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Fall Fiction 2005

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Fall Fiction 2005
Rick Moody is most recently the author of The Diviners. His other books include The Ice Storm, Purple America, Demonology and The Black Veil.
To buy The Diviners, click here.

As a writer, I am no more interested in sex than I am interested in any other part of the human experience. Sexuality has, for me, in its literary guise, minimal romantic freight. In fact, most of the time, when it does have romantic freight, it’s exaggerated or sentimentalized. And I don’t really buy into this too much, the sentimental view of sexuality.

    At the same time, the literature of sexuality that wants only to produce arousal is just as predictable as this sentimentalized version. So-called erotic writing usually makes me laugh.

    Which is another way of saying that the elevated sex scene, the kind you might find in D. H. Lawrence, is just as misguided, strategically, as the porn scene. Of the two, I’d probably take pornography, just because, at least to me, pornography isn’t pretending to be anything. It knows exactly what it intends to do. I’d rather read the Marquis de Sade, that is, than D. H. Lawrence, but given the choice between the Marquis de Sade and the arts page of the newspaper, I just might take the arts page.

    There’s another approach to the literature of sexuality, however, and that is the descriptive or etiological approach. Instead of trying to ratify some Hollywood notion of sexual ecstasy where everyone has simultaneous orgasms and cries out to God, or, at the other end of things, instead of trying to get the reader off and nothing more, it might be possible just to describe sexuality as it actually happens.

    How does it actually happen? The first thing that needs to be stressed is that sexuality is really messy. There are all these fluids around, before, after, and during, and people often find that, afterward (and sometimes even before and during), the fluids can verge on the abject. The second aspect of actual

sexuality is that there is often a gap between intention and result. The male of species will recognize this particularly, because his frequent somatic complaints in the area of sexuality — you all know what they are — are just different ways of saying that he intended it to go otherwise.

    A third genuine aspect of sexuality is that it is sometimes more work than play. Sometimes you really need to apply yourself, and it’s good exercise, and it’s not terribly different from sit-ups, except at the end. You might be busy for forty-five minutes trying to get your partner to forget about his or her day at the office, so that he or she can have some fun. …read more

Rick Moody is most recently the author of The Diviners. His other books include The Ice Storm, Purple America, Demonology and The Black Veil.
To buy The Diviners, click here.

As a writer, I am no more interested in sex than I am interested in any other part of the human experience. Sexuality has, for me, in its literary guise, minimal romantic freight. In fact, most of the time, when it does have romantic freight, it’s exaggerated or sentimentalized. And I don’t really buy into this too much, the sentimental view of sexuality.

    At the same time, the literature of sexuality that wants only to produce arousal is just as predictable as this sentimentalized version. So-called erotic writing usually makes me laugh.

    Which is another way of saying that the elevated sex scene, the kind you might find in D. H. Lawrence, is just as misguided, strategically, as the porn scene. Of the two, I’d probably take pornography, just because, at least to me, pornography isn’t pretending to be anything. It knows exactly what it intends to do. I’d rather read the Marquis de Sade, that is, than D. H. Lawrence, but given the choice between the Marquis de Sade and the arts page of the newspaper, I just might take the arts page.

    There’s another approach to the literature of sexuality, however, and that is the descriptive or etiological approach. Instead of trying to ratify some Hollywood notion of sexual ecstasy where everyone has simultaneous orgasms and cries out to God, or, at the other end of things, instead of trying to get the reader off and nothing more, it might be possible just to describe sexuality as it actually happens.

    How does it actually happen? The first thing that needs to be stressed is that sexuality is really messy. There are all these fluids around, before, after, and during, and people often find that, afterward (and sometimes even before and during), the fluids can verge on the abject. The second aspect of actual

sexuality is that there is often a gap between intention and result. The male of species will recognize this particularly, because his frequent somatic complaints in the area of sexuality — you all know what they are — are just different ways of saying that he intended it to go otherwise.

    A third genuine aspect of sexuality is that it is sometimes more work than play. Sometimes you really need to apply yourself, and it’s good exercise, and it’s not terribly different from sit-ups, except at the end. You might be busy for forty-five minutes trying to get your partner to forget about his or her day at the office, so that he or she can have some fun.

    And a fourth quality of sexuality that merits investigation is the way in which it has rather profound psychological ramifications for all parties, regardless of what they would have you believe. People get uncomfortable when they are through, or they feel like it wasn’t what they wanted, or they feel guilty or ashamed. Or, perhaps, they like what happened more than they ought, and they spin out into the ether of romantic expectation.

    The literature of sexuality, for me, begins to do its job when it begins depicting sexuality in light of these everyday sexual experiences. Enlarged prostates, dry vaginas, sexually transmitted diseases, excessive body hair, too much yelling, not enough yelling, bitter tears, salacious come-ons that verge on the inappropriate. Every day, somewhere, someone, or probably a lot of someones, are living out these parts of the madness that is sexual congress, and they are feeling that maybe they can manage to do it, or maybe not. So if it’s happening like this all around us, let’s hear about it!

    Am I asking for bad sex? I always find the term "bad sex" faintly puritanical, for the simple reason that I find myself set free by sex scenes that are not all rosy and clean. The more complicated literary sexuality is, and by complicated I mean emotionally complicated, the better I like it. Excessively tidy people call perfectly genuine sex scenes bad, because, I suspect, they can’t hack the truth. In my experience, these people turn out to be kind of dumb readers in the first place, not to mention boring partners in bed. There are a lot of dumb readers around, and a lot of people who are boring in bed, and they’re usually the squeaky wheels, these particular individuals. Go read a Harlequin romance or something, if you want it all to be "good."

    It follows from the above that when I was approached to select a few stories for Nerve, I didn’t, at all, think about contacting people who’d written "good" sex scenes. I figured instead I’d ask a few writers whose work I really loved generally if they had anything at all in their files on the subject of sex and relationships. The primary requirement, I mean, was chops, not hormones. So this sampling is less about representing sexuality, and more about excellent writing, in which "sex and relationships" happen to have a place much in the way they do in real life. These writers, no doubt, would also write well about food preparation, shopping, or sunbathing.

    Julia Slavin’s great first novel (published some years after her wonderful collection The Woman Who Cut Off Her Leg at the Maidstone Club) came out in July of this year. It’s called Carnivore Diet, and it made me laugh more than anything I’ve read in a long time. She’s a anatomist of psychosocial discomfort, and as such she has written movingly of sexuality. And we’re really lucky here, because Nerve is publishing an excerpt from the book that was partially left on the cutting-room floor. Carnivore Diet suffered, in my view, from some prudish editing at the corporate level. But with this excerpt Slavin agreed to restore a very compelling scene to its original condition.

    David Ryan is another impressive literary psychologist. He hasn’t yet published as much as he ought, and we are the worse for it. Part of this is due to the fact that he’s obsessive and perfectionist, but part of it has to do with the fact that his work is extremely emotionally complex, not to say dark on occasion. Sometimes the publishing outlets fear darkness, which is their shame. "The Prince" is a short story about an American Muslim couple after 9/11 and the effect of this strange, turbulent historical period on their intimate life. Like Slavin in her passage, Ryan imagines this situation, since it is not his own by birthright, but he does so, I think with tremendous compassion and grace. The tradition of fiction that he operates in, which includes writers like Conrad, Kafka, and Hawkes, is lucky to have a contemporary voice as nuanced and sensitive as David Ryan.

    Ryan Boudinot is a younger writer from the Pacific Northwest who has begun making a name for himself in McSweeney’s and some of the other quarterly magazines. He’s got a light, contemporary touch, and is first rate at hearing the way the people around us use the tongue. In fact, there are few contemporary writers who are as good with the first person point of view as Boudinot. But what I like best about him is the way dreadful serious always hovers beneath his comic surfaces. He’s a bit of a moralist, beneath the surface, and an outraged one. His story here captures both the lightness and the sadness of intimacy in a way that really gets at how we live now.

    These are all voices to watch in the future, voices that are about nuance and range and depth. I hope you like them as much as I do. — Rick Moody

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In This Issue:
On Sex and Relationships by Ryan Boudinot

“You just wish they’d invited you into a three-way,” I said. “You already f*cked Bob, you might as well go for Julianne, too.”

/fiction/10.10
The Wig by Julia Slavin

"I could see my hand didn’t lie: she was as hairless as any punish-fucked cheerleader."

/fiction/10.11
The Prince by David Ryan

"The prince thought, You may feel some minor discomfort. And then: You have the right to remain silent."

/fiction/10.12
Means of Production by Rick Moody

"Why could women be smart, decisive and brilliant, and then somehow irresolute at the sight of a cock?"

/fiction/10.13

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