Bad writing about intercourse is worse than horrific sex. Well, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration. But don’t all of us groan whilst, in the midst of an otherwise perfectly respectable novel, we come upon a passage with heaving breasts and fiery loins? There’s a lot of bad writing about sex that, because 1993, Britain’s Literary Review has published an annual Bad Sex in Fiction award to “draw attention to the crude, tasteless, regularly perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description within the contemporary novel, and to deter it.
As that is my own family newspaper, I can’t offer an excerpt from James Frey’s “Katerina,” winner of the 2018 Bad Sex in Fiction first prize. Here’s a snippet from 2017 runner-up Venetia Welby’s novel, “Mother of Darkness”: “The green grass curls around Tera’s left breast as she curves her smooth body around Matty’s diabolical torso like a vine. Paralyzed, whole, the marble statue of the fanatics permits itself to be painted through the dawn’s lurid orange spillage. Longtime Bay Area novelist and writing instructor Ellen Sussman, author of “Dirty Words:
A Literary Encyclopedia of Sex,” says, “I suppose that during writing approximately sex, writers get a hazard to tap into unexplored territory. They push beneath the surface of relationships, of ardor, of our urges and wants and desires. Sussman doesn’t pull away from writing about sex in her own novels (“A Night Like This,” “A Wedding in Provence,” “French Lessons,” “The Paradise Guest House”), and explains she attempts to take a look at the subject from a slant instead of straight on. “I try to attend on something aside from the genitals … in any other case, we get into the complete throbbing member issue.
Sussman makes an awesome point. Elizabeth Benedict, within the beginning of her e-book “The Joy of Writing Sex,” costs from a letter Anais Nin wrote to a man paying her $1 a web page to put in writing erotic memories: “Sex must be blended with tears, laughter, phrases, promises, scenes, jealousy, envy, all the spices of fear, foreign tour, new faces, novels, stories, desires, fantasies, music, dancing, opium, wine.
So it appears the exceptional writing comes with a less-is-extra technique vis-a-vis the actual physical act and more-is-more regarding the context. In Kent Haruf’s quiet, lovable “Our Souls at Night,” the 2 main characters, who’re 80-somethings, enjoy intimacy long earlier than they get to the sex. And when they ultimately do, it’s described with amazing restraint — and all the greater impactful for that.
Clearly, any opinion about the pleasure of writing about intercourse depends on the orientation of the reader. An immediate man reads an intercourse scene differently from a bi lady or a trans individual. The identical probable goes for the cultural orientation of the reader, although it is arguable that superb sex writing, like splendid sex, transcends many obstacles. Some of the excellent, greater explicit, literary intercourse I’ve to study is written by gay ladies. Jeanette Winterson’s “Written on the Body” is one such instance. Also, Dorothy Allison’s “Two or Three Things I Know for Sure” and Sarah Waters’ “Tipping the Velvet.
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s effervescent new novel “City of Girls,” the heroine enjoys a full, numerous, and joyfully depicted sex existence without coming to damage an l. A. Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary. Novelist Lauren Groff (“Arcadia,” “Fates and Furies”), who writes artfully about sex between married human beings, says, “Literary sex is nearly constantly between adulterers, single human beings or young adults; it’s almost as though there’s a squeamishness approximately imposing on married characters’ intimacy. I find that silly in the extreme.
When it involves men writing approximately sex, Jonathan Franzen’s sex scene from hell between Alfred and Enid in “The Corrections” is right up there with the first class of them, serving as a painful metaphor for the shortage of communication in their dating. Haruki Murakami, generally a favorite of the literati, has been both pilloried for his male-centric writing approximately intercourse and touted for his titillating prose. You determine.
And then there’s the “50 Shades” phenomenon. Ugh, please. Just plain bad writing that piles on cliche after breathless cliche. But then, what do I recognize? Could a zillion readers be incorrect?
I have fond reminiscences of the days when I hid “Candy” and “The Story of O” beneath my mattress, scared to demise my mom might find them. There become something delicious about having to be surreptitious. Now that the whole thing is out inside the open (once in a while ad nauseam), is it an excessive amount to ask for the erotica we study to be properly written? I suppose now not.