Jack’s Naughty Bits: Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, Part Two

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Jack's Naughty Bits

It’s a writer’s worst nightmare: you’ve assembled the cast of your novel for an orgy, and now you’ve got to write it. It’s hard enough trying to describe one sex act, let alone ten. Simultaneously. Yes, narrating team hanky-panky ain’t easy: name too many characters, acts or positions in a row and it reads like a grocery list; try to keep upping the sexiness level and you slide quickly into the absurd. Orgy scenes make every writer wish he or she were a photographer. Assemble the bodies, click, you’re done. But to get it in words, as my Little Italy neighbors would say: fuggedaboutit.


That said, there are a few brave souls who have tried their best. I highlighted Ryu Murakami’s valiant (if troubling) effort some months ago; this week I’m excerpting another orgy from an unlikely source, Thomas Pynchon’s epic Gravity’s Rainbow. Two years ago, I did a naughty bit on Gravity’s Rainbow‘s scandalous coprophagia scene; this time we get more of Pynchon’s envelope-pushing, as we step aboard the good ship Anubis for some aristocrat saturnalia.


If you don’t remember the pages in question, don’t fret; Pynchon’s 1973 masterwork is so enormous that, even if you managed to finish it, it’s easy to forget just how lewd its lewd parts are. Though considered one of the great American writers since the war, Pynchon is not above the occasional deep purple prose. When the protagonist Slothrop gets hauled up the gunwhales of the Anubis (and us with him), the seabound revelers have been chanting their call to arms — each other’s (“Welcome aboard, gee, it’s a fabulous or-gy / That you just dropped in on, my friend / We can’t recall how it star-ted, / But there’s only one way it can end!”). Soon the spanking of a princess sets off the erotic powderkeg. It’s bonafide smut from a master novelist, but it reads a bit more comically than Pynchon probably intended. Clear evidence that it’s as hard to pull off a good orgy in fiction as it is in life.

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From Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

“Oh, delightful,” cries the meat-cleaver lady, “Greta’s going to punish her.”


“How I’d like to,” murmurs a striking mulatto in a strapless gown, pushing forward to watch, tapping Slothrop’s cheek with her jeweled cigarette holder as satin haunches whisper across his thigh. Someone has provided Margherita with a steel ruler and an ebony Empire chair. She drags Bianca across her lap, pushing up frock and petticoats, yanking down white lace knickers. Beautiful little girl buttocks rise like moons. The tender crevice tightens and relaxes, suspender straps shift and stretch as Bianca kicks her legs and silk stockings squeak together, erotic and audible now that the group has fallen silent and found the medium of touch, hands reaching out to breasts and crotches, Adam’s apples bobbing, tongues licking lips . . . where’s the old masochist and monument Slothrop knew back in Berlin? It’s as if Greta is now releasing all the pain she’s stored over the past weeks onto her child’s naked bottom, the skin so finely grained that white centimeter markings and numerals are being left in mirror image against the red stripes with each blow, crisscrossing building up a skew matrix of pain on Bianca’s flesh. Tears go streaming down her inverted and reddening face, mixing with mascara, dripping onto the pale lizard surfaces of her mother’s shoes . . . her hair has loosened and spills to the deck , dark, salted with the string of little pearl seeds. The mulatto girl has backed up against Slothrop, reaching behind to fondle his erection, which has nothing between it and the outside but someone’s loosely pleated tuxedo trousers. Everyone is kind of aroused, Thanatz is sitting up on the bar having his own as yet unsheathed penis mouthed by one of the white-gloved Wends. Two of the waiters kneel on deck lapping at the juicy genitals of a blonde in a wine velvet frock, who meantime is licking ardently the tall and shiny French heels of an elderly lady in lemon organza busy fastening felt-lined silver manacles to the wrists of her escort, a major in the Yugoslav artillery in dress uniform, who kneels with nose and tongue well between the bruised buttocks of a long legged ballerina from Paris, holding up her silk skirt for him with docile fingertips while her companion, a tall Swiss divorcee in tight leather corselette and black Russian boots, undoes the top of her friend’s gown and skillfully begins to lash at her bare breasts with the stems of half a dozen roses, red as the beads of blood which spring up and are soon shaking off the ends of her stiff nipples to splash into the eager mouth another Wend who’s being jerked off by a retired Dutch banker sitting on the deck, shoes and socks having just been removed by two adorable schoolgirls, twin sisters in fact, in identical dresses of flowered voile, with each of the bankers big toes inserted now into a downy little furrow as they lie forward along his legs kissing his shaggy stomach, pretty twin bottoms arched to receive in their anal openings the cocks of the two waiters who have but lately been, if you recall, eating that juicy blonde in that velvet dress back down the Oder River a ways . . .

© Thomas Pynchon