Kevin Killian's sex is unpretty

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IMPOSSIBLE PRINCESS

By Kevin Killian

(City Lights)

Author Kevin Killian's relationship to sex is too complicated to be pinpointed as merely "homoerotic," but homoerotic encounters are a frequent occurrence throughout the stories in Impossible Princess, Killian's latest collection of gay short fiction.

Killian's stories are full of nervous energy. The pace of his writing is jerky and striated, and events change and adjust so suddenly that Killian's words read as if short of breath. The panting quality of the work is, in terms of form, utilized most effectively in the writer's vivid and ominously perceptive descriptions of sex. These sexual encounters are often baffling.

In this sense, the sex described Impossible Princess feels accurate. Sexuality and sexual preferences continually evade our attempts at designation, both in fiction and in life. Killian toys with this idea of fundamental strangeness. In "Spurt," lighthearted S&M suddenly turns into gore. In "Zoo Story," an ailurophile finds himself mauled by panthers. When they are realized, Killian's stories seem to argue, sexual fantasies can be experienced in ways both nightmarish and sublime.

While some of these stories seem fantastical, others are rooted in worldly experience. The sex Killian is so adept at describing also seems, for all its exuberance of libido, deeply and humanly sad. "Hot Lights," which I first heard Killian read at an "autobiography-themed" Small Press Traffic event at Canessa Gallery last fall, is the tale of a young student (purportedly Killian during his Lower Manhattan days) turned porn performer who develops an infatuation with another porn performer, only to be outright rejected later on in the story. "Making Waves," told from the perspective of an aging and washed-up former pop star, recounts the successful seduction of a young virgin that, unfortunately for the male ingenue, revealed a broken condom.

As we surely recognize, this sense of alienation is accurate to human experience. In its most honest portrayal, even sex that is shared between two (or more) people can feel unfathomably lonely. Just as sex can bring people together, it has the power to isolate us even further. Sex frequently severs us from our tenuous hold on an other as well as our all too malleable perception of ourselves, a point which Killian's stories drive home. Sex is fluid. It is a current whose pace and destination cannot be mapped or predicted. When it comes to unpretty and unsentimental sex shed of the layers of accumulated euphemism, Killian doles it out in spades whether readers are prepared for it or not.

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