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by Margaret Christakos

How do you like your sex? In Charisma, first-time novelist Margaret Christakos fills the pages with detailed and rather poetic descriptions of sex between women and women, men and women, men and men – with a little hermaphroditism thrown in for good measure.

The various couplings take place against the background of a rather simple story. Cameo, recently returned to Toronto, is pregnant after a Paris fling. Her mother, Charisma, was stabbed to death when Cameo was 14, leaving Cameo with “serious mother issues,” according to her shrink. Cameo names her child after her murdered mother – ostensibly to honour her memory, but the deeper, more mysterious reasons for this choice become clear as the story progresses.

Christakos has three books of poetry to her credit. She employs that poetic experience in Charisma to slam startling images against each other, opening up lines of unexpected associations. In the opening chapter Cameo buys lamb chops to nourish her unborn child. She and the young butcher flirt, but this interlude is followed immediately by descriptions of lamb carcasses hanging from hooks, news of a murder-suicide involving industrial meat hooks, and Cameo’s erotic dream in which an infant is the sexual aggressor. The result is an edginess that signals the reader to consider the relationship between violence and passion, and the various ways lust can be satisfied.

Readers wishing to push the boundaries of gender identity and conventional sexuality will probably love Charisma. Others may find it hard to follow and more than a little distasteful.