Good Bad Sex

This entry is part 9 of 15 in the series The Art and Craft of Writing Sex Scenes
[asa left]0880016280[/asa] I really admire Scott Spencer’s work. Waking the Dead is probably my favorite of his novels, but I’ve found things to like about all of them. Endless Love is, over all, a delicately told, very dark story, one that I have re-read more than once. This particular scene I’m going to talk about bothers me — which may mean it is entirely successful.

Endless Love is about David Axelrod, a teenager desperately in love with Jade Butterfield but also with Jade’s family. His own intellectual and detached parents can’t compete with the Butterfields, who are unconventional and demonstrative. David and Jade’s relationship bothers her father (who is in some ways as volatile a character as David himself) not so much because it is sexual, but because of the degree of obsession David shows for them all. He orders Jade to stop seeing David, who then makes a desperate play to win the family’s love back, and missteps badly — more than once — with disasterous results. Near the end of the novel he does reconnect with Jade, who allows herself to be drawn back into the relationship. This excerpt is part of the longer scene in which Jade capitulates. Part of the delay is that she is having her period, but she is drawn enough to him, and he is eager enough, that they proceed anyway. The novel is written in David’s first person POV.

Endless Love. Copyright Scott Spencer.

We kissed and stroked each other for a while. Jade straddled me and I thrust up to enter her, but missed. She took hold of me and guided me in. She fell a little dry and her discharge was thick, viscous — the result of her period, the blood mixed with her normal secretions. She winced as I entered her —it’s awful, really, how stirring men find those small signs of pain. She lifted herself up a little and I popped loose of her. She came back down until the knobby bones of our hips touched and the bow-shaped curve of my cock pressed into the cushy heart of her genitals, sinking until it hit a ridge of cartilage. I pressed her at the small of her back; her hips were locked around mine now and I felt her pubic hair brush against me, as soft as breath on my belly. I pulled her down, made her bend from the waist, and crushed our chests together.

I whispered her name and when she didn’t respond I felt a moment’s panic.

I held her face and kissed her mouth. Her tongue felt huge, soft, and unbearably alive in my mouth. I breathed her breath. It was the night’s first real kiss. Precise, enormous.

The first thing to note here is the almost detached way in which David describes the mechanics of what they are doing. He has been obsessing about this moment for years, and now that he is in the middle of it, he seems almost cold in his observations. The first real insight into his state of mind is the sentence it’s awful, really, how stirring men find those small signs of pain. He is telling himself — and us, the readers — that this is about love and making a connection to Jade, but not very far beneath the surface he is tremendously angry. He draws attention to his own anger and trivializes it immediately, returning to relating the fine details of what is going on.

Why these particular graphic, less than erotic, almost distasteful details? Why language calculated if not to shock, then at least to push the reader away?

The sex is a way for us to see some frightening things about David, who is, after all, an unreliable narrator. There is very little of tenderness or affection here; this act is about blood, about crushing and crashing together, about barely constrained violence. Until he remembers to talk to Jade. Until he calls her name, and another part of his mind is engaged. It isn’t until this point, until he kisses her, that the scene shifts. He holds her face, he takes note of the fact that she is alive, and breathing. The adjectives here (Precise, enormous ) change the tone and the direction of what is happening between them — for him, at least. We can’t know what Jade is feeling.

It’s been observed before that sex and battle scenes are great places to see what a character is made of, and this scene is both. It is shocking, disturbing, distasteful because the things that drive David, things he has been withholding from himself and from us, are disturbing. This passage is as successful as a dark sex scene can be.

Whew. I’m ready for something a little lighter and I bet you are too. Tomorrow.

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