Posts Tagged ‘Sex’

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes

January 5, 2014

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes is a wonderful, intoxicating read. She takes a murder thriller, and puts a deft spin on it, working in time travel, obsession, and the power of sexuality. Thinking back on the novel, sex plays an increasingly large role in the narrative. All of the victims are sexually strong women, in control of their lives in every way. The one exception is the one woman who no longer “shines,” falling into drug abuse and mediocrity as an artist. She, also, is the least satisfying kill for Harper, the serial killer who jumps around time, killing off women who “shine,” who have a special quality that  lifts them above the rest. They are gifted.

Talking about sex in The Shining Girls, for much of the novel sex and violence are explicitly tied together with the killer. He jerks off to places where he kills his victims, his erections are noted, the release and the energy of the killing passages could be overlaid a bodice ripper, and the songs would be eerily similar. Harper’s violence is tied to his sexuality, taking its place. It’s evidenced further by the only time he considers giving up the serial killer business is when he establishes a physically intimate relationship with a nurse that he considers his equal. What is interesting is that he considers her his equal largely because he sees her as being as cold, deceptive, and manipulative as he is. Their intimacy is less a shared experience than of two experiences running parallel to one another. based on deceit, of the willful playing of expected roles, both seeing the other as being innately false but finding their attraction in this falsehood. It was not surprising when one crossed a line and Harper brutally murdered his lover. though this was also Harper’s most disorganized killing, building towards nothing, no purpose besides reacting against a betrayal he couldn’t abide.  His lover had drugged him and looked into The Room.

The Room is essentially a trophy case that maps out the killings that would make up Harper’s life. It should be noted that Harper’s lover did not react to the room with revulsion. She did not find Harper suddenly terrifying, a monster in human skin. She offered to work with him, to be his accomplice, to be Bonnie to his clyde, holding up the robust futures of young women and taking them for himself.  She was more alike him than he knew, and for a brief moment, before he killed her, it may have been the one frankly honest communication to pass between them.   So why did Harper kill her? Was it the betrayal or was it the loss of power? With his regular killings, power is a key aspect for Harper. Snuffing out these bright lights, taking them for himself, the idea of being in control is  for him quite stimulating. Perhaps this is the true reason he kills her. By drugging him, and slipping into the one room he has forbidden her from, she has done an ultimate act of power taking. The only way for him to regain any of it is to brutally snuff out her light.

It is this loss of power induced rage at the realization that one of his victims, Kirby, has survived that ultimately leads to Harper’s own demise. He gets sloppy. He gets personal. He consistently loses his fights when it gets personal, seemingly unable to deal with anything he can’t detach himself from.

This isn’t to say that sex isn’t intrinsically linked to power for the other characters. For all of the women who shine, sex is powerful for them, as well. however, it is a power they exert over themselves and weave into their lives rather than a power that is forced over others. One woman is a lesbian at a time and place where lesbianism wouldn’t be the most popular life choice. Another forgoes a lesbian relationship because she knows it isn’t what she ultimately interested in. Another woman is keenly aware of the sexual politics played at her work, and is careful in plotting her course and fending off advances – as well as the repercussions of fending off such advances. And Kirby desires sex, but on her terms, turning down suitors who offend her, holding back when she isn’t sure if another has the same desires.  Sex is a part of their lives, in ways prominent parts, but they are only parts, and they have their place.

As always, here’s the Barnes and Noble link to buy the book.

House of Holes by Nicholson Baker – review (adult content)

May 9, 2012

Most books have a little, fancy fonted script on them that says “a novel” or stories.” Nicholson Baker’s book has a book raunch on its cover. It lives up to it.

I’ve tried to come up with something more to say, to find a reason for its blatant sexuality beyond it wanting to be blatantly sexual and revel in all things lascivious. I can’t. Maybe I didn’t pay close enough attention, and just missed it. Maybe I got too distracted by the rows of meatsticks, the stacks of boob fat and the buckets of come (though not “cum”) that litter each story. This isn’t to say the entire novel isn’t without substance. There are people looking for love, looking for connection, and looking for themselves. the ubiquity itself of the sex may form a comment of its centrality of our lives. Either in its abundance or its absence, its joy or its perversity, it plays a key, if not central, role in defining who we are. What Baker is possibly doing is pushing that to the front and center, where it can’t be ignored, and letting loose with a bevy of language to make its unsettling presence slightly more palatable.

It is Baker’s vocabulary and verbal ingenuity that really carry the novel. He doesn’t hide behind it. Every term I used above, he uses in the text, and it never comes off as the author attempting to shirk the reality of his material. Instead, “boob fat” is partly humorous but also straightforwardly honest. Meat stick is exactly what it is. The term is ridiculous, flaunting its physical reality in a way a more clinical term like “breast” or “penis”  can’t embody.  In this way, House of Holes avoids being pornographic. While the visual material wouldn’t make it past an MPAA board without an X,  the language moves it beyond the bounds of a common smut novel. Baker’s playful inventiveness allows him to be straightforward in a way that allows Sex to be the focus but to also lose its taboo. Instead, its position in the makeup of our lives can be seen more directly, more clearly, and perhaps more honestly. Humor makes sex approachable, and Baker goes out of his way to make every meatstick and boob fat immeasurably approachable.

It should be noted that the House of Holes isn’t free. It’s definitely a for profit venture. However, it should also be noted that the for profit parts seems to largely rest on the male partakers. In payment for the services of the House of Holes, men literally lose arms, balls, and heads (and not just the south of the shoulders variety).  While the men losing body parts seems part for parcel at the House of Holes, the only criminal in the book is the Pearloiner, who steals women’s clitorises.  And I don’t recall any moment where a woman is forced to lose a body part, especially a sexual one, as a form of punishment or payment. There is a clear double standard at work, despite women getting just as much (if not more) sexual enjoyment from their stays at the House of Holes as the men. Is Baker saying that women need to be encouraged to embrace their sexuality more, so using it as a punishment (in any form) is verboten? At the same time, is he saying that men perhaps cater to their sexual cravings too readily, and need to be reigned in a bit?

I realize now that I’ve went on for a good while after saying that I wasn’t sure what the novel was about or where additional meaning could be culled from.Looking back on it, I’m not sure how much is real and how much is my invention,m  or perhaps all literature is the sum of what we pull out of it (and put into it).

 

Here’s the book at Barnes and Noble. As always, I’d encourage you to go to a real book store in your neighborhood and get it-and not just browse it so you feel more comfortable ordering it online later. With bookstores being a bit of a dying breed, I’d encourage the use of B&N.

Dirty Havana Trilogy – Review

December 6, 2009

Publisher’s Weekly labels it a cross between charles bukowski and henry miller. While there is certainly a large element of raunch through the first two sections of the trilogy (and still enough for a good romance novel in the third) it’s not as good as either of the two it’s a supposed hybrid of.

Still, the raunch turns out to be the second most interesting thing about the book. the first is the format. The first section is a series of short, first person accounts from Pedro Juan, our hero of the work, as he tries to survive with a litany of scavanged and possibly illegal jobs on the street, just trying to keep food on the table, and then his relentless pursuit to fuck whatever woman he can, wherever he can, whenever he can. This isn’t to say the guy is a womanizer. His conquests are not exactly reluctant. They aren’t so much conquests as two people coming together with a similar goal in mind and happening to find someone to help them get there. It is sex of desperation. No one has much of anything, life is miserable for everyone, and everyone just wants something to get helm them through the day – which is sex.

the second part has a slightly older pedro juan, a slower pace and more laid back life. he finally settles in with a woman from his apartment building named isabelle who prostitutes herself for money while Pedro Juan continues to do whatever he can to make a buck or two (literally, as they favor earning a buck or two over numberless pesos).

Finally, the third section moves away from Pedro Juan and tells the stories of the people around Pedro Juan that we have glimpsed throughout the first two sections. We learn that Pedro Juan’s observations are not always entirely correct and many of the people surrounding him live much sadder and more desperate lives than even he imagines.

Throughout the book, Gutierrez gives his characters a thirst for life and independence within the Cuban dictatorialship that is commendable. The life he portrays, of the average person just trying to get by and mitigate their misery as well as possible while the State operates around them, is a touching portrait of the terminally poor in Cuba.

The Bride Stripped Bare – Review

October 28, 2009

Told in 138 lessons, instead of chapters, “The Bride Stripped Bare” is a book written from the perspective of an anonymous young housewife who finds her world jarred to the foundation by the possibility (nay, likelihood) that her husband has been having an ongoing affair with her best friend since childhood.

The book is often talked about as a frank account of what a woman feels and thinks sexually. As it focuses on a woman feeling betrayed by her husband before seeking out an affair with a man she meets at a library group, and then a number of other encounters with strangers and to greater degrees of sexual adventures, it is easy to see how this becomes an overriding characteristic of the book. The idea of a woman seeking out anonymous group sex can be equal parts titillation and disquieting. It garners attention and does it with an efficiency and speed that is commendable.

But it’s not what I find most interesting when thinking back on the book and while reading the thoughts of others on the book. Until her husband’s possible infidelity comes to light, the young wife seems perfectly happy with every aspect of her life. Her existence could be summed up in three words: Life Is Good.  Since there are no clear suggestions to the contrary, we have to also assume that her sex life is good – or that, at least, she perceives it as good; which is essentially the same thing.

So why did it take her husband’s infidelity for the anonymous young bride to suddenly see the “truth” about her sexual life and decide that these new experiences were really what most excited and engaged her? Rather than being a story of a woman’s sexual awakening, it seems more a story of a hurt person seeking comfort and revenge through mimicing the actions of those who have hurt her.

For with her husband’s infidelity constantly in the background the text, looming over each sexual encounter she has, it becomes impossible to distinguish between an experience felt genuinely and an experience being constantly interpreted by the experiencer. The wronged housewife becomes an unreliable narrator. While the actual events of the story seem to be reliable in their telling, what we can’t trust are the emotional and psychological underpinnings of those actions and their intangible aftermaths.

It makes me think of the film by Gus Van Sant, “Elephant,” about two boys who shoot up their high school school. Van Sant stated that he desired to make a film showing the utter  randomness and essential meaninglessness behind events such as school shootings. That the attempt to attribute meaning is a pointless endeavor. But then he makes his two shooters gay lovers and has scenes depicting how they were typically treated by the other kids (it wasn’t well).  While it could be argued that such things were purposefully planted in the plot as a trap for people looking for meaning, even in a film that is reputed to showcase the lack of meaning, it fails because it simply does provide the opportunity to find a reason. If Van Sandt had really wanted to provide no reason, he wouldn’t have provided even the briefest hint of one.

And so I feel about Gemmel’s “The Bride Stripped Bare.” I have a hard time seeing it purely as a novel of a sexual awakening, of sorts, for a woman and a “frank” and “honest” portrayal of how women think of sex when there’s a big pink elephant looming over each and every sexual experience the young bride has.

Still, for whatever you read into the work, it is a very good read and very well written.  My views are only a reflection of myself, the reviewer, as I think any review is at its most honest level.

Sputnik Sweetheart – Review

August 4, 2009

Murakami excels when plumbing the depths of human loneliness and isolation while being surrounded by humanity.  In Sputnik Sweetheart, the narrator is known only as K.  He is a teacher who is madly in love with a woman two years younger than named Sumire. Sumire doesn’t reciprocate these feelings and later finds she wants to pursue a homosexual relationship with an older woman named Miu. Sumire comes to work for Miu and then disappears from a small Greek island while on a business/vacation trip with the older woman.

As with most Murakami stories, the attempts at a sexual life by the main character (and, as it turns out, all of the characters) is stunted, at best. At worst, the ability to have a sexual relationship is entirely missing. It’s probably worth noting that the one character who most fully overcomes their sexual shortcomings and even makes  a proactive attempt at finding a sexual life promptly disappears. 

There is a similar setup to Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World. In an existence where the narrator’s life is literally split into two simultaneous halves, his sexual lives tend to culminate with going “underground” in some way to a strange and foreign place. Murakami seems to be forming a sort of equation where fully realizing your sexual fulfilment results in a distinct seperation from the conventional world – and at times it is leaving the conventional world that is required for this sexual fulfillment.

Still, this leads away a bit from the true essence of Sputnik Sweetheart. While sex, or the absence of sex, plays a large role in the story, it’s really a story that seems to revolve more around unrequited love and the isolation such love forces upon you. Miu, unable to enjoy sex-or equally share/build a relationship – because of an event from her youth, leads a life that substitutes independence for her isolation.  Meanwhile, K. has several sexual relationships but no real relationship because the one woman he desires and doesn’t have sex with is the only woman who seems to hold any interest for him on a deeper level.

Murakami is one of my favorite writers, so my opinion towards his work is slanted, but Sputnik Sweetheart is an entirely readable little novel that clocks in at around 200 pages. Like all Murakami works, it is something that can be read as superficially as you like but which has a surprising depth given its size and the deceptively simple construction. For summer fare it would make for leisurely reading on the beach or on vacation or, for those unfamiliar with Murakami works, a good introduction to him. For those familiar with Murakami, it makes for a quick jaunt into his universe and hits upon familiar themes and images.

Sputnik Sweetheart at Amazon

a collection of thoughts and musings

May 23, 2009

I read today where more colleges in the US are looking at establishing three year BA programs. I like the idea and wish it had been around when I started college far too many years ago and, at the same time, I know there re professors in various humanities divisions howling over this and how we’re producing workers rather than people. Which I think is awfully insulting to the people but whatever. Where a few of these possible programs fail, though, are where a few mentioned the necessity of taking summer classes to finish in three years. Well, no shit. I’m betting you could finish most 4 year degrees early if you took summer classes as well as the traditional fall/winter.  But I’m all for shorter time frames for degrees.

Speaking of degrees and colleges and the cost inherent with attending them, I am wondering where my bailout will be.  Credit card companies were “taking advantage”of people being reckless with their cards. Fine. Help’em out, pass some legislation, keep people from being raped by credit card companies (and more about this in a bit). But what about everyone who has gone to college in the past 20 years and been hit with tuition payments increasing at far greater rates than inflation? I think it would be just as fair to say that people are being taken advantage of by the education system within the framework of a society where the value of a college degree is arguably vastly overstated. So a bunch of us take out crazy amounts in loans to get these degrees because we’re told we will need them and the colleges/universities take our money and keep charging us more…well, where’s our legislation to get this crap in order? If we’re going to start righting wrongs here, what about us who tried to better ourselves and got raped by loan companies/colleges? Even if I don’t get any help, at least cap tuition hikes or something. This shit is insane.

And back on the credit card front, fine, pass this legislation, whatever. But don’t turn around and fuck over those of us who do play by the rules. Since the CC companies can’t royally screw over people who don’t pay on time or at all, the talk is that they are just going to screw all of us with rate hikes and annual fees. I make sure to always pay something on my credit card bill. I make sure I am never late. I don’t need to get screwed because Joe Fuck Up wrote enough letters to his vote whore representatives. 

This pisses me off because I accept that there are some things I just don’t have right now and am unlikely to have in the near future. Things like health insurance.  But instead of finding a way for someone like me to feel okay going to a doctor without worrying about going into even MORE debt that I can’t handle, they pass this crap that will likely just fuck me. thanks. Thanks a lot.

The only thing that consistently brings a smile to my day are women. I bitch about my g/f a lot but I love women. Whether it’s just a cheap look, a quick flirtation, a good laugh or a few moments talking about the misery of existence,women consistently make my day worth living. Granted, most of the time it falls into the cheap look category but still, it’s something.  The damndest thing is that it’s not even a consistently sexual thing any more, not like it used to be when I was a bit younger. Now I’m just as likely to just be amazed by some woman’s youth and strength and beauty and can’t imagine her being in my filthy mits at all.

and, in all honesty, I probably wouldn’t know what to do if given the opportunity with the majority of these women who melt me from afar. It’s better to just look and think about it. From a distance they can remain gods. up close they would be just like everybody else.

onward and upward.

All of us have a place in history. Mine is clouds.

November 5, 2008

Richard Brautigan is one of the writers that I just get. When I finish a novel of his I’m not always entirely sure what it meant. Or if it meant anything. Sometimes I think they are just what they ar: a beautifully innocent look at the world from a man who, as Ferlingetti said, was much more in tune with the trout in America than with people.

My first experience with Brautigan came with a beat up copy of Watermellon Sugar that I picked up at a used bookstore. The bookstore was probably in Toledo, Ohio but it might have been North Platte, Nebraska. It was one of those purchases that you don’t know why you’re making but something about the fading of the cover or the creases in the binding just draw you to it and force you to take it home. That and it was probably absurdly cheap.

Since, I have collected a copy of nearly every work of fiction written by the man, mostly in the form of massive 3-in-1 collections that you can still find on a Border’s bookshelf, if the store is decently stocked. I have found him to be a writer who gives anything from violence to sex to sitting on a bence in the park an aura of golden wonder. All of the critiques of him saying he was “innocent” are spot on but I don’t view them as drawbacks. Why must good writing not be innocent and wonderous? I have to think the world would be a better place if we all saw the world a bit more like Brautigan seemed to.

Never having read much of his poetry, what I have read is very good and carries the similar bizarre track of his novels. In his pages you won’t find another “Howl” or “Wasteland.” When you pick up “Watermelon Sugar” expect to get “Watermelon Sugar.”

Anyway, I just read “Trout Fishing in America yesterday and wanted to talk about Richard Brautigan. He’s an interesting writer. He shot himself in the head in the 80s and he probably didn’t deserve to die in such a way. But it’s probably better than being eaten by tigers in watermelon sugar. Got some links at the bottom in case you’re curious about some more RIchard Brautigan. And if you’re not, you should click on them anyway because I might have just done a poor job of selling him. So check him out. And enjoy the fishing.

 

Brautigan Wiki

Brautigan.net

Brautigan Poetry