Pages of Pleasure
Updated: Oct 29, 2021
by Liz Asch
2021 (Cleis Press)
Liz Asch´s debut is subtitled a "collection of (mostly queer) short erotic fiction," and that parenthesis is neither an apology nor a warning. Instead, Your Salt On My Lips is a bold invitation into a fantastical world of pleasure and sensuality. In less than two hundred pages, each of this volume´s thirty-five stories becomes a kind of offering, a ballad of love and lust dedicated to Eros and Aphrodite. A master of description, Asch infuses her tales with an almost worshipful ardor of sex as a multi-sensory experience--its smells, its flavors, its textures. This book is tactile and corporal, like fingers grazing across one´s skin or a mouth licking between one´s legs.
Dialogue between characters is spare in this book, which feels like an intentional literary strategy. Perhaps Asch is inviting each of us to find a lover (or two, or three), and read these stories aloud together. There´s a celebratory spirit permeating Your Salt On My Lips, an earnestness and exuberance to this writing, which is palpable. All bodies and all desires feel welcomed here, and the diversity of subject contained within this collection is one its assets.
If it is not a genre already, Your Salt On My Lips feels like a pioneer text of "pansexual erotica": every kind of sexual act one could want or imagine appears at least a few times within these pages, as well as many more that push the boundaries of one´s imagination. There is sex between men, between women, between groups of two, three, four....and more. Refreshingly, there a number of erotic stories here featuring trans-identifying people, including "Drummer Grrl" and "At Home After Hours", which are some of the most engaging within the collection. Some stories are told from a first-person perspective whose gender is ambiguous, addressing a lover who is not specifically gender-identified. Across these stories, characters introduce themselves and their pronouns, make distinctions between polyamory and ethical non-monogamy, and the difference between one´s sexual identity and the sexual acts that get one off.
Clearly intentional, the cumulative effect of Your Salt On My Lips reverently maps a utopian world of erotic imagination where people are simply people, each in varying states of playful love and lust for other people. Sometimes, in the shorter pieces (ie those three pages or less in length), the "story" feels like little more than a sketch or the description of a mood. Jealousy, disappointment, or stress are mentioned only in passing in Asch´s book, if at all. Everyone seems to understand everyone else already, everyone is consenting and full of openness for whatever happens. These individuals feel less like real people, more like myths--archetypes providing lessons or guides towards a new way of seeing or organizing our experience of the world. Some of the stories inYour Salt On My Lips feel less like how people are, and more like Asch (and many more of us) wish people in the world could be.
In my opinion, Asch is most successful when working within a longer form, where she can explore the psychology of her characters in greater depth, so that they crystallize into sharper relief. "Girls On Top," where women and men ride a mechanical bull in a way you will never forget, is an excellent example of this. So is the "Bifurious" trio of stories, where we get to experience the multiple interactions between two men and two women. Possibly my favorite were the married lesbian couple of Shannon and Leigh, who each bring a sex fantasy to life for the other during each of their milestone birthdays in "An Added Thrill" and "Leigh´s Fiftieth." There, Asch takes the time not only to provide us with incredibly fun and sexy scenes between three to four people, but also shows the complex layers of intimacy between these two women at the heart of these tales.
Asch´s erotic visions are not limited to this time or this reality, either. She reimagines life in the Garden of Eden in "Adam and Eve and All" and upends the fairy tale in "Cinderella Subversion". She explores the metaphor of transformation in "Licked Chrysalis", playfully shares some sports fantasies in "Soccer Game" and "In the Scrum", and is flirtatious and fun with "Lust Off the Charts." The author also takes risks by exploring longing ("Slow Burn on the Beach") and the slow steps of a seduction ("Meet Me in the Salish Sea").
Your Salt On My Lips is a powerful and sensual introduction to a writer who seems to possess seemingly limitless ideas for erotic stories. Many of Asch´s works here could easily be expanded into novellas, as she consistently introduces the reader to creative and arousing situations that are sensual, positive, and welcoming. I look forward to seeing what worlds she creates for us all next.