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rancis Levy writes about the type of sex you will never have. Sex so mindblowing it must take into consideration the blast zone of its immediate surroundings. Levy’s main characters, Monica and James, engage in mating habits unhinged enough to break waterbeds, demolish building foundations and ram (quite literally) through walls. Anyone in the vicinity had better take cover.
But the real fun in Erotomania, Levy’s surrealist debut novel, arrives when, through exhaustive effort, Monica and James attempt a more pedestrian lifestyle and have a go at a monogamous relationship. As soon as they do, they find they’re not attracted to each other, and can’t agree on anything but sex and Chinese food. While they negotiate the fine line between sex and stability, they’re exiled to a concrete bunker on the outskirts of town.
Though this is Levy’s first novel, his background is in humor writing, and Erotomania wields a comedic punch that makes it, above all, a fun novel to read. But its subject matter is also a little sad, and familiar to anyone who’s tried to straddle the barbed-wire fence that separates lust and affection. Days before his release party at the Museum of Sex, Levy spoke to Nerve about the book. — Joseph Lazauskas
At the start of the novel, James and Monica have such animalistic sex that James can’t even remember her face. How much of this book is based on your own experiences?
I’m sixty. If you want to think [my wife and I] have this wild sex, go ahead, but this book is totally a creation.
Does sex this intense even exist in real life?
You have to understand: I just write. To me, these characters function like poetry. They’re walking ids; they have yet to develop consciousness. The book is really about evolution. You normally talk about evolution on speciation, but here we’re seeing evolution on an individual level — they go from being walking ids to developing consciousness.
Which leads them to pursue monogamy, a type of relationship that doesn’t always mesh with our instincts.
I think the monogamous relationship that evolves is really a function of their negotiating between consciousness and instincts. This is a very American novel — they search for a utopia. And why do you search for a utopia? Because you live in a dystopic state. The minute they start to identify each other, they can’t agree on a restaurant. There’s this question of actually having to negotiate living experiences — this is part of the nightmare of having to live with another human being.
Did writing such a sexually explicit novel make you regard sex differently?
It’s sort of like the gynecologist situation. The gynecologist examines women, all their body parts and so forth. It might be a good-looking woman, a not-good-looking woman, but the sexual element is not turned on. He’s in a clinical situation. He’s in the trade of helping people. This novel is a little gynecological.
Do you think writers who focus on the sensual side of sex ignore what it’s really about?
Yeah. And I’m not a moralist. I’m a determinist. Fundamentally, I like pornography. I love pornography. I read pornography, I watch pornographic films. But I think [in this book] there’s a total degeneration of the complexity and the ambivalence and ambiguities in human character. The real art would be to take what I’ve done and make it a truly sexy novel.
A Village Voice reviewer talked about how this novel does for golden showers what another novel might have done for blowjobs. But it’s really not like that, because it’s limited to a description and a clinical dissection of the animal drive in humans. All animals pee on each other. Porcupines show their sexual attraction by peeing on the woman.
Might golden showers be the blowjobs of tomorrow?
I’m pretty much a follower of Darwin. I think natural selection is a key element in here. Whatever works, works.
What did your wife think of the book?
She wasn’t crazy about it. She’s an intellectual. She found there was too much use of the word "fuck." She regards it as a novel of ideas, but she thought many of the middle pages could have been shortened. So my wife wasn’t as enthusiastic as some other people. For instance, the publisher read it and said, "You’ve reinvented the love story." He was very enthusiastic. And he went on to tell me thousands of things I had to change.
Well, the book definitely presents a new type of sex that’s very engaging. I found myself wondering, "How can I have sex like this?"
You mean highly promiscuous sex in the butt? Or anonymous sex?
I mean the intensity of it. For sex to be this intense, does it have to be promiscuous or anonymous?
I think it’s dangerous to use this book as a way of self-castigating and saying, "Boy, I wish I could have this kind of incredibly powerful sex." I had one purely sexual relationship early in life. I mean, I’ve never had anything like it. Just extremely powerful sexuality. We spoke two separate languages. We basically had no relationship at all.
But most of the sexuality I experience as a human being, which I would describe in a truly realist novel, would be fraught with personality. All the baggage that we carry on an everyday basis influences the impact of passion that you can experience.
So in your opinion, it is better to fuck like humans than fuck like animals?
Well, we don’t really have a choice. I wish I could fuck like an animal, but I am a human, so I am condemned to constantly be aware of the other person and be angry at them and have aggression toward them. I think aggression plays a huge role in sexuality. The competitiveness of the other person. The woundedness of the other person. I can’t speak for the animal kingdom, but those who examine animals like Frans de Waal — the primatologist whose picture graces the cover of the book — he examines animal behavior, and he says there are fragmentary moments of this behavior in animals, but animals don’t think of lust or jealousy. They don’t covet their neighbor’s wife. They just take the neighbor’s wife. The rules are different. I don’t have that choice.
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