Anaïs Nin’s Little Birds is an erotic short story collection which has been sitting on my shelf for some time, patiently waiting for me to discuss it in some detail. As you might know if you’ve been reading my blog for some time, I am a real Nin fan. While she’s often thought of and referred to as an erotica author, her work is much more varied than only that. I love Nin for her openness and authenticity, and for her representation of honest, human thoughts about sex, relationships and emotions for others. However, Little Birds is most definitely a collection of erotic short stories!
So, why didn’t I devour the book and scrabble to tell you about it? Two reasons: one, that I am determined to avoid ‘Nin overload’ because I find that she inspires my writing to the point of attempting to emulate it (I can only wish!); two, because when I read the introduction to this book by the author herself, it left me in a bit of a quandary, pondering what I thought about her comments on writing erotica, indeed, her veiled attack on erotica as not ‘proper’ writing and even potential harmful to the writer, something akin to embarrassment. Quite honestly, this shocked me. The more I’ve thought about the comments, the more it made me want to explore how these stories felt to read in light of her announcements about erotica and the writer. Definitely more on that in another post.
The simple fact is, the moment I began reading the fiction, I forgot Nin’s introductory comment. Her stories are absorbing and surprising, often using the most simple of storytelling techniques, sketching in the background of her characters’ lives to complement the important pinpoint details which cause or affect their inner emotional turmoils, desires and sexual adventures. There are recurring themes and character types: the artist’s model appears in several stories, for instance, as does the search for a way of arousing and seducing a friend. ‘Lina’ and ‘Madra’ are two very strong and, to me, very arousing examples of a woman’s desire to make sexual contact with female friends, and both are tackled in very different ways, with hugely variable moral views in the characters themselves.
Do I have favourites? Oh, yes. ‘A Model’ is my absolute favourite, possibly because it’s full of emotion as well as erotic encounter. It follows a young woman through her journey as a new artist’s model and protecting herself and her virginity from the artists she meets, while unconsciously (and, in the end, not so unconsciously) seeking sexual experience and fulfilling her need to ‘become a woman’. Various artists are extremely willing to help her in this quest as you might expect, and employ a whole range of tactics to get her to open up to them. I find this story really rather beautiful for its sexual tension between the model and her seducers, and also for the way in which Nin indicates that some of these artists have real, genuine feelings – even love – for the model. It’s a fascinating story.
‘Two Sisters’ comes a very close second for me and, in terms of leaving me with a strong reaction to the end of the story, it beats all the others in the collection. It’s a real bittersweet tale of two siblings, very different in looks and sexual temperament. In trying to turn her sister’s lover against her, one sibling finds that her anger explodes into a sexual need which is raw and desperate. This is a complex story in its emotional and sexual entanglements which I don’t want to spoil for you, and one of the desperate need to recapture a violent passion through whatever means possible. I loved this.
What I noticed about several of the stories, and which I found interesting, is that they read more like vignettes rather than having the structure we are told to expect of a short story (a specific beginning, middle and end). Personally, I love this ‘scene’ approach, as a reader and writer who is far more intrigued by character than I am by plot. Several of the stories left me wondering what the character would have wanted to happen next, and inventing scenarios for them myself – which, of course, is a paradise state for someone who writes stories for a living! I’ve always been of the mindset that a story is what it is, you tell the story and no more, and not everything has to be wrapped up in a neat bow. I know not everyone feels like this; writers are often told not to write in this way in a commercial world, and I respect that, too.
But I digress. Back to Nin! The range of sexual escapades varies, including MF, FF and threesome encounters. Sometimes the protagonists know one another, sometimes they meet for a brief liaison only. What I find interesting (probably because I’m a miserable so-and-so who doesn’t necessarily like HFN or HEA endings, as you will know if you’ve read some of my short stories of novellas!) is that Nin doesn’t feel obligated to offer up erotica that is fulfilling to the characters. Some of the sex feels frustrating to the protagonists, or they don’t get to be fulfilled in the ways they want. Sometimes the erotic content is entwined with human sexual and emotional failings between couples or friends. Conversely, sometimes the actual sexual encounter is merely the icing on the cake for the underlying erotic nature of the developing relationship between two people and, as readers, we are already aroused well before the sex itself, so much so that Nin merely glosses over it. The story has already done its work beforehand.
I do want to make you aware of the fact that a couple of the stories deal with desires for young girls and older minors under the age of 18. Where young girls are involved, the story ends badly for the adult protagonist and his desires are thwarted; where the girl is sixteen, the story highlights her growth into womanhood to which she is fully consenting. In no way whatsoever am I condoning sex with a minor. It’s quite possible to read the rest of the collection and omit ‘Little birds’ and ‘Runaway’ from the reading experience altogether, without marring your enjoyment of the rest of the book. But I feel it’s the responsible thing to do to point it out. Nin wrote for private collectors of erotic stories and set up her own printing press to publish some of her writing, and these kinds of stories reflect why.
You can find Little Birds on Amazon US here, and Amazon UK here. Whereas it’s easy to get hold of the book in all forms in the UK, it doesn’t appear available as an e-book in the US, only in hard copy. I have tried to find the best (and cheapest) link for you if you are a US-based reader. (Full disclosure: these are affiliate links and I make a tiny amount if you purchase through it. I only ever use affiliate links when I have tried, and enjoyed, a product myself, or would put my money where my mouth is and buy it for someone else).
If you read Little Birds, I’d love to know what you think of it. Feel free to add a comment at the end of this post or tag me in social media with your thoughts.