By PJ Parrish
So I was cleaning out my old external drive the other day (I’m running out of things to organize during our sheltering time). And I found one of my unfinished manuscripts. It’s called Tarantella.
Yeah, yeah, I know. We should be careful about using foreign words in titles. (See Sue’s post yesterday). But this is a really great title, trust me. A tarantella is an Italian courtship dance that gets its name from peasant women working in fields and getting bit by the tarantula spider. The venom makes the women fall into a trance and the only cure is to sweat out the poison through a frenzied sexy dance.
Did I mention my manuscript was erotica? (A repressed American woman goes to Italy and meets a hot guy…fill in the cliches here). Now, when I was publishing romance and family sagas, I wrote a lot of sex scenes, but they were pretty tame, Burt-and-Deborah-on-the-beach stuff. Erotica, well, that’s a whole nother can of spiders.
It’s not easy writing really steamy sex.
Some writers are naturals at it. I remember reading Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying when I was twenty-two and being stunned. (Go here for first chapter excerpt…it gets good when she gets to Italian men). I wasn’t an erotica connoisseur, but every once in a while, I’d happen upon a writer who got it right. Like Anais Nin’s Delta of Venus. Like Joyce Carol Oates in her Monroe homage Blonde. Or like Anne Rice. Her vampire books are just a more upfront take on the eroticism that pulses through Bram Stoker’s Dracula. From Rice’s The Witching Hour:
She closed her eyes, feeling his lips on the back of her neck, feeling his fingers tracing the length of her spine. There came the pressure of a warm hand clasping her sex, fingers slipping inside her, lips against her lips. Fingers pinched her nipples hurtfully and deliciously … She felt herself being lifted, her feet no longer touching the floor, the darkness swirling around her, strong hands turning her, and stroking her all over. There was no gravity any longer; she felt his strength increasing, the heat of it increasing … She was floating in the air. She turned over, groping in the shadowy tangle of arms supporting her, feeling her legs forced apart and her mouth opened. “Yes, do it…”
So back to Tarantella. The only good thing about it is the title. The writing itself is cringe-worthy. Really bad. Just plain icky.
Which brings me to my topic for today — The annual Literary Review’s Bad Sex In Fiction Awards. I apologize, but I think I have a duty to bring this to light every year. We mere crime dogs need to know that even the literary lions can whiff bad at the plate.
Before we get to the winners, here are the short-listed entries:
I Told You To Take A Left At The Pancreas…
“He clung to her, crying, and then made love to her and went far inside her and she begged him to go deeper and, no longer afraid of injuring her, he went deep in mind and body, among crowded organ cavities, past the contours of her lungs and liver, and, shimmying past her heart, he felt her perfection.” –The River Capture by Mary Costello
Then I felt it. There was a sensation occurring here that I didn’t even know could occur. I took the sharpest inhale of my life, and I’m not sure I let my breath out for another ten minutes. I do feel that I lost the ability to see and hear for a while, and that something might have short-circuited in my brain – something that has probably never been fully fixed since. My whole being was astonished. I could hear myself making noises like an animal, and my legs were shaking uncontrollably (not that I was trying to control them), and my hands were gripping down so hard over my face that I left fingernail divots in my own skull.
Then I screamed as though I were being run over by a train, and that long arm of his was reaching up again to palm my mouth, and I bit into his hand the way a wounded soldier bites on a bullet.” — City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
Don’t Know What a Slide Rule Is For…
“The actual lovemaking was a series of cryptic clues and concealed pleasures. A sensual treasure hunt. She asked for something, then changed her mind. He made adjustments and calibrations, awaited further instruction.” –Dominic Smith’s The Electric Hotel
Now to our winners. Yes, plural. In a shock announcement, the judges awarded the grand prize to two authors this year: Didier Decoin for The Office of Gardens and Ponds and John Harvey for Pax.
Decoin is a French writer who received the Prix Goncourt in 1977 for his novel John l’Enfer. In 1995 he became secretary of the Académie Goncourt. Harvey is a writer and a Life Fellow at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. He has written five novels, as well as essays and books on visual culture.
The judges said, “Faced with two unpalatable contenders, we found ourselves unable to choose between them. We believe the public will recognise our plight.”
Indeed, we will. Take a deep breath, we’re going in.
“She was burning hot and the heat was in him. He looked down on her perfect black slenderness. Her eyes were ravenous. Like his own they were fire and desire. More than torrid, more than tropical: they two were riding the Equator. They embraced as if with violent holding they could weld the two of them one.” — Pax
Spank that Monkey!
Katsuro moaned as a bulge formed beneath the material of his kimono, a bulge that Miyuki seized, kneaded, massaged, squashed and crushed. With the fondling, Katsuro’s penis and testicles became one single mound that rolled around beneath the grip of her hand. Miyuki felt as though she was manipulating a small monkey that was curling up its paws. –The Office of Gardens and Ponds
It just doesn’t get any better than that.