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Sex Scenes (Or, Perhaps a Post You Should Not Read With Your Boss Watching)

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"Sex Scenes (Or, Perhaps a Post You Should Not Read With Your Boss Watching)"

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Or, if you have an aversion to sex between two people of the same gender.  Or profanity.  Or if you don’t like Michael Chabon.  Or if you don’t like spoilers of Michael Chabon novels.  Or, you know, for whatever reason.  But to be courteous, excerpts from novels are below the jump.

I haven’t said much about that Katie Roiphe essay, but after rereading it, I kind of feel compelled to defend Michael Chabon.  I mean, come on, Katie, really?:

The literary possibilities of their own ambivalence are what beguile this new generation, rather than anything that takes place in the bedroom. In Michael Chabon’s “Mysteries of Pittsburgh,” a woman in a green leather miniskirt and no underwear reads aloud from “The Story of O,” and the protagonist says primly, “I refuse to flog you.”

First off, that scene is meant to be funny.  Second, Chabon is really, really good about writing about the multiple possibilities of sex, in part because he writes about sex both between men and between men and women, and in part because he recognizes the vulnerability of sex.  Which doesn’t, you know, make you weak, or afraid.  Just honest.  How about this scene in The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, when the main character has sex with a man who has become his good friend for the first time:


“Are you in full possession of your faculties?”

“I can’t be certain; no.”

“Well, it’s about time,” he said.  He pinched my earlobe.  “Let’s go exhaust all the possibilities.”

“Could we please do it slowly?”

“No, he said, and he was right.  We did it very rapidly, in the Weatherwoman’s bed, passing from toothed kisses through each backward and alien, but familiar, station on the old road to intercourse, which loomed there always before me, black and brutal and smiling, more alien, more backward, and more familiar than anything else.  Then, perhaps ten or fifteen minutes after my arrival at the house, with a hard, spongy fistful of him in my right hand, and my left had flat against his stomach, I was overcome with a feeling that made our black destination cease to seem looming.  My heart was simultaneously broken and filled with lust.

What follows is visceral, and absurd, and hilarious, and tender (and involves both corn oil and blood).  It is not, by any stretch of the imagination, “the new purity, the self-conscious paralysis, the self-regarding ambivalence” Roiphe condemns.

Or how about this prelude to a sex in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, where two characters, having broken into the World’s Fair, have burned their fingers on their lighters:

“Ow!” Sammy said, dropping his lighter.  “Ouch!”

Bacon let his own flame go out.  “You have to kind of pad it with your necktie, dopey,” he said.  He grabbed Sammy’s hand.  “This is the one?”

“Yeah,” Sammy said.  “The first two fingers.  Oh.  Okay?”

They lay there for a few seconds, in the dark, in the future, with Sammy’s sore fingertips in Tracy Bacon’s mouth, listening to the fabulous clockwork of their hearts and lungs, and loving each other.

Not intensely explicit, sure, but does it have to be?  And surely not a rejection of the sentiment Roiphe ends her essay with, “Why don’t we look at these older writers, who want to defeat death with sex, with the same fondness as we do the inventors of the first, failed airplanes, who stood on the tarmac with their unwieldy, impossible machines, and looked up at the sky?”  

And the same sentiment shows up again at the end of The Yiddish Policemen’s Union:

From the summer of 1986 to the spring of 1988, when they defied the wishes of Bina’s parents and moved in together, Landsman sneaked in and out of the Gelbfish home to make love with her.  Every night unless they were quarreling, and sometimes in the thick of a quarrel, Landsman climbed the drainpipe and tumbled in through Bina’s bedroom window to share her narrow bed.  Just before dawn she would send him back down again.

Tonight it took him longer and cost him more effort than his vanity would care to admit.  As he passed the halfway mark, just above Mr. Oysher’s dining room window, Landsman’s left loafer slipped, and he dangled free and thrilling over the black void of the Gelbfish backyard.  The stars overhead, the Bear, the Snake, exchanged places with the rhododendron and the wreckage of the neighbors’ sukkoh.  In regaining a purchase, Landsman tore the leg of his trousers on the aluminum bracket, his old enemy in the struggle for control of the drainpipe.  Foreplay between the lovers commenced with Bina balling up a tissue to blot the cut on Landsman’s shin.  His shin with its blotches and freckles, with its strange midlife bloom of black hair.

They lie there on their sides, a couple of aging yids stuck together like pages of an album.  Her shoulderblades dig into his chest.  The knobs of his patellas are notched against the soft moist backs of her knees.  His lips can blow softly across the teacup of her ear.  And a part of Landsman that has been the symbol and the site of his loneliness for a very long time has found shelter inside of his commanding officer, to whom he was once married for twelve years.  Although, it’s true, his tenure inside her has grown precarious.  One good sneeze could pop him loose.

“The whole time,” Bina says.  “Two years.”

“The whole time.”

“Not even once.”

“Not even.”

“Weren’t you lonely?”

“Pretty lonely.”

“And blue?”

“Black.  But never black or lonely enough to kid myself that having sex with a random Jewess was going to make me feel any less.”

“Actually, random sex only makes it worse,” she says.

“You speak from experience.”

“I fucked a couple of men in Yakovy.  If that’s what you want to know.”

Two aging yids, proving that sometimes, sex can be a “cure for what David Foster Wallace called ‘ontological despair’.”  Only this time, a woman gets to try sex as a tool of resurrection.  A man gets to acknowledge that love matters.  Sex is still kind of ridiculous, full of blood, and hair, and error.  And the stuff of life.
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