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My Girlfriend Comes to the City and Beats Me Up  

A clear-eyed autobiographical collection of stories set in the Mission District

By Stephen Elliott

Cleis Press (October) $13.95

The paramours in San Francisco writer Stephen Elliott's new collection of stories do much more than land a few closed-fist blows. These women (some girlfriends for the night only) frequently employ rope, butt plugs, nipple clamps, knives, and strap-ons in their dealings with the (mostly unnamed) narrator, who, when he's not pleading for them to continue or wincing in pain, is usually crying. Technically, the book is fiction, but Elliott owns up to nearly everything, particularly the sex, in a three-page introduction called "This Could Have Been a Memoir." It reads in parts like S/M erotica, but good luck staying hot after lines like this: "It's called trauma play: I eroticize my childhood abuse." Set primarily in the Mission District, the stories, written in the raw, purified prose of the down-and-out literary tradition, are intensely sad, dealing with the wayward narrator coming to terms with the brutality of his childhood — the abuse from his father, his first rape, his teenage years spent in group homes (and one on a rooftop) — and how it has affected his sexuality and his ability to love. It's a clear-eyed, gutsy, honest book, and it ends with a moment of redemption, as the narrator finds himself enjoying sex for reasons that have nothing to do with the past. Of course, he still has something in his ass. — Michael Leaverton


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