Book review – In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed by Mitzi Szereto
– by Rachel Fox
Reviewing Mitzi Szereto‘s In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed (Cleis Press, 2009) was an intimidating assignment, and I was of two minds in regards to how best to approach it. The conversation between my two minds went something like this:
“How about tonight? Shall we give it a go?”
“No, I have a headache and I’m tired.”
“Maybe just start one and see how it goes? You may like it. No pressure.”
“Tomorrow, I promise.”
Sorrento’s approach to fairy tales is an interesting and intriguing one, and one expects that her twist – eroticizing the familiar – is likely to be embraced and possibly even included in the canon (contrasting her tales with more conventional telling seems promising in a Women’s Literature 200 context).
Each story is prefaced by relevant and interesting background information, including historical and geographic origins and details of comparable variations. Szereto’s effort at contextualizing her choice of stories adds richness to her own re-telling: stripping folklore of the popular conventions tacked on through the years effectively clears the slate of the preconceived notions many of us may hold in regards to these stories, thereby making her own just as plausible.
Overall, the stories that are most enjoyable in In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed were the ones that were most familiar to me, in much the same way that hearing the juicy details of an acquaintance’s sex life is inherently more interesting that those of a complete stranger. Double lives – especially sexual ones – are so fascinating.
And, of course, the ones that were most enjoyable were the ones that had the dirtiest details and revelations. Isn’t the point of reading erotica to end up looking (and feeling) as spent as the woman on the cover of this book? I think so. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen for me, as I am in possession of what one Prince (of Paisley Park) would call “a dirty mind.” It takes a lot for me to, as the aforementioned Prince might say, “get off.”
And believe you me, I really wanted to.
Unfortunately the tone was a bit too tame. Just as the cover, which depicts a satiated-looking, (mostly) naked woman barely draped in pink tulle lying on a bed next to a space where a Prince (or Princess) Charming might have been, advertises something that never quite happened, so the reading experience was rather, shall we say, anti-climactic. That said, Szereto does convey a cheeky sexuality in a few of the stories; it’s too bad she doesn’t probe a little deeper.
In “Cinderella”, we learn that the stepsisters masturbate regularly with parsnips from their garden (effectively conveying the notion that modernity holds several distinct and noteworthy improvements in the lives of women, and we should neither overlook nor take these for granted). This detail about the stepsisters we have come to know through their common re-telling actually fits in nicely and makes a lot of sense. Szereto also goes on to describe the pervy pathology behind the Prince’s fetishizing the glass slipper Cinderella left behind in her hasty departure from the ball – he masturbates into it, his ejaculate described as “a stream of hot, frothy fluid.” Later on, when the women of the kingdom are taking turns trying on the shoe, “their toes (are) greeted by a marshy warmth.”
Happily-ever-after takes on an entirely new meaning, as Cinderella and her Prince’s “ever after” include a deliciously un-vanilla sex life. And really, after all the crap she had to go through, what with the wicked stepmother, the demanding stepsisters, and a life of subservience, our girl deserves it. (My only concern for our dear Cinders is that her beloved’s ejaculate is described as “frothy.” A small and entirely unscientific census has yet to find anyone who has encountered semen with that quality. “Frothy” describes milk in a cappuccino, or maybe shaving cream, but not male ejaculate – although it was suggested that ejaculate may become frothy after “repeated agitation.” Either way, I can’t think of “froth” the same way anymore. Thanks, Mitzi.)
The success of the lesser known fairytales (Japan’s “The Goblin of Adachigahara”, Scandinavia’s “The Swineherd”) depends upon how sexually detailed they are; the former is weird and not particularly compelling (a possible folkloric origin offered for that nation’s sexual fetishization of bukkake), the latter titillating (the impestuous daughter of a warlord trading fellatio for a commoner’s prized objet d’art). The better-known Brothers Grimm’s “puberty tales” receive attention, including “Rapunzel”(reincarnated here as a rapper) and The Sleeping Beauty (whose generously detailed cunnilingus talents contribute directly to her awakening), as well as “Little Red Riding Hood”, whose propensity for naughty exhibitionism (of that which lay beneath her “red hood”) is what really drives the wolf to prey upon her.
Mirroring the all-too-common experience of many sexual encounters, the tales within In Sleeping Beauty’s Bed never fully penetrate and explore the potential depths of their offering. It’s unlikely one will find themselves as depleted as the woman on the cover – but, like so many sexual encounters, something is often better than nothing.