Geography of Attraction
Ali May’s debut collection of erotic short stories, Geography of Attraction, takes the reader around the globe, pausing breathlessly to observe the fleeting flirtations and longings of others as nationalities and philosophies entwine and people connect through that universal language, desire.
As one might expect from a collection of erotica bound together by themes of geography, nationality and travel, location is a vital ingredient in May’s vividly described sexual escapades. ‘The Interview’, for example, is a tale of a furtive homosexual encounter set against the backdrop of the stifling and arbitrary Iranian regime:
“The golden dome of the ayatollah’s mausoleum shines from the distance. Cars overtake one another as if something better than a traffic jam awaits them. He asks the driver to put Radio Payam on, so he can try to calm down to some chill-out music, tunes modified, vocals chopped off, so that they adhere to Islamic code.”
Even music written to relax the mind carries a sense of unseen threat, of free thought and speech being monitored. This oppressive atmosphere influences the lovers’ Grindr flirtation and informs their eventual encounter: ‘They fuck against a north-facing window and to the phallic view of Milad Tower. He is surprised that he can get an erection with all that is on his mind.’ Joyfully for the reader, sex wins out against oppression; the body and its needs unfettered by the regime’s attempts on the mind.
People’s bodily desires reflect their surroundings in this book, and space, openness and freedom are often the environment in which eroticism is rooted: the sinister protagonist of ‘Once Upon Piscinas’ weighs up sex, life and death in the company of a woman who twirls in his arms, ‘her long form echoing the trees above our heads’. In ‘White’ a woman wanders a modern art gallery, but closes her eyes and ‘imagines all the artworks gone, the room decluttered, the windows open, the sea breeze free to come in from any direction’. It is the breeze created by another body, ‘a force of freedom loose in the church-like gallery’, which brings the blood to her face and sparks the beginning of an affair.
Sex is freedom for those characters whose surroundings are more enclosed. In ‘Eastern Connections’, a Korean woman takes an Iranian lover as she tours his country, exploring him as she explores the cities of Iran:
“The tour went to Tabriz, Isfahan, Shiraz and even the holy city of Mashhad. We fucked in every city and each time with the urgency and awareness of temporary lovers.”
Characters step from their ordinary lives to experience new cultures, and there open their minds and bodies to others. If the pleasure of travel is the sensory intensity of new experiences and the mutability of life on the road, it has an ideal bedfellow in sex. May’s descriptions of foreign lands and bodies celebrates the joy to be found in both, and adds a supercharged dimension to the holiday romance.
Capturing the erotic charge of an unknown place or a fleeting moment is May’s strong suit. The verbal exchanges between characters are, however, not as engaging as the physical ones and can feel like an interruption for a reader immersed in May’s lucid descriptions and subtle character portraits:
“I like men who show initiative. And that was your second already.”
“How well you notice.”
“How can you get what you want if you don’t notice?”
“Very true. But let me tell you something. I can’t help but notice that you are young.”
“So? You are young too.”
“Yes I know. But if I said YOLO, I would sound ridiculous. If you said it, it would be cute.”
“Oh shut up, I’m not an underage teenager.” She slapped me on the arm.
While the dialogue captures the awkwardness of real life flirtation, it jars with the sophistication of the characters and settings. This dissonance is particularly striking when compared to one of the strongest pieces in the collection, ‘Concerto’. Here May paints an unsettling picture of a musician who rejects verbal communication, preferring the sound of her bow on cello strings and the crack of her whip on flesh.
In spite of the occasionally unconvincing expository dialogue, May’s collection is brimming with the sights and sounds of the world and ranges as widely in its imagined sex scenes as in geographical region. Geography of Attraction is the perfect travel companion this summer, and will open your eyes to the romantic potential of the world around you.