Review: I Once Had a Master

I Once Had a MasterI Once Had a Master by John Preston
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I reviewed the uber popular Mr. Benson, I was struck by the author’s writing and voice more than anything. So my next foray is into I Once Had a Master, a collection of short stories set in the same bald BDSM world. This collection is a stunning glimpse into the author’s mind and personal life. The writing is unembellished and in some ways clinical yet there is a wealth of subtle emotion available to the right reader. The focus is graphic sex, the beginning of gay erotica genre and incredibly successful at that. However there is infinitely more to the stories as well. If nothing else, this collection is incredibly compelling and fascinating as it depicts a lifestyle that is still relevant decades later.

The collection contains nine short stories and an epilogue. The epilogue is an essay written by Preston about his career writing at that time, what he calls pornography. He explains that this isn’t bad since he’s trying to entertain his readers more than anything. If his writing means something as well, then all the better. This epilogue is perhaps the best part of the book and I wish it had been a foreword. After reading Preston’s thoughts and insights, I immediately re-read the collection with new knowledge and interest. I would suggest skipping to the back and reading his essay first then reading the short stories. It definitely adds a new dimension to the encounters.

Part of this is that Preston reveals the stories are somewhat autobiographical. Not directly but each story depicts a meaningful encounter or person. These are in a very real way, love letters to people and moments that affected Preston. Some of these are just brief encounters, one night of hot sex and a bit of naughty kink. Others are a weekend, some are encounters built up over years and the very last one depicts the beginning of a love affair. Each of these stories focuses on the sex and the BDSM kink. There’s no doubt that desire is the focus but beyond and beneath the sex are emotions.

A single continuous narrator connects the collection as the time frame spans decades. Initially the narrator is young, impressionable, and scared. He then grows into a confident Dom that gets lost in the whirl of sex and men to finally a man that appreciates the connections he makes through sex. Sex is clearly important but is shown between friends, lovers, acquaintances, and can be easy but not awkward. There is a different attitude towards sex shown in each of the encounters than present today. The men come together for sex but there is always a connection and sometimes the conversations are just as erotica.

The bald language doesn’t apologize for the casual sex atmosphere nor does it embellish the BDSM lifestyle. Instead the intimate knowledge is obvious, coming from someone that knows and lives exactly what they’re talking about. The narrator makes mistakes as well but the progression throughout the collection is fascinating. This is homage to a lifestyle that largely disappeared over the years. It’s one you won’t want to miss and one I easily recommend you indulge in.

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6 thoughts on “Review: I Once Had a Master

  1. I really liked Mr Benson for its unapologetic look at the BDSM lifestyle and I too was attracted by the author’s voice. This book sounds really good and something I would enjoy. Thanks for the review, Kassa. This book would probably have passed me by otherwise.

    • I really quite like Preston’s voice and his view on the BDSM world. He’s prone to the same cliches as anyone else but perhaps because he’s one of the acknowledged fathers of those cliches makes it more acceptable.

      Either way this is a very quick but truly interesting collection. I think you’ll really like it.

  2. Thanks Kassa – it sounds great. I’ve read Mr Benson this last week and was really impressed by the narrative voice and the way emotion ran through every scene, but never intrusively. This is definitely one to put on the reading list.

    • What’s really really interesting is that several readers claimed these stories were cold, remote, and clinical. In some ways that is true since the focus is on the sex itself, the kink, the leather, and not the emotions. There are definitely no “I Love You”s running through these stories. Yet if you can read between the lines you find that Preston really cares for every “trick” he has from the one night stands to the longer encounters. They mean something to him even without the spoken declarations of affection. To him, a slap on the ass or a conversation about kink shows his emotions.

      Very interesting.

  3. Tam says:

    Eh. Not for me I don’t think. As you said, probably a certain type of reader. Not that I’m against written porn (or visual 🙂 but it’s just not my kink.

    • I do think Preston is for certain readers and not all. In some ways he appeals to those not looking for a happy ending, after all he never wants to stay with any of the men depicted. He’s certainly not in love with them nor does he ever feel that need to be with one person. So this is more about the fleeting connections and the encounters that put together make up a full life. Just one that is not necessarily what romance fans envision.

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