Jane Haddam’s WordPress weblog

Sex. Everywhere.

with 4 comments

So the term has started, and that means that I’m floating around out here on what I would probably call the slough of despond if I were another kind of person.

The difference is that the reason for the slough of despond is not my students.

My students have done some cringeworthy things already this term–one of them told me, in her second paper, that FDR was a Republican–but by and large this is the best class I’ve had since I returned to teaching in 2000. 

It’s an upper level class.  Most of the students have some connection with the necessary context and several are actually intellectually engaged.

And in spite of the fact the one of them almost certainly gave me the bug that just laid me low for a week, I love them.

No, what has brought on the slough of despond has to do with my reading, my writing, and, apparently, everybody else’s reading and writing.

Let me start here:

While I was sick, I reread a very old book, Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything. 

I have read this book several times, although not recently.  And I went back to it because I seemed to remember that at the start of it, Jaffe used a frame I thought would be useful for something I was working on, if I could learn to do it.

I was right, by the way, but that’s not the point.

The Best of Everything is what’s called a “four women” novel.  I’ve always really like four women novels, even in their various incarnations as eight women novels, three women novels, five women novels…

In case you think you haven’t ever run into one of these, think again.  The four (or whatever) women novel is one of the staples of American literature.

Little Women is a four women novel.  So is Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club. So is almost everything by Anne Rivers Siddons. So is The First Wives Club. 

It’s a very useful form.  You take four women with some connection.  You start them off and then follow their various paths through life for a longer or shorter period of time.

When I first started out trying to be a real, honest to God, published professional writer, four women novels are what I wanted to write.

And yes, that is sort of what I’m working on now, but that’s a discussion for another day.

What started me on my way to the slough of despond is the fact that there is another, more recent, and probably much more famous four women novel out there, one which most of you only know as a television show.

Sex and the City.

And the television show of Sex and the City turns out to have been up free on demand on my cable service.

I didn’t realize that Sex and the City had started off as a novel until I saw the first episode of the show, which, of course, credits Candace Bushnell’s book.

The author’s name intrigued me, and it turned out that yes, she is one of those Bushnells, from one of the families that founded this state and after whom half a dozen or so major buildings (both government and private) are named. 

This is not particularly important to anybody but me, and even to me is mostly means that growing up in Glastonbury is a hell of a lot more interesting than it was in my day, when the place was principally known for being very rich and very stodgy.

It’s also one of my favorite places in Connecticut.  I am always very well disposed to places that spend serious money on their public libraries, and Glastonbury spends very serious money on its public library.

All that aside, Sex and the City has a very clever frame.  The title is actually the title of the lead character’s column for a New York newspaper, and each episode is (at least theoretically) the content of one of those columns. 

The columns follow the lives our our heroine and her (of course) three friends as they drift through NY in their thirties, desperately trying to find somebody to marry them.

Well, except for Samantha–not our heroine–who is rather refreshing in her single-minded pursuit of uncomplicated and endless sexual intercourse.

When I first saw that Sex and the City was a book, I gave serious thought to getting a copy, if for no other reason to find out what modern four women novels are like.

The book was even dirt cheap on Amazon, less than six dollars, and–

And nothing. 

By the time I reached episode 3, I knew I was not going to read this thing. 

Sex has always been a big item in four women novels–well, most of them.  Not Little Women, obviously.

Hell, I even learned what sexual intercourse actually was from chapter 2 of Mary McCarthy’s The Group.

That’s the eight women novel.

The problem was, there was so much sex, so much of the time, that it turned into a gender-different form of Quidditch–just one more action scene with people running around Doing Stuff rather mindless and for far too long.

And yes, I know.  Action scenes (of whatever kind) can be used to illuminate character.

But most action scenes don’t do that, and these surely did not.

They were sex scenes–graphic, right out front, and one step away from actual porn only because there were no “cum shots”.

And if you don’t know, you really, really don’t want to ask.

About the time I was getting rather depressed and annoyed at Sex and the City, I started following a FB thread that consisted of complaints from romance writers than romance novels these days are nothing but soft core porn. 

The success of Fifty Shades of Grey and company have resulted in a romance market that wants sex first, sex last and sex always. 

What’s coming out of even the category lines is a lot of frantic panting tied to really hackneyed, formulaic plots.

Romance has never been a genre I particularly liked, and it’s been years since I’ve ready any, so I have no way of knowing if these complaints are justified.

They do, however, match up eerily well with my complaints about Sex and the City.

And this is, of course, another case in which I am very much aware that I am in the minority, and possibly a very tiny minority.

I may not like action scenes, but most people do, and apparently lots of them like action sequences that consist of two people banging away at each other (ahem) from every imaginable direction.

Some of which directions look distinctly uncomfortable.

I am me, of course, and I would not want to stop people from reading or writing this stuff if that’s what they want to read and write.

I am, however, getting distinctly nostalgic for what I think of as “fiction,” which is–

Well, not that.

I’m not saying that all the Quidditch should go away.

Sex and violence are and always have been a part of life.

I’m just a little depressed by the fact that a vast proportion of the book buying and television and movie watching public seems to have forgotten they’re only a part.


Written by janeh

September 28th, 2014 at 10:09 am

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses to 'Sex. Everywhere.'

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  1. Or, if I might summarize, “people write and read about things I’m not interested in. I don’t like it, and I wish they’d stop.” That’s IT? I wait all this time for a new Blog post, and I get an Edmund Wilson pastiche?

    In the prefect novel, every incident–indeed every sentence–will advance the plot, illuminate character and make the larger philosophical or political point. Sadly, despite thousands of new novels a year, we’re not there yet. In the meantime, we struggle by, and the digressions are a matter of taste. You may feel John Galt’s radio speech was bad art, but I bet you read every word. And one of these days you’ll read Thomas Perry’s DANCE FOR THE DEAD with great attention to the Savings and Loan debacle and real estate fraud. Pornography takes many forms.

    Romance novels. I read a fair number, and more than I used to–Austen and Heyer, the odd Loring, Turnbull or Elsie Lee, and of the ones still alive anything by Jennifer Crusie, some things by Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Meg Cabot’s SHE WENT ALL THE WAY–all with plot, character and humor. All with more sex than their predecessors–but I don’t know how you’d avoid it in contemporaries set in a world in which people hop into bed on first dates and learn last names later, if at all. You COULD still write a sex-free historical romance, but I can’t remember the last time I saw it done. But it’s sex as plot incident, I think, and not pornography as romance.

    When you read the plot summaries, you can spot the ones in which the plot is just a way to string the sex scenes together. Would I buy such a book? None of your business–but obviously a lot of people do. There’s stuff in the Romance racks of B&N we’d have kept behind the counter when I was in the trade 40+ years ago.

    A lot of romance falls between two stools–not the plot, character and dialogue to sell as “real” novels, and not (quite) explicit and frequent enough sex to move as pornography. I suspect it doesn’t sell, and I see no reason why it should.

    Could you actually write a book with characters, a plot and highly explicit sex scenes? Maybe. Closest I’ve seen so far are Celeste Bradley’s WHEN SHE SAID I DO and Miranda Neville’s CONFESSIONS FROM AN ARRANGED MARRIAGE. Neither are perfect, but I have that problem a lot.

    In fact, I have that problem so much that if I started writing essays to explain that a certain sort of book didn’t interest me, I wouldn’t get anything else done.


    28 Sep 14 at 1:09 pm

  2. Semi hijack.

    If we are going to discuss sex, I will throw this in for discussion.


    I wonder what will happen when a male student complains that his date said NO.


    28 Sep 14 at 6:17 pm

  3. I followed up a link in one of the comments on the National Review article.


    Look under the definition of sexual violence.


    28 Sep 14 at 8:52 pm

  4. Gives credence to Orwell’s supposed quote that some ideas are so stupid that only an intellectual can believe them.


    28 Sep 14 at 10:31 pm

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