Francesca Lia Block,
(Circlet Press, 2000)

Readers of Francesca Lia Block's Weetzie Bat and other young-adult novels may not be surprised to learn that she writes erotica as well. Her novels are textured with a strong appeal to the senses throughout her magical plots populated by vivid characterizations. In Nymph, Block's distinctive narratives are laced together with the vocabulary of erotica. Whether this union is successful is up to the reader.

The first story, "Mer," sets the tone with a tale of a young surfer, Tom Mac, afraid to go near the water, let alone surf, after a near drowning. He encounters a mysterious girl in a wheelchair who seems to know him. Her name is Mer, and her legs are wrapped in a silvery sheath, but that doesn't prevent them from finding alternatives to conventional love-making. The power of their love is enough to send him back to the sea and surf again.

Tom and Mer disappear for the rest of the book, although their presence can be sensed in the second story, "Spirit," in which the depressed Sylvie wants to visit their abandoned cottage before it is torn down. Sylvie, who has a history of making bad choices where men are concerned, feels adrift from her current ("good choice") lover, Ben, a side effect of her medication. Visiting a place where two people have felt so much love for each other seems to help her.

From "Spirit" on, the stories are interconnected, with the same characters reappearing in other stories. There's Plum, possibly the most interesting of all, who has an odd gift: after she sleeps with anyone, male or female, that person meets the love of his or her life. Sylvie reappears in the title story "Nymph," a kind of prequel to "Spirit," in which Plum suggests exercising her gift to see if it will help -- and it brings Ben to Sylvie. Other characters include Elvis Dean, whose true love dumps him then turns to him for help when her life takes a nightmarish twist; Karen, the nurse who cares for Sylvie's dying brother David; Dr. Jacqui Fox, a psychologist who has Elvis Dean as a client for a while; and Carmelita, a lovely but insecure young woman who figures out a unique way to master her insecurities.

The sexual descriptions in the stories are mostly a stark intrusion into an intriguing exploration into relationships. The blunt and often unoriginal language comes across as a catalogue of genitalia grafted badly into Block's otherwise lyrical prose. Some of the dialogue was so inept and trite it was embarrassing to read, the embarrassment being for the author on my part.

Still, one woman's intrusion is another's erotica. If that's what you like, then Block's Nymph is still a cut above the rest.

[ by Donna Scanlon ]

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