about this with a friend of his at a diner in Greenwich Village, and by chance meets his accomplice. Like Jack, Jane is barely in her twenties, and their sexual romance is immediate, intense, and slightly dangerous. Soon after their first sexual encounter, they create a simple rule, to help make sure that this summer is the most memorable of their lives: whatever the other person wants, no matter how lurid or transgressive, they will agree.

The premise of Guy New York´s novella is simple, and as a whole I found it disturbing, arousing, and intense--often all at the same time. Cleverly framing the narrative of The Yes Rule as a memory, Jack recollects the scenes and events as happening a lifetime ago, back in the mid-nineties. With each chapter, as Jack and Jane continue raising the stakes of their game--from sex with strangers to multiple partners--the present-day Jack looks back on these recollected events with a heady mix of desire, fear, and sadness. Jack has ambivalence about this relationship from his youth: on the one hand, it was filled with passion and sex, but on the other it scared the hell out of him, too.

Guy New York has written over 25 books and hundreds of short stories in the past decade, and he classifies The Yes Rule as one of his “taboo books”. And with good reason: this story contains episodes and themes which are powerful, and not often depicted in mainstream or popular erotic fiction. There are book scenes that include mental and physical violence, twisted uses of power, and even goes right up to the edge of incest (in the form of Jane and her stepfather). To say this book is provocative would be an understatement.

There's a velocity to New York´s writing here which I found powerful and irresistible. Aggressive and direct, his words grab you by the hair and expose your throat for quick kisses, before ripping your clothes off. Jack and Jane are trapped in a kind of sexual madness, an obsessive frenzy of desire which escalates beyond expectation or safety. The Yes Rule puts you into the room with them, and keeps you there. For the duration of the book, the reader becomes a kind of accomplice in the couple's ever-increasing fantasies.

And this is perhaps why the novella is so potent, and so disturbing. The Yes Rule is reminiscent of George Bataille´s 1928 novella Histoire de l'œil, another brief yet sexually-charged story that dares the reader to confront their own limits while simultaneously getting you off. Some of the best erotic literature is dark, ending in tragedy or death: from O´s request to commit suicide to the inevitable execution of Giovanni or Dolores dying in childbirth; one could add the chiiling conclusion of Guy New York´s novella, which feels both inevitable and surprising.

In Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche wrote that, “When you look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.” Guy New York´s taboo book is for readers who want to swim in those dark waters, and let some of it enter the pores of your skin. Think of The Yes Rule as a kind of erotic delirium, a chronicle of increasingly dark fantasies that one gets to experience in the freedom and privacy of one´s own imagination. Though brief, this story is brutal, tender, insane, and sexually charged. You won´t forget The Yes Rule any time soon.

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