Annabeth Leong is, quite frankly, prolific. Her erotica swings from the filthy to the sublime, while her scope and vision encompass many erotic genres, from genderqueer to contemporary erotic romance. As a reader, I have learned from experience that if I pick up a story by Annabeth Leong, it is going to be good, and Untouched, her recent release for Sweetmeat’s Press, is no exception.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started Untouched. The novel’s premise introduced me to a condition that I knew very little about – the fear of being touched. Leong’s heroine, Celia, cannot bear to be physically touched, and yet she longs for emotional and sexual connection, so much so that she pursues asexual romantic relationships while engaging in a fraught voyeuristic arrangement with a man she knows only as Marco Polo.
Celia’s main source of sexual satisfaction is to be watched while she pleasures herself with any number of different toys. When she meets Eli Vargas, she feels an immediate attraction. He is someone with whom she shares a powerful connection – a voyeuristic lover and an potential intellectual and emotional companion. But what happens, eventually, when Eli needs to touch her? It is this question that drives Celia’s exploration of herself and her sexuality, which unfolds over the course of the novel.
Celia is an intensely sympathetic protagonist. Her loneliness and physical isolation are palpable as she engages in raunchy, unsuccessful attempts to find connection. The sex in Untouched is relentless, but it is relentless to a point. We open with Celia fucking herself while Eli watches and then move through a powerful series of scenarios, some involving Celia masturbating alone, some in which other people, including her boss, Eli and, in one tense scene, her conservative Christian ex, watch. There is a striving quality to many of these interactions, a frustrated sort of reaching, followed by a small narrative climax, which is immediately followed by a move to the next scene. This structure uncannily mirrors Celia’s search for a more substantial sexual connection. For much of the novel, she is chasing an elusive satisfaction. She can orgasm, but she isn’t sated. She is so profoundly lonely and desperate for the thing which she can tolerate least, that you can practically feel her frustration in the ink on the page. It’s an impossible situation that she finds herself in, and it’s that tension that kept me reading late into the night.
Is Untouched raunchy? Yes. Hot? Yes. Unrelentingly, chock full of sex? Yes. But it is also an astute, precise and fantastically sensitive portrayal of a woman’s struggle with herself. I felt inherently protective of Celia’s boundaries. It was not always an emotionally easy read. And yet, Annabeth Leong maintained perfect control over the material, and proved, yet again, that erotica can do more than just turn you on. This is my favorite kind of erotica, and Ms. Leong does it especially well.
To learn more about Annabeth Leong, visit her site annabetherotica.com
And to read another excellent and informative review, examining the stone sexuality in Untouched, I highly recommend Xan West’s excellent essay, “A Stone Response to Annabeth Leong’s Untouched,” which you can read here.