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American Cool

Susan DiPlacido

" America’s true heartland – Las Vegas. The aberration in the desert. The power of greed, nowadays, Incorporated. It’s one big trick and mirage in the desert, and the illusion will never die because even though it’s a paradise of sin, it’s all shrouded in the most basic human grace. Hope. "

Reviewed by Sarah Hilary

Let’s get the cheap thrill out of the way first. This collection contains erotica. As someone who’s written a fair amount of erotica in her time, I can say it’s no easy task to weave sex into stories which, regardless, are driven by considerations of character, plot and narrative; perhaps this is why so much erotic fiction tends to discard plot the way it would a lace bra, dropping it off to one side early on, before getting down to the serious action. To judge by the stories in this collection, Susan DiPlacido is well aware of the challenges facing the writer who wants sex to find its proper place in story (the way it does in life, but achieves only rarely in books). Even the voyeuristic Heads up Poker relies on the dynamic between characters to keep all of the reader’s senses engaged and stimulated. 

For the most part, the erotica in this collection feels natural, timely and well-placed. Her characters are laid bare – literally and metaphorically – by sex. For some, it is a fatal weakness. For others, a strength they struggle to accept. There are explicit moments, but few feel gratuitous; the exception for me being Found in Translation which had the effect of diluting the impact of the preceding story, Right Hand Diamonds, where we are titillated by a glimpse of the character, Romeo, who subsequently sighs and thrusts his way through Found in Translation. It’s safe to say that you need a romantic frame of mind to get the full enjoyment from DiPlacido’s erotica, which may be steamy and muscular but still manages to make room for a fuchsia sunset or three. 

The best of these stories hint at a different sort of desire – for acceptance, love, or survival. This is where DiPlacido hits her stride, scratching at the bright neon surfaces of her settings – Las Vegas is a favourite – to reveal more than just the tawdry underside over-exposed by films and TV shows. Compassion lurks here, and regret, fear and hope. In the award-winning I, Candy, the beleaguered Marie despairs of finding happiness unless she invests in painful plastic surgery. In Bloodlines, the heroine battles to find her place in a family fractured by loss and violence. 

In each case, DiPlacido uses her settings masterfully. We can smell the bitumen and the desert, feel the neon staining our skin, the sand scratching at our sinuses the way it scratches at Rita’s in Coyote Blues. If on occasion it feels as if the author is using extraneous words, reaching a climax and exceeding it rather than stopping, revisiting old ground instead of offering fresh territory (several of the characters appear in more than one story), we can believe that DiPlacido might consciously be trying to create a sense in which this world she knows so well is introspective, self-feeding and inescapable.

Sarah Hilary won the Fish Historical-Crime Contest with her story, Fall River, August 1892. Her story, The Eyam Stones, was runner-up in the Historical Contest. Both stories will be published in the Fish Anthology 2008. Sarah’s stories have been published in The Beat, Neon, Every Day Fiction, Kaleidotrope, Literary Mama and the Boston Literary Magazine. Her short story, On the line, was published in the Daunt 2006 anthology. The Subatomic 2007 anthology features her story, LoveFM. She won the Litopia Contest in 2007 with The Chaperon. Sarah lives in the Cotswolds with her husband and young daughter.


PublisherRebel Press

Publication Date:2007

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Author bio: Susan DiPlacido is the author of three novels. Her short story, “I, Candy” won the Spirit award at the 2005 Moondance International Film Festival (this story can be read online.). Her novel Trattoria has been nominated for a Romantic Times Reviewers’ Choice Award for Best Small Press Romance for 2005. She has upcoming short stories in Best American Erotica 2007 and Zane’s anthology Caramel Flava.

Read an interview with Susan DiPlacido

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