November 30, 2009

"Una had stretched out on the bed of the guillotine; I lifted the lunette, made her put her head through it, and closed it on her long neck, after carefully lifting her heavy hair."

"She was panting. I tied her hands behind her back with my belt, then raised her skirt. I didn't even bother to lower her panties...." Etc. etc. "... Leaning over the lunette, my own neck beneath the blade, I whispered to her: 'I'm going to pull the lever, I'm going to let the blade drop.' She begged me: 'Please, fuck my pussy.' - 'No.' I came suddenly, a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg."

Ha ha ha. And with that, Jonathan Littell ("The Kindly Ones") has snatched this year's Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

Read all the finalists — and laugh (or climax!) — here. Be charitable. It's really very hard to write about sex. Have you ever tried to do it? If you have, I hope you had the sense to laugh at yourself.

ADDED: From the BBC::
Over the years, some of literature's most glittering names have competed for one of its least coveted prizes.

Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, John Updike and Philip Roth are titans among novelists, generally acclaimed for their representations of every kind of human experience - except one.

When writing about sex, says the Literary Review magazine, their standards slip.
Here's the Roth passage that got noticed this year (from "The Humbling"):
He had let Pegeen appoint herself ringmaster and would not participate until summoned. He would watch without interfering. First Pegeen stepped into the contraption, adjusted and secured the leather straps...
It was a big year for devices, apparently. Again, I'm cutting the most NSFW parts, which you can click over and read.
... There was something primitive about it now, this woman-on-woman violence, as though, in the room filled with shadows, Pegeen were a magical composite of shaman, acrobat, and animal. It was as if she were wearing a mask on her genitals, a weird totem mask, that made her into what she was not and was not supposed to be. She could as well have been a crow or a coyote, while simultaneously Pegeen Mike. There was something dangerous about it. His heart thumped with excitement - the god Pan looking on from a distance with his spying, lascivious gaze.

It was English that Pegeen spoke when she looked over from where she was, now resting on her back beside Tracy, combing the little black cat-o'-nine-tails through Tracy's long hair, and, with that kid-like smile that showed her two front teeth, said to him softly, 'Your turn. Defile her.'....
Oh, okay. I liked the coyote, though, Phil. That was good. And the "mask on her genitals," that "weird totem mask." That meant something.

IN THE COMMENTS: DADvocate wrote:
I've always wanted to write about nerd sex. Certainly, it would win the Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

"After the proper amount of digital manipulation of each others genitalia, I inserted my penis into her vaginal orifice and began rhythmic thrusting motions at a cadence I had calculated to maximize her arousal...." 

43 comments:

vbspurs said...

She begged me: 'Please, fuck my pussy.' - 'No.' I came suddenly, a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg."

I have read Littel's book (in French! Before the translation came out), and I have to say, the writing sounds like something Andrew Sullivan envisions goes on in the Palin bedroom.

Ann Althouse said...

Where do people even get guillotines?

vbspurs said...

A better question would be, why does anyone have sex with their own sister.

(Una and Max, the narrator, are twins...)

edutcher said...

As Auntie Beeb notes, some of these guys are noted writers, makes you wonder what went into the wastebasket.

The ones that are really pathetic are those who are trying to be edgy by writing in the present tense or making it sound too-too grubby.

vbspurs said...

I have read Littel's book (in French! Before the translation came out), and I have to say, the writing sounds like something Andrew Sullivan envisions goes on in the Palin bedroom.

Good lord, Victoria, don't even contemplate such a thing.

You'll go blind.

Ann Althouse said...

Where do people even get guillotines?

The French GAO auctions, where else?

It's really very hard to write about sex. Have you ever tried to do it?

Uh oh, does Meade know about this?

WV "restr" When the oom is beyond your reach.

vbspurs said...

Ann asked:

It's really very hard to write about sex. Have you ever tried to do it?

Yes, on this very blog! When you asked the question after Titus imagined the Obamas were going to engage in coitus during their first night at the White House:

Of course, but please, everyone, imagine the dialogue!"

"Barack's taut muscles glistened as he stepped out of the White House shower for the first time, girding his loins tightly with a white towel. Water beads were like rivulets of passion down his body.

Michelle rasped lowly, in a voice full of hunger: "Come here, fool."

...I should really follow up one day. Hot, steamy and lots of guillotines.

vbspurs said...

Edutcher wrote:

When the oom is beyond your reach.

And THAT sounds like Andrew Sullivan getting into a fetal position on his sofa after writing about Palin's womb (which he pronounces "oom" in a childlike regressive way).

Ann Althouse said...

"A better question would be, why does anyone have sex with their own sister."

Nah. I understand how people find members of their own family. But it's not like there's a guillotine around the house.

chickenlittle said...

Where do people even get guillotines?

Magicians have them.
The story reads like an erotic version Two on a Guillotine.

wv: nomes names

Blair said...

Why don't they have a Good Sex award? All very well to laugh at it written badly, but I'd love to see a passage they consider comely. Oo er.

vbspurs said...

Mais Madame la Professeur! Remember the French gave up on the guillotine only in 1977, when the last execution by guillotine was carried out! They're not so rare as you may think. There was this grisly suicide as recently as April 2004. The opening sentence will give Bob Villa nightmares forever.

DIY FAN Kevin Brunie built a guillotine then beheaded himself in his back garden.

bagoh20 said...

I don't see what is bad about most of it. Then again, I don't complain much about the real thing either.

john said...

As the French eventually discovered, thick heavy hair could blunt the sharp guillotine blow and possibly result in only partial decapitation.

I'm glad the author didn't sacrifice historical accuracy.

SMGalbraith said...

Hmm, twice now Ann has mentioned the guillotine.

I know when women "hint" about things what they mean.

Meade: Ann wants a guillotine. Yeah, go figure.

Good luck, my friend, and remember to keep hands and fingers et cetera from any moving parts.

Hopefully - appropriate use of the word as I am full of hope - Ann posts pictures.

edutcher said...

Ann Althouse said...

"A better question would be, why does anyone have sex with their own sister."

Nah. I understand how people find members of their own family. But it's not like there's a guillotine around the house.


A couple of hundred years ago, kids would sleep together just to keep warm and I'm sure there was a lot of that sort of thing. Also, if Mom didn't want to have sex because eighteen kids was more than enough, some Dads undoubtedly started looking at Matilda, the firstborn.

Apparently, this was a common theme in Victorian porn.

WV "fedner" A car part from da Bronx.

Synova said...

Even well done sex scenes are ridiculous when read in isolation. The explicit ones are the most silly, though, with only a slight edge in silliness for those that are explicit but euphemistic over those that are explicit and use accurate or crude terms.

The "thing" about taking the sex scene part out and reading it by itself is that generally, if it's *well* done, there's half a book of foreplay that's gone missing.

I'm reading Dorothy Heyer at the moment (again) and there is absolutely no sex in her books whatsoever, not even in one that begins with the marriage. And while some are definitely better than others, there are moments in some of them that are quite exquisitely sexy when all that actually happened was he kissed her hand.

traditionalguy said...

William...My contribution to Minnesota's economy has been a 20+ year addiction to John Sanford novels. In the early Lucas Davenport novels, he was always bedding the woman in a love plus lust natural bonding for life, or death do us part in these novels.The sexual scenes were thorough and hot. In the last 5 years Davenport is now happily married, and the latest character named Flowers when he isn't fishing with the guys is a hip metrosexual that will screw any lady that seems available, that is when he has any free time from the fast digital communications world he occupies. There are very few available women due to the independent streak and the Gay streak life styles in the women of Minnesota. The new sex scenes get as far as a good hard on before being interrupted by a saving phone call even before the coitus can begin. No chance of children in Flowers's life unlike Davenport who kept begatting offspring with his true loves. Maybe Flowers needs Devices to tie him down.

vbspurs said...

Speaking of thick hair and guillotines as well as orgasms, I'm sure more than one of our liberal friends had an one when assembling this:

Bush Whacker

Pogo said...

Written sex is best avoided, except obliquely. At best, it can titillate, but any more becomes ridiculous.

It's like speaking the words to popular songs rather than singing.
Comedy gold.

Kev said...

(the other kev)

It strikes me that there is a bit of a Catch-22 in writing about about sex. To be convincing, the subject has to arouse the writer. But if the writer is aroused, the part of the brain that lets him (or her) write well is surely getting starved of blood.

It's actually laudable if the writing is better than "Uhhhhhh, Errrrr, Huhhhhhnhh."

Ron said...

"'The butterfly valve of her love for him remained stuck at full throttle', he supinely opined, dimly aware his chapter head would be deflated to a mere blog comment if he could not more grandiloquently say that both he and his Camaro were indeed blown."

How's that?

Kevin said...

Sorry, after Ayn Rand's sex scenes, there's no point having any further competition for the Bad Sex Writing award.

AllenS said...

She sat on the edge of the bed, her blond hair cascading down her shoulders. "What's your name", she asked. "Jeremy" he replied. "Jesus H. Fucking Christ" she screamed. "Get the fuck outta here!"

vbspurs said...

OT, propagandist Michael Moore posts an open letter about Afghanistan to President Obama (Via Memeorandum):

Dear President Obama,

Do you really want to be the new "war president"? If you go to West Point tomorrow night (Tuesday, 8pm) and announce that you are increasing, rather than withdrawing, the troops in Afghanistan, you are the new war president. Pure and simple. And with that you will do the worst possible thing you could do -- destroy the hopes and dreams so many millions have placed in you. With just one speech tomorrow night you will turn a multitude of young people who were the backbone of your campaign into disillusioned cynics. You will teach them what they've always heard is true -- that all politicians are alike. I simply can't believe you're about to do what they say you are going to do. Please say it isn't so.


Ooooh. Watching the Left swallow even this partial escalation in Afghanistan is going to be great. Just goes to show, the war they wanted Bush to concentrate on was all a sham.

Cheers,
Victoria

Photog714 said...

Althouse said: Nah. I understand how people find members of their own family.

Hmmmmmmmmmm ...

SMGalbraith said...

Hmmmmmmmmmm ...

If we discover that one of Ann's siblings was killed in a tragic guillotine accident.. well, take it from there, Mr. Poirot.

ricpic said...

And now for something completely different:


EGG

I'm scrambling an egg for my daughter.
"Why are you always whistling?" she asks.
"Because I'm happy."
And it's true,
Though it stuns me to say it aloud.
There was a time when I wouldn't
Have seen it as my future.
It's partly a matter
Of who is there to eat the egg:
The self fallen out of love with itself
Through the tedium of familiarity,
Or this little self,
So curious, so hungry,
Who emerged from the woman I love,
A woman who loves me in a way
I've come to think I deserve,
Now that it arrives from outside me.
Everything changes, we're told,
And now the changes are everywhere:
The house with its morning light
That fills me like a revelation,
The yard with its trees
That cast a bit more shade each summer,
The love of a woman
That both is and isn't confounding,
And the love
Of this clamor of questions at my waist.
Clamor of questions,
You clamor of answers,
Here's your egg.



C.G. Hanzlicek

Photog714 said...

SMGalbraith: "If we discover that one of Ann's siblings was killed in a tragic guillotine accident.. well, take it from there, Mr. Poirot."

You read a lot into a simple "Hmmmmm." You also read incorrectly.

Chris said...

Not really that bad. This is a snooty intellectual thing.

SMGalbraith said...

You read a lot into a simple "Hmmmmm." You also read incorrectly

It appears you read much much more into my reply than I did.

I recall reading a study from about 5-6 years ago that something like 80-90% of readers of e-mails or internet postings misunderstood the intent of the sender.

At least.

edutcher said...

vbspurs said...

OT, propagandist Michael Moore posts an open letter about Afghanistan to President Obama (Via Memeorandum):

...

Ooooh. Watching the Left swallow even this partial escalation in Afghanistan is going to be great. Just goes to show, the war they wanted Bush to concentrate on was all a sham.


Think about that last paragraph and it's not so OT after all ;)

kentuckyliz said...

does chat count as writing?

Robin said...

I had to give up on Larry McMurtry because of his bad sex scenes. As he ages, they increase in frequency and decrease in quality. The early stories at least had a kind of adolescent awe. Of course, it may just seem that way because the only thing his women do, outside the sex scenes, is masturbate and shop. If it's a western, they chop wood, too.

ricpic said...

Robin, Duane's Depressed by McMurtry has nary a sex scene in it. And Duane's wife actually has an inner life! If you can get past the title it's an interesting read.

Robin said...

Is that the one that starts with Duane coming back from jetting around the world looking for inner peace but he still won't drive a car? I've put up with a lot from Duane over the years, but now I'm tired of him.

Photog714 said...

SMGalbraith again: "It appears you read much much more into my reply than I did."

What do you read into this?

DADvocate said...

I've always wanted to write about nerd sex. Certainly, it would win the Bad Sex in Fiction Award.

"After the proper amount of digital manipulation of each others genitalia, I inserted my penis into her vaginal orifice and began rhythmic thrusting motions at a cadence I had calculated to maximize her arousal...."

vbspurs said...

"After the proper amount of digital manipulation of each others genitalia, I inserted my penis into her vaginal orifice and began rhythmic thrusting motions at a cadence I had calculated to maximize her arousal...."

These hackers just don't stop. First CRU, now Bill Gates personal diary.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

I've always wanted to write about nerd sex

I put on my robe and wizard hat.

BJM said...

Hmmmm...duct tape, leather and devices...do I detect a bondage theme today?

wv: geist

Largo said...

coupled harmonic oscillators...

Sir Archy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sir Archy said...

To Professor Althouse.

Dear Madam,

As the Ghost of a Gentleman, dead these 260 Years and more, I pray you do not take it amiss if I tell you that I had perus'd in my Day many Work of bawdy Literature.  I inevitably found such Writings wanting in the Pow'r to either arouse amorous Passions, or to excite Admiration of their Style; thus, not from any intrinsick Goodness (for, like all Sinners, I was made of Flesh & Blood) did I turn to better-writt'n Entertainments, if only to escape the Tædium of reading yet another Account of heaving Breasts, ripp'd Bodices,  and the Male Member brought once more to not its proper lips.

Whilst I was alive, the Authors, Printers, and Sellers of such Literature as was deem'd obscene by the Magistrates were apt to find themselves beating Hemp in Prison, or, what was worse, standing in the Pillory.  The Maxims of British Liberty did not extend, in my Age, to the Promulgation of Vice.  For my Part, I had rather seen an Author in the Stocks for an execrable Style, than for any suppos'd Indecency; for, there has always been such a Want of good Writing, that Punishment for its Opposite ought to serve as a fine Literary Encouragement.

The following from the Grub-Street Journal for the 3rd of August, 1732, well-instances the miserable Nature of bawdy Writing, viz.:—

                        E P I G R A M.
Charg’d with writing of Bawdy, this was F–’s reply:
Tis what DRYDEN and CONGREVE have done as well as I.
Tis true — but they did it with good Pretence,
With an Ounce of rank Bawdy went a Pound of good Sense:
But thou hast proportion’d, in thy Judgment profound,
Of good Sense scarce an ounce, and of Bawdy a Pound.
                                                   —Mævius.

Aside from Considerations of strict Morality of the thing itself, 'twas thought in my Day, that lewd and obscene Pamphlets & Books tended naturally to encourage the Vice of Onanism; which was thought to weaken the Constitution and vitiate the vital Energies of its habitual Practitioners; and to lead to a Host of Ailments & Complaints, such as Gleets, Blindness, &c. That a rising, commercial Nation could ill-afford to suffer its Inhabitants to stew their own natural Corruption should not surprize even the most jaded Observer from this deprav'd Modern Age.

To counter such Vice, 'twas thought useful to publish innumerable books & pamphlets against it, such as the one instanc'd in the Advertisement as follows:—

       ADVERTISEMENT
 for the Good of the Publick

             ONANIA,
Or, the Heinous Sin of Self-Pollution,

and all its frightful Consequences in both Sexes consider’d,
with Spiritual and Physical Advice to those who have already
injur’d themselves by that abominable Practice. In which are
many very remarkable, and some of them even astonishing
Letters from Persons of both Sexes, young and old, single
and married, concerning their Self-Abuses, &c. Also one
from a Lady very curious concerning the lawful Use and
sinful Abuse of the Marriage Bed, with histories of Cases
and Cures, &c. And one from another young married Lady,
who by that detestable Practice became barren and diseas’d,
with a close Account of all she did to arrive at the dreadful
Condition, &c.  Sold by T. Crouch at the Bell in Pater-Noster
Row near Cheapside.  Price stitch’d 2 s.


Secure in the Knowledge that your Theatre of Topicks (as I call it) remains as firm a Guardian of Morality as any in my Day,  I am,

Madam,

Your humble & obt. Servant,

Sir Archy

Kinsey Holley said...

Explicit sex works in certain genres and not in others. It works great, for instance, in romance novels. It works less well in mainstream fiction, esp. the artsy or pretentious stuff or the tomes aspiring to Serious Litrachur status. Graphic sex scenes just look out of place in such books.

There's a science fiction series I read for a while - engrossing, very well-written books - but the sex scenes bugged the hell out of me and eventually turned me off the series. There were several couples in the series - two or three straight couples, and a lesbian couple. The author never got explicit with the straight couples - they'd kiss, maybe embrace passionately, then the scene would fade to black. The lesbian couple, though, got full length, play by play, nothing left to the imagination sex scenes - because lesbians are HAWT, of course. I was kind of embarrassed for the author because the scenes read like lesbian sex as envisioned by Penthouse Letter writers.

Yes, it's hard to write a good sex scene. But, it's also hard to write a sex scene as bad as the ones that tend to win this award. There's just no excuse for some of the stuff Philip Roth has written. The fact that he's a monumentally gifted writer makes his bad sex scenes that much worse. Ditto Norman Mailer.

Both male and female authors write bad sex but I swear, men write the worst bad sex.