It was all up for grabs, and how they grabbed it

First there’s the headline. You just have to laugh.

John Colapinto Revives the Male-Centric Literary Sex Novel

Say what? Revives it? Since when is it moribund?

Then there’s the author: Steven Kurutz. So men think there aren’t enough male-centric sex novels around. Ok…

Then there’s the article.

There was a time when the great American male novelists took delight in writing about sex…Sex was freedom, sex was adventure, sex was a good time, sex was pain, sex was life. Masturbation, threesomes, pedophilia, extramarital flings, one-night romps: It was all up for grabs, and how they grabbed it.

Good old “it.” No need to ask an it how it feels about any of this. Also, what is pedophilia doing in there? Is Steven Kurutz a Catholic bishop? Raping children is a crime. It’s not kink, it’s a crime.

In these more tentative times, male literary novelists tend to shy away from such strong stuff. And when these creatures of the workshop do manage to summon up the courage to test their descriptive powers against the most basic of human drives and activities, it is often to chronicle male sexual hesitation, confusion or inadequacy.

Still no mention of the non-male people who are often involved in all this “strong stuff.” Apparently they have no say, being its.

John Colapinto wrote a novel with, apparently, a lot of sex in it. 41 publishers said no thank you. Kurutz tells us nothing about the quality of the novel, but assumes without argument (let alone demonstration) that the no thank yous were all because the novel is too sex for them.

An editor at Grove Atlantic, writing to the author’s agent, called the manuscript “gripping,” only to add, “There were worries that it might be a bit challenging to publish.” An editor at Simon & Schuster said that although the novel was absorbing and perceptive, “It’s not a world or a story I want to live in and explore.” An editor at Gallery Books put it like this: “The subject matter is too tricky.”

It’s far from obvious that the Simon & Schuster editor, for instance, didn’t simply dislike the novel, as opposed to shying away from all the sex.

One of the protagonists of “Undone,” Dez, has a fetish for teenage girls. His latest catch, or victim, is a 17-year-old high school student named Chloe.

Hello. If by “catch, or victim” he means sex partner, that’s statutory rape.

But by exploring heterosexual male lust, Mr. Colapinto has written the kind of novel that has gone way out of fashion. The classics of the genre — “Portnoy’s Complaint” (Roth), “An American Dream” (Mailer) and “Couples” (Updike), among them — are many decades old.

I grew up on Roth and Updike, and even then their misogyny and failure to grasp that women are fully people put me off. I don’t lament the decline (if it even is a decline) of that kind of writing. (Martin Amis, by the way, is one who still does a fine line in women-oblivious writing.)

Publishers of literary fiction, perhaps afraid to alienate their biggest customers — women, who read more than men — aren’t exactly rushing to release the next male-written sexually provocative novel.

He got so close to the obvious, yet he never noticed. Why would that kind of writing alienate women? It’s not the sex part, it’s the male-centric part. We get enough of that in the world, we don’t need even more of it in novels.

Many critics and civilian readers would say — and have said — good riddance to priapic literature. In a 1997 essay, ostensibly a review of the late-period Updike novel “Toward the End of Time,” David Foster Wallace slammed the previous generation of “phallocrats” for its sex-obsessed narcissism. He mocked the protagonist of the Updike book for giving voice to such pronouncements as “I want women to be dirty” and expressed disgust for the author’s description of a 13-year-old girl’s breasts (“shallow taut cones tipped with honeysuckle-berry nipples”).

What had once been an act of literary daring had grown stale, Wallace argued, and Updike was misguided in clinging to the “bizarre adolescent idea that getting to have sex with whomever one wants is a cure for ontological despair.”

Well quite. Yet Kurutz, even after quoting that, still doesn’t seem to get it.

Mr. Colapinto, who has a wife and a teenage son, travels in educated, liberal circles that have internalized several waves of feminism. His son has not read the entirety of “Undone,” he said, and his wife, who only recently did, “had her concerns.” (“I’m insane,” Mr. Colapinto added, laughing.) But he set out to write a “dangerous” novel, he said, in the belief that “inappropriate lust” made for a worthwhile topic.

He even mentions feminism, and still doesn’t get it.

Male-centric journalism is still flourishing, I promise you.

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