Peep Show: a review

The exhibitionist in us wants others to disapprove, as well as to admire, for it is in this that we find the tantalising ‘edge’.

Wilmington, North Carolina, 1950 by Elliot Erwitt
Photograph by Elliot Erwitt (1950)

Here is the line in the sand, and here we are, stepping over it.
Here is my body; here is my lust.
See it in my fingers and in my eyes, and in my quickening breath.
Look away if you don’t like what you see…
Except that I know you won’t.

Peep ShowPeep Show: Tales of Voyeurs and Exhibitionists, edited by the Queen of Erotica, Rachel Kramer Bussel, is a gem of an anthology: each story perfect in its own right, original and well-crafted, surveying the paired delights of voyeurism and exhibitionism.

‘Clean and Pretty’, by Donna George Storey, is a sensual masterpiece, displaying the very paradox at the heart of the collection: that the essence of our desire to be watched, to ignite the flame of arousal in others, is based not just on the notion of seeking admiration but also on a yearning to defy boundaries, to defy the watcher’s approval, to defy commonly-held canons of ‘decency’.

Bruce Webber
Photography by Bruce Webber

Every act of exhibitionism is a performance, as in Jennifer Peters’ gloriously bold ‘People in Glass Hotels’, and in Lolita Lopez’s ‘Indecent’.

Of course, the coin’s reverse is all the more potent when illicit. Forbidden pleasures are, inevitably, the sweetest, as we see in Elizabeth Coldwell’s tantalising ‘Audience Participation’, and in Nobilis Reed’s cleverly rendered and multi-threaded ‘Glass’: both extolling the joy of watching, uninvited.

Hans Mauli
Photograph by Hans Mauli

Rachel KB’s own contribution to this treasure trove, ‘I’ve Only Got Eyes For You’, and Angela Caperton’s ‘Calendar Girl’ end the collection on a note lavender-sweet and dumpling-soft, showing that exhibitionism is not confined to the shadow-world. Every one of us can enjoy the act of display, and there are so many ways in which to do so, to the enrichment of our self-esteem, while feeding a secret desire to shock.

Perhaps the jewel in the crown is L.A. Mistral’s exploration of the relationship between the knowing performer, and the open watcher, writing in ‘The Theory of Orchids’: ‘The more we cherish something with our eyes, the more it flourishes. Our attention changes both who we are and what we look at. Our watching changes everything.’

Manuel Álvarez Bravo, Maniquí tapado (Mannequin covered), 1931
Photograph by Manuel Alvarez Bravo (1931)

We read for entertainment, but also to know ourselves better, to find an echo within the pages, and to witness parallel universes. Knowledge of each ‘other life’ opens a door within our own.

Mannequins, E1 by John Claridge (1968)
Photograph by John Claridge (1968)

Reading, of course, is an act of voyeurism in itself, and this anthology, by its very nature, encourages us to embrace the process.

Read, and watch, and enjoy.

(For more voyeuristic delights, you may like to visit my Author Page on Amazon to see where my pen has been tickling…)