There are some situations in which it’s perfectly okay to laugh freely and without restraint at another person. Then there’s the Bad Sex Award, given out annually by the Literary Review for the worst literary portrayal of sex.
It’s hard not to laugh at all — the award seems intentionally designed to elicit at least a snicker — but you want to be careful about issuing a full, hearty guffaw, at least writers want to exercise caution, because next year you might win.
Oh, I know, we all like to think it can’t happen to us, but as with actual sex it’s a fact that, from a statistical point of view, some people — nice enough folks in all other respects, and perhaps even good writers outside the fictional bedroom — will be substandard.
And, once again in an analogy to actual lovemaking, all of us tend to be bad judges of just how good we are at writing sex. You can show your writing to your loved ones and ask for their honest opinion, but when they say they enjoy it, how can you be sure they aren’t just faking it to spare your feelings?
So be careful just how loudly you laugh when I tell you that this year’s winner is David Guterson, probably best known for award-winning-novel-turned-film Snow Falling on Cedars, who won for his novel Ed King.
Fortunately, Mr. Guterson appears to be taking the news in stride. Ed King is a retelling of Oedipus Rex, as you might guess if you read the title a second time. Guterson is quoted as saying, when told of his dubious victory, “Oedipus practically invented bad sex, so I’m not in the least bit surprised.”
The judges were apparently particularly influenced by the following paragraphs, in which a mother and son have sex (I haven’t read the book yet, but based on Oedipus I assume that they don’t know they’re related at the relevant time):
These sorts of gyrations and five-sense choreographies, with variations on Ed’s main themes, played out episodically between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m., when Diane said, “Let’s shower.”
In the shower, Ed stood with his hands at the back of his head, like someone just arrested, while she abused him with a bar of soap. After a while he shut his eyes, and Diane, wielding her fingernails now and staring at his face, helped him out with two practiced hands, one squeezing the family jewels, the other vigorous with the soap-and-warm-water treatment. It didn’t take long for the beautiful and perfect Ed King to ejaculate for the fifth time in twelve hours, while looking like Roman public-bath statuary. Then they rinsed, dried, dressed, and went to an expensive restaurant for lunch.
Guterson was in pretty good company in his bad writing. It’s the rare writer, for instance, who can say that he or she beat out Haruki Murakami for a literary prize, but Guterson can now make that boast, since the much-idolized Japanese author was amongst the competition for his novel 1Q84. The rest of the short list included:
- On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry
- The Final Testament of the Holy Bible by James Frey
- Parallel Stories by Péter Nádas
- 11.22.63 by Stephen King
- The Land of Painted Caves by Jean M Auel
- Dead Europe by Christos Tsiolkas
- Outside the Ordinary World by Dori Ostermiller
- Everything Beautiful Began After by Simon Van Booy
- The Great Night by Chris Adrian
- The Affair by Lee Child
Damn, now I feel like I should read them all, if for no other reason than to see if Guterson really does come out on top, so to speak.