I Once Had a Master
by John Preston
Posted in Book Reviews on September 7, 2012
“I Once Had a Master” is a collection of nine short stories by one of the masters (if you’ll pardon the expression) of gay BDSM erotica. Preston passed away in 1994 and the book, originally published in 1985, is only available in print, so it’s taken me a while to get my hands on it.
The collection isn’t exactly what I was expecting. While the stories are almost all hard-core in one way or another, there’s a lot more to them than just the kinky sex, which often plays a minor role. These tales are much more about relationships, and their ups and downs, rather than sex. Some, like the title piece, are rather melancholy in the end, while another, titled “Authenticity”, is quite sweet. In many of the stories Preston expresses a certain jadedness about the new-found acceptance of the lifestyle. In “Authenticity” he’s exasperated by a pair of bottoms who treat leather as just another kind of drag and worse, treat him as just a piece of meat whose only purpose is to fulfill their fantasies. They talk about what they’ll do for him, but they’re really just giving him a shopping list of what they want.
For Preston, it seems, BDSM is not simply a game to play when things get dull in the bedroom (he must be spinning in his grave at the whole 50-shades phenomena), it is truly a lifestyle. It’s a way to understand yourself, and others. In the end, most of the stories are actually about that most elusive and wonderful thing of all: love. Even though many of the tales revolve around short affairs, there’s still a powerful mood of connection between the men involved.
As a writer, I had to marvel at Preston’s masterful story-telling. You may have gotten the idea from my reviews that I don’t like short stories. That’s not exactly true. What I don’t like is lazy writers, who leave their work unfinished. Preston manages to do in ten or so pages what other writers fail to do in fifty or a hundred; he connects us to the characters so that we’re emotionally involved in their moment of discovery. He does it so well it’s hard to even analyze how it’s done and learn from it.
You can purchase “I Once Had a Master” from Amazon.