cover image The Good Parts: The Best Erotic Writing in Modern Fiction

The Good Parts: The Best Erotic Writing in Modern Fiction

Various. Berkley Publishing Group, $12.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-425-17225-4

What Blair deems the best erotic scenes in the last 50 years of American literature have been collected in this ambitious anthology, with some of the 46 sexy pieces excerpted from such classic novels as Saul Bellow's 1954 groundbreaking The Adventures of Augie March and Philip Roth's The Professor of Desire. There are contemporary scorchers as well, like Mary Gaitskill's ""Processing,"" or A.M. Homes's ""Chunky in Heat."" Once-shocking stories such as Harold Brodkey's meditation on a young woman's first orgasm, ""Innocence,"" blaze beside lyrical entries by Michael Chabon, Susan Sontag, Don DeLillo and William Styron. Amy Bloom's ""Only You"" follows a quirky encounter between a married North Carolina woman and her cross-dressing lover. Pat Califia's ""What Girls Are Made Of,"" from the aptly named collection Melting Point, is a dark and stylish peephole look into the s&m lesbian scene involving women named Poison, Killer and Bo. Other high points include a romantic but realistic excerpt from E.L. Doctorow's Billy Bathgate and a sultry passage from The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos. In their original context, these ""good parts"" would have climaxed a narrative; here, they produce a rich, sometimes overstimulating effect. Nevertheless, taking into account the current glut of uneven erotica anthologies, this is a refreshing entry: a quality literary collection of beautifully written pieces that happen to be about sex. Not simply titillating, this book's range of voices, eras and settings provides a fascinating and revealing history of how sexuality in America has changed over the last half-century. (Feb.)