I just hit the tipping point with the E.L. James' Fifty Shades of Grey phenomenon. Had to pick it up. Had to read... And now I know. I know what's on your mind. And guess what - it was on my mind too. Soooo I started thinking 'bout memorable sex from books I've read. Sexy-sex, decidedly un-sexy sex, titillating, painful, crazy, boring - what books come to mind when I think about sex in crime and mystery literature?
The first name in sex-writing for me has to be Vicki Hendricks. Nobody else pens erotic passages as stupefyingly charged that also serve as such vital insight to character and theme that they transcend mere carnality and penetrate the spiritual, and happily return to the corporeal where they hang around a bit before drifting again into more heady territory. Every one of her books is fraught with passages of frenzied coitus, but nothing has yet topped one particular scene from her first novel Miami Purity, which actually caused my jaw to drop. For now, I'll just say that the feat described in the throes of titanic passion required both extraordinary endowment and suppleness. Also check out her collection of short stories Florida Gothic Stories for several trips that veer far beyond weird, into a territory that might reasonably be called transgressive innocence - from the introduction by Megan Abbott: "Who are we to judge these damaged souls, who rise higher than we do because, in the end, they care more, need more, grasp for it, because, for them, everything matters so much?"
Someone once pointed out to Jonathan Lethem that any time his characters acted on their sexuality, in his early work, their world figuratively came to an end. Lethem took it to heart and penned a short story in which the world literally ended each time his characters consummated their relationship (find it in The Wall of the Sky, the Wall of the Eye - it's the story with the expletive in the title). Also in reaction to that tendency he seemed determined to let his characters have some less apocalyptic fun in You Don't Love Me Yet, but the most memorable Lethem sex, for my money, comes from his first novelGun, with Occasional Music. It's a mashup of genre sensibilities - imagine Philip K. Dick writing aRaymond Chandler book or Ross MacDonald aping George Orwell. Anyhow, Conrad Metcalf is the private detective walking the mean (but clean) streets of Lethem's dystopian vision, and, as is wont in a hardboiled detective, he's lonely (broken up, divorced, widowed, un-requited, over-sexed and alone or a-sexual - these guys don't get happily ever after), and he's more than a bit hesitant when it comes to congress with his new gal because he lost his nerve with the last one... literally. Seems a big fad among paramours of the future is to get the nerve endings of their genitalia swapped - hey, everybody's doing it - only, Conrad's last girlfriend dumped him and split with all his tingly parts. Oh, he's still got the equipment - it's just that while using it it feels like lady bits instead. It's funny, it's squirmy, it's just so wrong.
Perhaps it's unfair to James M. Cain's remarkable prose skills, but I think the main reason that The Postman Always Rings Twice makes this list is that Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange's violent, messy first episode in the David Mamet/Bob Rafelson adaptation is simply one of my favorite celluloid sex moments ever. The instant recognition Frank and Cora have of their connection - their sameness - and the lust and loathing it ignites, is a force, the force, of their immediate need and ultimate undoing... And they'd probably do it all over again, given the chance. Their attraction is as irresistible as their repulsion is inevitable.
There's got to be a working girl account on this list, yeah? Well, I-5 by Summer Brenner contains the most memorable account of the daily/nightly routines of a prostitute caught in the web of sex slavery I've yet read. Dispassionately, Anya's degradation is recounted with a survivor's attention to detail, and if you hang in there, she'll take you on a helluva trip through the underworld, but I flinched more than once at the off-hand accounts of the physical and emotional awfulness that defines her life.
And you're going to need a porn star too, right? Angel Dare, the ex-porn star, heroine of Money Shot by Christa Faust is one of my favorite series characters to come along in a long, long time, and her sexuality is but a small part of her appeal - she's tough, smart, capable and brings a complex feminine sensibility to hardboiled pulp fiction - but, as this post is about sex... Angel's latest book, Choke Hold, has not one, but two of my most memorable transactions. The first concerns the disappointing, embarrassing, and er, touching encounter betwixt Angel and an aging fighter - two former ideals of their respective gender's potential - who fail to live up to expectations. The second is a flesh for trade deal that Angel makes without batting an eye (actually, she's gotta try hard to keep her eyes open) because she's desperate, the trade off is worthwhile and she's aware of her limited options and has to play her ace. It's a rather vile bit of pornography they film, and I was glad when it was over, but I remember it.
But what about sexy-sex? Well, we're getting there. Getting Off by Lawrence Block worked as sexy-sex... hyper-sexy sex. Unrealistically sexy-sex. Until it got violent. But he brings sexy back and includes the imminent violence in the mix - bloody sexy - which works fine because the predator in this case is a woman. I suppose if you reverse the gender roles in this one you end up with something along the lines of Maniac!, but it really is a different beast (not sexy in the least). I'm gonna chew on the implications of my double standards for a while, and maybe you should too. Stick it in your open mind and smoke it.
Gone Fishin' by Walter Mosley had a very memorable encounter between young Easy Rawlins and a much older woman. The passage finds Easy in a compromised condition, randy and intoxicated, and nearly assaulted by a woman who knows what she wants and how to get it. Easy and the reader have their tastes, and aesthetic default-settings challenged in an intense, altered-state twain, and both young master Rawlins and the reader will be mentally returning to that copulation often and coming away each time with a new take on it.
I threw out the topic on Twitter and FB last night and got several responses from other readers of crime and mystery fiction for their memorable sex passages. Some of those included: Drama City by George Pelecanos, the story Trying to Get Aids (found in Common Criminals) by Larry Fondation, Small Town by Lawrence Block, Last Call for the Living by Peter Farris, The Jook by Gary Phillips, The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, The James Boys from The Gunsmith series by J.R. Roberts,The Big Enchilada by L.A. Morse, Shooters by Terrill Lee Lankford, Perv--A Love Story by Jerry Stahl, Spontaneous by Diana Wagman.
Yeah. I'm sure I'll be coming up with more for weeks. What are yours?
Jedidiah Ayres writes fiction (that Scott Phillips said featured "the kind of sex that might make Larry Flynt reconsider his position on the First Amendment" which makes him very proud - available now for your NOOK), and keeps the blog Hardboiled Wonderland.
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