I'm conducting a workshop on THE JOY OF WRITING SEX at the Pacific Northwest Writers Association in July. Along with reading the book of the same name, I'm picking other writers' and readers' brains about the first time they read a book in which there was explicit sex. If you'd please help me out with your observations, I'd appreciate it. What I'd like to know is:
How old were you?
Title and Author?
How was the scene used to advance the story or deepen characterization?
How did it make you feel?
Most folks might imagine my first exposure to sex in fiction was in a romance novel. Not so. I was 17 years old, a junior in high school and in a Contemporary Fiction class. The teacher had given us a laundry list of "college-bound classic" which we had to read and write reports on. I dove into the work with glee. Reading was like candy to me. Still is.
One of the first titles I pulled from the list was John Updike's RABBIT RUN, a piece of literary fiction that has been roundly hailed by critics as brilliant. TIME listed it as one of the top 100 novels of the 20th century.
I was not ready for it. I was pretty naive for this bleak, depressing look at life and relationships. And I was totally shocked by the oral sex "Rabbit" Harry Angstrom coerces Ruth, a prostitute, into performing on the night his wife Janice is giving birth to their child. First, because I had no idea people did such things (told you I was naive) and secondly, because the relationships between Rabbit and Janice and Rabbit and Ruth are cold and abusive. There was no joy. No real pleasure in the exchange for either of them. No connection beyond flesh.
And perhaps that was the point. Updike seemed to be saying "Life is meaningless. We fill it with useless activity and people with whom we have little in common. Get yours." If that was his goal, he achieved it. I felt depressed as I read RABBIT RUN. It felt cheap and dirty.
If I read it again now, I think I'd still find it depressing, but I might have more pity for the characters who are frantically searching for meaning and can't seem to find it.
Ok. Your turn. I'm looking forward to hearing about your literary "first time."