book review: Kink by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell

KINK: STORIES edited by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell
Simon & Schuster, February 9, 2021

Like most anthologies, Kink: Stories was a mixed bag, though it’s certainly enjoyable for its novelty alone (its thesis being that erotica has a place in literary fiction). I found the preponderance of stories about BDSM started to get a little boring after a while, but this was otherwise a refreshing collection that I enjoyed spending time with.

I felt the stories that were the most successful were the ones that contextualized the characters’ kinks—I don’t mean that in a ‘every kink comes from a fucked up childhood’ kind of way; I mean that your life and your sex life are part of the same whole and some of these stories were more interested in interrogating that intersection than others. 

The two absolute stand-outs were Brandon Taylor’s Oh, Youth (tender, devastating) and Carmen Maria Machado’s The Lost Performance of the High Priestess of the Temple of Horror (weird, sensual)–incidentally the two longest stories in the collection. The other surprising highlight for me was Trust by Larissa Pham, an author I’d never heard of, whose Vermont-set story I found evocative and effectively moving. 

The less said about Roxane Gay’s Reach the better, and a handful of other stories fell flat too, mostly the ones that lacked interiority of any kind. You could tell that a lot of these authors wanted to forgo character and dive straight into Commentary About Desire, and I always found that much less effective.

(Also, anyone looking forward to new Garth Greenwell should know that his story, Gospodar, is a chapter taken straight from Cleanness–I ended up skipping it when I realized I recognized what I was reading as I hadn’t particularly enjoyed that chapter the first time.)

Bottom line is that it’s honestly worth the price of admission for Taylor and Machado, but otherwise it didn’t totally reach its promising potential.

Thank you to Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

19 thoughts on “book review: Kink by R.O. Kwon and Garth Greenwell

  1. I very much agree with you! I think I enjoyed it a bit more but some stories did seriously fall flat. I think I was ultimately too nice with my four star rating – and the longer I sit with it, the less I think it actually achieves its goal. It might be because I read so much romance but I mostly found this tame and not as “risqué” as the authors clearly thought it often was. But! What a great story by Brandon Taylor! I CANNOT wait for his debut collection.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I gave every story a star rating and averaged them at the end and got 2.8, so, 3 stars it is, which feels about right. I loved the Brandon Taylor and Carmen Maria Machado stories SO MUCH that I don’t regret spending time with this collection, and there were a couple of other great ones as well, but on the whole I completely agree, I also found it VERY tame (and repetitive! there are kinks other than BDSM! do you think they know that?!). But yes, Brandon Taylor is just perfection as usual.

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      • I thought it was so funny that you two picked out the same stories as the best ones — but so did Kirkus and Publishers Weekly, so you can feel smug that you are on the same page as the critics! I checked with a Goodreads friend who has read Filthy Animals already and she confirmed that “Oh, Youth” is not reprinted there, so I’ve downloaded Kink from NetGalley just so I can read this one story. (I DNFed Machado’s story collection, but her memoir was amazing, so I’d be willing to try her story here too.)

        Liked by 2 people

      • Oh hell yes, sweet sweet validation (but I’m also not surprised because those two stories are head and shoulders above the rest on multiple levels). Yay, glad you could get a copy just for the Brandon Taylor! This was my first time reading Machado’s fiction (but I loved her memoir as well), so I can’t say how this compares to her short story collection. It’s definitely worth a try as long as you’ve got it, though.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I honestly find BDSM and erotica pretty boring so I don’t think this is for me; it’s good to know that I’m not missing out on too much! Like Rebecca, I found Machado’s short story collection to be hit and miss, but I am keen to read In The Dream House.

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  3. So frustrating that BDSM and kink seem to be combined in so many people’s minds! A good friend/ex of mine writes a ton of short erotica and his grasp of kink’s complexities, through lived experience, is definitely one I’d rather read than any half-dozen big names with yet another hit-me-daddy narrative. I trust Greenwell, Taylor and Machado implicitly to write good sex, though. I’ve never, ever liked Roxane Gay’s fiction (I read one collection, Difficult Women, when it came out and was so disappointed) and Bad Feminist also felt somewhat basic, so although I admire her hugely as a human, I think I must accept that her writing is not my cuppa.

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