BITTERSWEET by Amber Hipple
LL Publications, 2009, 110 pages, 978-1905091-31-7, Digital Edition, $5.99
This collection of short stories is the first work that I’ve reviewed in this particular genre and, I’m glad to say, it has succeeded in surprising me.
So often erotica turns out to be formulaic or even dull in its execution, but Amber Hipple has approached it in a way that, for me, is different and quite enjoyable. Her writing is sensuous, and the first-person narrators somehow manage to tell you what’s happening in the present while still holding you in suspension, either within their minds or in some moment of the past. Her descriptions are lengthy and all the better for it, offering details to all five senses that should satisfy even the most elusive of imaginations.
My favorite story, by far, is “Fulcrum,” which starts out using Sno-cones as a central element, believe it or not, and moves on from there. It includes most of what I really like about Hipple’s work, particularly in the imagery and in the sense of being personally involved in the moment (with the added benefit of the Sno-cones, of course, which I’m pretty sure everyone has had at least once, and that makes it a great focal point). Her handling of the first person narration works well to that end. Even in the stories where the narrator thinks of him- or herself as having qualities or features different from those of the reader, it is not at all difficult to connect.
There are various themes in Bittersweet. Among them are cruelty, pain, submission, belonging, love, and desire. In some cases the theme is easy to pick out while, in others, it’s delightfully understated. These thematic elements make reading the stories exciting because they direct the erotic elements and give them more purpose and feeling than I’m usually inclined to associate with this genre.
I also appreciate that Hipple portrays different types of people in her work — that is to say, people with different body types. Not everyone becomes a stick thin model with perfect skin and hair, and there are more than a few characters who appreciate the imperfect, or who, themselves, fall outside the typical societal view of beauty. While reading, I was occasionally reminded of the anti-blazon in Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 — an obscure reference for some, I know, but it’s a similar idea and I enjoyed seeing it in use (for a specific example of what I mean, try the story “Clear, Cold”).
Overall, this is a lovely collection with stories that are capable of drawing you in to be lost in the details and atmosphere of the narration. Even their order is arranged to this effect, beginning with the sharp and startling “Blood on Snow” and ending with the restful “Mar.” You won’t want to rush through them, believe me. My suggestion is to give a little space in between each story so that you can better savor and appreciate what they have to offer.
Bittersweet will be available on March 30th at logicallustbooks.com in both print and e-book formats.
Thank you to Amber Hipple for providing me with a review copy of this novel.