Book Review: ‘Kink’ edited by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell

A 2018 study by sex toy company EdenFantasys revealed that 40 percent of respondents considered themselves kinky, with over one-third claiming a specific fetish. Still, there’s an overwhelming dearth of affirming literature out there: There’s a lot of exoticizing, quite a bit of shaming, but very little normalization.

Enter Kink, a new anthology out Feb. 9, edited by Mission Creek Festival alum R.O. Kwon and Iowa City’s own Garth Greenwell. The stories in this collection are delightful twists on what is often presented as twisted. From a diverse collection of writers, these tales take us deep into the lives of an equally diverse group of characters, exploring their kinks and fetishes in emphatically normal ways.

There’s a lot of sadness in these stories, but it’s not the sadness of shame—it’s the sadness that’s often found in any collection of love stories. It can be hard to write stories of successful love without devolving into triteness (although a few here, like Callum Angus’ deeply beautiful snapshot story “Canada,” achieve it). The need for conflict to drive action and character choices often necessitates love stories that are tragic. But in this collection, it’s just another reminder that kink is simply another facet of love, another factor in our overall exploration of our partners and ourselves.

The greatest strength of Kink is in the arc of its organization. It’s a masterful tease in itself, slowly ramping up the intensity of the stories, from the relatively straightforward opener, Melissa Febos’ look at self and power, “The Cure,” all the way to the arch, heady, academic, post-coital feel of Chris Kraus’ closer, “Emotional Technologies.” It goes from tentative to visceral to contemplative over the course of 14 fantastic stories.

Among the stand-outs of the collection is Greenwell’s own heartbreaking “Godspar,” which feels like masochism just to read. It includes the thematic observation, “… there’s no fathoming pleasure, the forms it takes or their sources, nothing we can imagine beyond it; however far beyond the pale of our own desires, for someone it is the intensest desire …”

UI Writers’ Workshop grad Carmen Maria Machado’s achingly beguiling period piece “High Priestess in the Temple of Horror,” the collection’s longest work, was a favorite of mine as well. And Kim Fu’s “Scissors” is a masterpiece of tension and perspective, binding a profoundly intimate portrait of a relationship between performers to the show they perform together.

Kink is a must-read for anyone looking to expand their understanding of their own desires. Which is to say, everyone. No matter your definition of pleasure, you will find homage to it here. There is nothing voyeuristic about the experience of reading this collection (so apologies if that is your kink): These kinks are not exoticized or othered in any way. It’s not a collection of stories about “them,” but about “us.” Welcome home; get (un)comfortable.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 290.

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