"Nine out of ten bipeds surveyed will tell you it's the most fun thing in the world, but sex still remains a mystery," writes Jack Murnighan in the introduction to FULL FRONTAL FICTION: The Best of Nerve.com. Each of the 39 selections in this diverse and fearless volume deals with some aspect of sex or sexuality, from incest and adultery to stalking and cybersex, and even to wholesome marital intercourse.
Started three years ago, Nerve.com is an online magazine that publishes what it jokingly calls "literate smut:" fiction, poetry, photography, and journalism about sex. As a genre, it strives to differentiate itself from the crassness and meaninglessness of pornography and erotica, both of which, says editor in chief Murnighan, "remove sex from its real human context." Readers of FULL FRONTAL FICTION will find themselves aroused at many points but they will also find themselves by turns fascinated, amused, horrified, embarrassed and touched; as Murnighan puts it, "[A] Nerve story should be 'stimulating above and below the neck.'"
Selections include short stories and excerpts from longer works by celebrated authors, including A. M. Holmes and Jay McInerney, as well as lesser-known writers. Many of the entries aren't proper stories at all but one- or two-page vignettes. Of these, "When to Use," by Stacey Richter, is the standout. Parodying the style of the instructions in a package of douche, Richter writes, "Remember, this product is to be used for hygiene; it is not recommended as a method of expressing regret for joyless or ill-advised sexual encounters."
Two other short takes, "Aubade," by Carolyn Banks, and "Anniversary --- Eleven Years," depict nearly identical moments of Sunday morning tenderness between lovers. Both snapshots offer welcome respite from the angst and unhappiness that color the majority of stories in the collection --- stories of mutilation, obsession, deformity, paranoia, and humiliation.
In "Natoma Street," by Terminator (J. T. Leroy), a 15-year-old boy seeks out brutal sexual torture in an S/M dungeon to relive and atone for his childhood feelings of guilt. "The Velvet," by Will Christopher Baer, follows a disfigured, schizophrenic stripper in her wanderings through a hideous, decaying New Orleans underworld.
The bleakest story here, as well as the most affecting, is "Fourteen Days and a Possible Cure." Author Karla Kuban's account of a 40-year-old woman's desperate, neurotic attempt to get pregnant by a man she met through the personals has the unforgiving ring of truth.
Amid all this pain, attempts at humor are welcome, but the results are mixed. "As her Siamese twin joined at the skull, I know Becca wants to fuck Remus as soon as she says she's going to dye our hair," begins "ReBecca," a deft and clever but overly contrived piece by Vicki Hendricks. "The Resolution Phase," by Ellen Miller, is a goof about a couple in counseling, the gag being the husband doesn't know his wife is dead. It's a one-joke premise, delivering ham-fisted punch lines like "I could make a dead woman come" and "She's like a corpse."
The book's last story, however, "Alvin Happens Upon the Greatest Line Ever," is a pearl, telling the story of a boy who thanks God to find himself alone with "the hottest girl in school, right here in the church teen center" when nuclear war breaks out. Not only is Robert Olen Butler's first-person narration hilariously pitch-perfect, but he even manages to create emotional heft without sacrificing lightheartedness. But the best laugh line in the book goes to Daniel Hayes and his story, "26 Hours, 25 Minutes." The narrator, a stalker whose girlfriend broke up with him after he confessed his hobby, reflects, "It's funny what you find out about women, even after you meet them."
Reviewed by Jeff Bercovici (firstname.lastname@example.org) on October 17, 2000
Full Frontal Fiction: The Best of Nerve.com