Sunday, October 29, 2006

A Goose for the Gander

(Cross-posted at The American Street)

Some twenty-odd years ago, I received a phone call at my desk at Simon & Schuster from an erstwhile colleague. Now a freelance editor, he was trying to palm off a fractious client on me as a moonlighting job. He'd grown frustrated with the client, a retired Russian general who'd fought with distinction at the Siege of Stalingrad and who now wanted to sell his memoirs of that epoch-making battle. My editor friend told the general that his memoir, while undoubtedly a record of heroic resistance to the Nazi invasion of his homeland, lacked the one ingredient guaranteed to make American publishers sit up and whinny: There was not a single sex scene in the whole book. The good general absolutely refused to embellish his otherwise admirable memoir with made-up nonsense about a weekend of unbridled passion at a Black Sea dacha with a toothsome Party apparatchik while the German mortars fell.

My friend did a pretty good impression of the general's outraged objection: "Pippil vere not fuckingk at Stalingrad!"

The unspoken thought went both ways down the phone line: Oh, yes they were, if you're planning to sell any books about it...

I popped into the Purcellville, Virginia, library this morning on the off chance that any of Jim Webb's novels -- now a cause celebre in the Webb-Allen election owing to Allen's hilariously outraged trumpeting that the books contain -- gasp! -- sex scenes! -- were on hand.

Perhaps predictably, there yawned a four-book-wide gap between Weaver and Webster on the fiction shelves. I thought to ask a librarian how long ago the books had been checked out, but realized that a good librarian might take umbrage at the question -- people's library activities being the sort of thing they're touchy about revealing. I can't help but think, though, that prurient interest in Webb's novels might have been piqued pretty recently.

I realize Allen's pretty desperate if he's reached the point of trying to shock Virginia voters with the intelligence that his opponent's novels have sex in them, but I can't help remembering this passage from a "Talk of the Town" piece by Lauren Collins in the New Yorker a year ago, about Scooter Libby's squishy attempts at writing right-wing stroke-books:
Libby has a lot to live up to as a conservative author of erotic fiction. As an article in SPY magazine pointed out in 1988, from Safire (“[She] finally came to him in the bed and shouted ‘Arragghrrorwr!’ in his ear, bit his neck, plunged her head between his legs and devoured him”) to Buckley (“I’d rather do this with you than play cards”) to Liddy (“T’sa Li froze, her lips still enclosing Rand’s glans . . .”) to Ehrlichman (“ ‘It felt like a little tongue’ ”) to O’Reilly (“Okay, Shannon Michaels, off with those pants”), extracurricular creative writing has long been an outlet for ideas that might not fly at, say, the National Prayer Breakfast. In one of Lynne Cheney’s books, a Republican vice-president dies of a heart attack while having sex with his mistress.

I'm shocked! Shocked!


Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Well, I agree with you. I'll say that up front.

BUT... "The man grabbed his young son in his arms, turned him upside down, and put the boy’s penis in his mouth."

It's low-hanging fruit, man! How many politicians these days could resist exploiting such a thing? Fictional? Out of context? Doesn't matter -- there's a senate seat at stake.

Tom said...

Unless your local public library's policies are especially strict, they should be able to tell you when the books are due back. And if you really want to know who has them, and aren't a duly deputized officer of the Department of Homeland Securitah (or someone who can fake it well), I'd suggest going to the nearest Republican rally and look for someone with a glint of finely honed outrage in his eye, brandishing them.

Neddie said...

put the boy’s penis in his mouth."

Webb swears he saw this happen. It's a sign of affection (I guess it always is, though, isn't it) among some Southeast Asian peoples. And it WASN'T a sex scene!

Tom: No biggie. I've read sex scenes before. (Yes! Now it can be told!) I just wanted to see what all the fuss was about. If my experience with bestselling-novel sex scenes is anything to go by, I imagine they're pretty pedestrian.

PS: The first I ever read was the opening scene from Mario Puzo's The Godfather. I might have been 11. Didn't give me a good feeling about sex.

Blowing Shit Up With Gas said...

Skipping over the 50 jokes that come to mind about that particular sign of affection, ever read "On Being Blue" by Wm. Gass? Had some great, interesting points about literary sex scenes.

Highlander said...

I also wanted to let everyone know, I have a new blog, just for my political rantings.

I've decided to split off my political comments onto their own page, leaving all the geek stuff I usually do to my regular page. If you're all about the politics and the weirdness, check out the new blog; if you like the superhero comics and the sci fi and the occasional bitter, defeated whining of a Tampa Bay Buccaneers fan watching the ongoing debacle that is his football season, well, stick with the old one.

Read, don't read. Link, don't link. I'll just sit here in the dark.

rosalita said...

you're so cool.