Jack’s Naughty Bits: Ron Sukenick, The Death of the Novel

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Jack's Naughty Bits

listening to Bob Dylan and reading Ron Sukenick; I think I might be on to something. I’m
sure that most of you have listened to Dylan, know how his tuneless gravel eases you back to a
kind of stalled moment in time, hovering somewhere about 1974. Some cultural artifacts are so
bound in their present that they become preposterous the minute culture shifts. Others somehow
distill their moments, giving us access to little anachronistic havens, allowing us to perform the
trick of inserting our present selves in the synchrony of events long past. Dylan has always been
in this second category for me, and it’s one of the reasons I love him so.

Reading Ron Sukenick is having the same effect, and evokes pretty much the same time
period. My first exposure to Sukenick’s consummate sex-and-drug-decade prose was Long
Talking Bad Conditions Blues,
his great unpunctuated po-mo dithyramb. Later, at a
library sale in Sukenick’s Colorado stomping grounds, I tracked down a hardback copy of
The Death of the Novel and Other Stories, from which I’m excerpting today’s piece.
The title story is about Sukenick teaching a course on the death throes of a genre he worked in,
only to find himself smoking dope and having unapologetic sex with his students and various
other girls less than half his age. The excerpt begins with a description of one object of Professor
Sukenick’s fancy, his student Betty, and ends with them having sex in an East Village pied
à terre. And while the politically-dubious student/teacher fantasy sticks fast in the
craw of many of us (especially us former instructors), Sukenick’s professor finds the tables of
sexual power curiously turned on him by a young lover in a borrowed bed.

* * *

From The Death of the Novel by Ronald Sukenick

When I get nervous sometimes I get a little pompous. Especially with students. Especially
with students who I want to seduce. The kids at the table smiled at one another indulgently.
They liked me. They thought I was hip. For my age. They knew I wanted to make it with
Betty. They probably wished me luck . . . their attitude was that it didn’t mean that much
whether I wanted to fuck Betty, or if I didn’t want to fuck Betty, or if in fact I did fuck Betty.
That seemed to be pretty much Betty’s attitude too. She was a cheerleader type, one of those
auburn straight-haired round-cheeked dolls right out of a Coca-Cola ad . . . she was pretty as
apples and bland as Uneeda biscuits. Her thighs were like white bread . . . She was America,
and I wanted her. In any case she was my smartest student, and I wanted her the way a teacher
always wants his smartest student, especially if she’s a nice piece of ass. Not that she ever did
any work. I gave her A’s for her ideas, for her conversation, for her presence maybe, for her
pussy, and because getting A’s didn’t mean a thing to her . . .

Where we going? She asked. I shrugged.

Why don’t we go to the city, she said. I know an apartment we can use on the East Side .
. .

We walked in and very cool she took off her clothes. Smiling, she lay down on a
mattress on the floor and stared up at the ceiling.

I want a drink, I said. She made a face. She never touched alcohol.

There’s nothing here, she said. There’s some pot in the drawer. I rolled a joint and sat
down next to her on the mattress and we smoked it while I caressed her. She stared a the
ceiling. I was in a kind of pink revery of which her body was part. I went and pissed, came back,
undressed, and lay down next to her. My cock was very impersonal, an animated hose with a
life of its own, jumping around between her sensitive and very knowing fingers.

I think of you as Miss America, I said. She smiled. I slid in like a dirigible sliding into
a cloud in a beautiful dream. Her body began churning like a bump and grind dancer. She was
staring at the ceiling. Suddenly I got the feeling that this was all staged, some kind of routine,
a movie maybe, or a cheap story. Her pussy felt like a moist sack of warm membrane, totally
physiological. I had something like a sudden Hindenburg disaster. Shit, she said after a
while. I flopped out, my penis a dead fish, my heart an empty reservoir.

© Ronald Sukenick