Most of us remember the first time we accidently encountered erotica in literature. I remember a bumpy bus journey back from my native place, when 12-year-old me — saddened by the death of Velutha — eagerly flipped pages for an anti-climax in the chapter titled ‘Cost of Living’. The smell of metal rails and sweat, and the dust and drizzle the wind brought were all forgotten as I read about forbidden sex on the banks of the Meenachal River. Someone else who had borrowed the library book before me had marked for the rest of us, “She sipped the last of the river from his navel.”
As the government debates about banning porn, let us travel back to an era when erotica was a surprise, and words were buried in a novel. This month, let’s take a break from porn websites and engage in some books that express human sexuality in inimitable ways.
BLUE ANGEL – Julie Maroh
Through the first few years of my relationship, I had a small note in my phone documents titled ‘firsts’. As time passed, I kept updating it with all that I had never done before, all of my firsts with my man. Reading Blue Angel felt familiar — it captures the firsts of a naïve teenager, Clementine, who falls for a blue-haired woman named Emma. They walk unwinding paths, cross parks and art galleries, discussing Satre’s existentialism. They rent a house where the bare walls resonate with their muffled climaxes. Clementine writes in her diary, “For Emma, her sexuality is something that draws her to others, a social and political thing. For me, it’s the most intimate thing there is.” Through these differences, Clementine explores herself and evolves in the course of a relationship. Maroh’s illustrations are piercing; you want to keep staring at them even after the words end. Perhaps there is no other book that has captured ‘firsts’ better. In 2013, it was adapted into the critically acclaimed indie film, Blue Is The Warmest Colour.
THE FIRST BAD MAN – Miranda July
The First Bad Man captures the weirdness that is Miranda July. In here, intimacy arises through wrestling. When Cheryl, a middle-aged, confused spinster is forced to share her home with her boss’s daughter, Clee, a wrestling ritual stems through their hatred and drags them closer. Meanwhile Cheryl is also attracted to her colleague, Philip, with whom she believes she has made love over several lifetimes. Funnily enough, in an interview with Sheila Heiti, July confesses that while writing this book, she’d get aroused and masturbate herself to sleep before even completing the scene.
ENDLESS LOVE – Scott Spencer
Endless Love will set you on fire. It is a tale of obsession told from the perspective of David Axelrod, who is obsessed with his high school girlfriend, Jade. He is 17 and she is 16. A modern age Wuthering Heights, love here equals destruction. We walk through the thoughts of a psychopath and witness his making. It’s been a decade since I read this book. I leafed through its pages while considering it for its dramatic sexuality, in search of a particular gory, blood-soaked lovemaking scene that haunted me through my teens.
Sample this: “We kissed and stroked each other for a while. Jade straddled me and I thrust up to enter her, but missed. She took hold of me and guided me in. She felt a little dry and her discharge was thick, viscous — the result of her period, the blood mixed with her normal secretions. She winced as I entered her — it’s awful, really, how stirring men find those small signs of pain.”
VOX – Nicholson Baker
This novella is a reminder of racing breaths, hammering heartbeats and endless whispers over the phone. You have been there, at some point or the other, coming up with new terms for body parts, or wanting to reach out to the other end of the phone call. Vox is centered on one long phone conversation between a man and a woman, who connect via an adult hotline and hit it off. Written in 1992, the book stands true to this date when hotlines have paved way for chat rooms. Playful and wild, they learn about each other through sexual advances and keep the pace till the book ends with an awaited climax.
BAD BEHAVIOR – Mary Gaitskill
A year back, I was blanching tomatoes for a soup while hearing about this anthology on a podcast. As the soup bubbled and burnt away, I sat unaware, scared at how a father was worried of catching a glimpse of himself in his son — their common trait being violence towards women. I went and ordered Bad Behavior the same day. Gaitskill writes about men, women, relationships and sexuality with unflinching clarity. Beth and the man take a trip to indulge in sadomasochism in a ‘Romantic Weekend’. “I want to make you do things you don’t want to do,” the man says. She replies, “But I won’t do anything I don’t want to do. You have to make me want it.” In Secretary, Gaitskill experiments with the theme of power, wherein a lawyer sexually abuses his secretary because he feels he can get away with it.