The Exceptional X / Book of Objects
Originally uploaded by magic fly paula.
And the question? Well, that's easy: What's the one thing you would never write about?
--Because my kids still think I'm a virgin.
--My mom, too.
--Because it's most often done badly--the writing, that is, not the sex. (From what I hear, that's frequently done rather well.)
--Because even some of our great literary minds have gushed in embarrassing shades of purple, producing scenes that sounded like bad porn when they tried.
There are exceptions though. Two literary sex scenes in particular come to mind:
In Sula, Toni Morrison writes a scene so charged and visceral that the hair on your arms will rise.
The second one is the famous scene in Gone With the Wind when a drunken Rhett sweeps Scarlett up the stairs. But wait, you say. That's where the scene ended. One of the most memorable and powerful sex scenes in my reading life had no actual, um, sex?
My point exactly. (Aren't you proud of me, Mom?)
Anyone else have a favorite literary sex scene? Or one that made you laugh out loud it was so bad?
i write about it once in a while, but today I am writing a tribute to one of the 2996 - I hope you will drop by for a read, and a tear.
There are a few sex scenes that have made me laugh out loud - but they were forgettable, so I don't recall. Writing about sex is tricky, because readers always have different expectations - and like you said, would we really want our parents or children - or even some friends - reading those scenes? I prefer to hint at things and leave the rest to the reader's imagination. The Gone with the Wind scene was quite memorable.
I know exactly which scene in Sula you're talking about: yowza!
Other faves would be the scene in Willa Cather's O Pioneers! where Frank Shabata discovers his wife, Marie, & Alexandra's brother Emil committing adultery in his orchard. The scene has an unfortunate ending, but what's erotic about it is that Frank only sees parts of what's going on--an arm, a leg--and then instinctively puts two & two together. The effect is pretty powerful since you have to imagine what happened.
Another memorable sex scene would be in Leslie Marmon Silko's Ceremony, where the protagonist, Tayo, has sex with a mysterious woman on a sandy river bank. There's something about Silko's evocation of the tactility of skin & sand that makes the scene very hot.
Both of my NaNo novels were padded with really bad sex scenes: it's a quick way to crank out wordcount, but it's difficult to do it well.
Isn't that why we read Peyton Place?? or did they just lead up to it? Too long ago to actually remember it tho. Heading out to buy Sula tho.
--Because my kids still think I'm a virgin.
--My mom, too.
Thanks for the laugh this morning, Patry.
I can't address anything else until I've had more caffeine. Or at least until my daughter isn't lingering in the general vicinity.
I interviewed author Ingrid Hill on my old radio show and she said that in her book Ursula, Under, she intended to describe sex in as many ways as possible: Married sex, awkward sex, great sex, one night stand sex...
and she does it beautifully.
Highly recommend the book.
There was that sweet scene in "120 Days of Sodom" by de Sade.....oh never mind....
david: I checked out your tribute. VEry moving.
paris: I agree; hinting is much more my style--and frequently just as effective. I'm thinking of THE AWAKENING. There was no sex at all, just longing, but it remains one of the most sensual books I've ever read.
lorianne: That we both remember the scene from Sula so well proves the power of a truly well done sex scene. Now you've got me very curious about O Pioneers! and Ceremony, neither of which I've read.
r: You know, I don't think I ever read Peyton Place, but I hear it pretty much ruined Grace Metallious's life. See what I mean about writing torrid scenes about the neighbors...
robin: I can't even kiss my husband without the kids saying "Ewwww.." in that syllable extending way they have. Imagine if I wrote a sultry sex scene? I'd be completely disowned.
jordan: Sounds intriguing! Thanks for the recommendation...
fred: The sweet scene in 120 Days? Ah yes, I remember that one well.
The Rev. Andrew Greeley, in one of his columns, published a list of untrue rumors--one of which was that he had a mistress. I believe him. Reading the sex scenes in his books confirms his vow of celibacy. The sex in his novels goes too perfectly, in a kind of one-thing-after-the-other fashion. On the other hand, Hemingway, in For Whom the Bell Tolls, doesn't go into graphic description, but manages to portray the beauty of making love without it. The line about the earth moving has become a cliche, but that may be one that Hemingway invented.
steve: I've always thought the idea of a priest writing sex scenes was a bit odd. But then again, I've written a murder scene...You've definitely sent me back to Hemingway. There's so much he does well. The simple perfect rhythm of his sentences for one thing.
i can think of the explicit horror of something like the rape in selby's last exit to brooklyn
lawrence didn't ever get it right for me (sorry lady c)
while aware that i'm forgetting many
i'd go for h g wells' tono bungay because he captures so well the drives and sadness of love and sex
even as i write this i'm aware of the strangeness of my choice (out of character for me too) but i stand by it
Shhh Confession: when I was MUCH younger I found Mills and Boons romances sexy - and back then it was all hintd at, never explained - so much more sexy
And yes I agree, the longing; unrequited love is sooo sexy ... Jane Austen's 'Persuasion' for example - or Charlotte Bronte's 'Jane Eyre' ... it's all in the allure, I reckon - not the grunt and sweat!
I dog-eared the sex scenes in an otherwise unreadable Eric Lustbader book when I was 17 and working at a library. The Trick Top Hat by Robert Anton Wilson was full of funny porn sex scenes.
Le Carre's sex scene in Single & Single is rather embarrassing, although perhaps somewhat intentionally.
I am rather fond of erotica, but because the goal is so different, a good one can derail a good story, and a bad one be so jarring as to devalue the story. I prefer the purpose written short story for sex.
For me, too, it is an experience that is either bluntly graphic, or beyond the ability of words.
Now, I'm going to go find Sula...
floots: I read Lady Chatterley when I was very young and even more virginal than I am today and I was pretty impressed. I'd have to go back and reread it to make a more meaningful assessment. Funny, you don't hear much about that book these days.
As for H.G. Wells, I've never read him. Tono Bungay, huh? I'll have to check that out.
chiefbiscuit: Our tastes definitely runs in the same direction--which makes me wonder: Do men find unrequited love and longing sexy, too, or is that a woman thing?
zhoen: I worked at the jewelry counter in Bradlee's when I was in high school, and I often smuggled a steamy book off the rack to keep me entertained (and informed!) during the slow hours. With everything available on the internet, I suppose the dog eared page or the torrid book tucked under the mattress is less appealing to adolescents these days. Somehow that makes me sad.
Funny that, I was thinking about using the same answer for this week's prompt but then changed my mind. Yours made me giggle :)
As for memorable sex scenes - Anais Nin comes to mind, I cannot recall which book, but remember that the imagery stayed with me for a while during a period of celibacy.
Kerstin: Oh yes, Anais Nin is the master of poetic erotica. Little Birds--is that the title? I can't remember either.
I can't think of any off the top of my head, but I did enjoy the Soul of Sex by Thomas Moore.
As a creative Writing Student in university, one of my class-mates challenged the class to write a sex-scene. I declined b/c I have the same feeling, "they either come across as bad porn or cheap comedy," I said. Some weeks later, one of my mates put a scene on the table. I laughed-mao, admitted I was wrong because “this scene was not cheap comedy at all, it was really funny.” My mate looked at me straight-faced, “Funny? You thought I was trying to be funny?”
James Salter's A Sport and A Pastime seems to get sex right in a minimalistic way. It's graphic without being pornographic. It's passionate without being purple.
Jean Auel has some pretty steamy erotica in VALLEY OF THE HORSES (made my nostrils flare, anyway)...
Grove Press published a funny, little volume called A HUNDRED DOLLAR MISUNDERSTANDING (I can't remember the author).
In it there is a description of a "climax experience" (told in the 1st person) that seemed hilarious to me and a few Reed College freshmen cohorts (women and men)who read the book aloud in ensemble mode in 1963-1964 when our study of Aeschylus or (dare I say) Sappho got "too thick" and we thirsted for comic (and cosmic) relief.
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