When you’re a character in someone else’s steamy story

Daphne Gottlieb’s edited volume, Fucking Daphne: Mostly True Stories and Fictions (Seal, $14.95), collects original erotic pieces, both prurient and poignant, featuring the author herself.

Daphne Gottlieb is a performance poet in San Francisco, famous as much for her brazenly sexual stage personality and long black dreadlocks as for her award-winning poems. As she relates in the introduction, this volume arose from her noticing a character uncannily similar to her public persona appearing in erotic stories — written by other people. “I don’t kiss and tell. I let others do that for me now,” she writes. This volume is her collection of these stories, musings, poems, first-person accounts of generally self-conscious narrators encountering ( well… fucking) Daphne — as they know her from real life or from her work, or as they imagine her to be.

As one might expect from a work so steeped in meta-fiction, the ambiguity of truth plays a central theme. Did any of the accounts actually happen? Does it really matter? The character of Daphne that appears most frequently is aggressively sexual, queer, tall and tattooed and powerfully brilliant, and most of the narrators spend a bit of time musing on their own disempowerment next to this lusty Amazon. And while many of the stories are rather erotic, the ones that succeed best are those that grasp at larger themes beyond mere titillation: Lori Selke’s “Kiss and Tell,” where identities of lovers blur as they all stand in for “Daphne”; Charlie Anders’s “UPPERCASING,” where the narrator remakes herself as Daphne’s doppelganger; and the affecting “Dancing for Daphne,” by Sarah Katherine Lewis, where Daphne is humanized by her remorse at a strip club.

Expect to blush if you read this book in public. After carrying it around in my backpack for a couple of days, furtively reading it in cafes while hiding the cover from view, I one day took it out to find that it had gotten wet from a water bottle that had leaked in my bag. This wetness seemed an appropriate fate for Fucking Daphne, where the bodily fluids drip and the emotions run high. Still, there is reason for pride in this Jewish woman who presents herself as the prototypical sexual powerhouse: while Daphne’s Jewishness is barely alluded to, her larger-than-life appetites are never stereotyped, never criticized, a refreshing change from frequent characterizations of Jewish women.

Erotica read in large quantities inspires thoughts of mortality, loss, nihilism: postcoitum, all animals are sad, as Aristotle reported. The net effect of this collection of erotica may be more turn-off than stimulant: after so many flings with Daphne, the narrators all blur together, all the licking and moaning indistinguishable one from another. But perhaps this lack of uniqueness is what makes the stories compelling. Naked in the dark, all bodies are all the same — passionate, lusting, fearful, lonely — and while sex promises to calm the soul’s agitation, it never can. The sporadic brilliance of these stories lies not in the absurd uniqueness of the specific trysts, but in each narrator’s distance from Daphne’s iconic sexual invincibility. Alternately stimulating and cold, Fucking Daphne is an unexpectedly deep musing on sex, identity and power, with Daphne depicted by her admirers as a lens through which to see themselves.

Sara N.S. Meirowitz studies and teaches at the Conservative Yeshiva and works as a freelance editor and writer in Jerusalem. She got her publishing start as a Lilith intern in the summer of 1996.