The Literary Review sponsors an annual award for the most “poorly written, perfunctory or redundant passages of sexual description in modern fiction”, and uses that award to honor the literary efforts of luminaries such as John Updike and Ben Okri.
This year’s shortlist is no less exceptional:
Books nominated so far for the 23rd Bad Sex in Fiction Award include Before, During, After by Richard Bausch, Book of Numbers by Joshua Cohen, Against Nature by Tomas Espedal, Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, The Making of Zombie Wars by Aleksandar Hemon, Fear of Dying by Erica Jong, List of the Lost by Morrissey, and The Martini Shot by George Pelecanos.
Erica Jong – whose most famous novel, Fear of Flying, gave the world the concept of the “zipless fuck” but was published long before the prize was invented – has made the shortlist with her latest novel, Fear of Dying. The man says he has felt a bolt of lightning down his spine, the woman tells him he has raised “the kundalini”, the life force. “You betcha,” the grateful partner says, “Kundalini, schmundalini, it’s great stuff.”
The only other woman to make the shortlist, Lauren Groff, is nominated for Fates and Furies: “He shut his eyes and thought of mangoes, split papayas, fruits tart and sweet and dripping with juice, and then it was off, and he groaned and his whole body turned sweet.”
Some of the bad sex is definitely not safe sex. In The Martini Shot, a novella byGeorge Pelecanos, screenwriter of the much admired television series The Wire, there is every risk of a bad hair day ensuing. After ructions in the living room “with my feet against the scrolled arm of the couch for leverage”, and on and off the four-poster bed – “Moonlight and candlelight are a heady aphrodisiac and I kept the curtains open at all times” – the narrator very properly worries about his lover’s hair. “‘Thank you,’ I said, my hand still in her hair. I must have been twisting it. It was a mess.”
One name that almost made the shortlist was Michael Ashcroft and Isabel Oakeshott’s Call Me Dave. As you may recall, this book made headlines earlier this year with the allegation that the future prime minister of the UK, David Cameron, inserted a part of his anatomy into the mouth of a pig’s severed head. The judges seriously considered adding it to the list, but ultimately concluded that even though the “assertion was so flimsily corroborated as to resemble fiction … , the biographers displayed insufficient literary brio to merit serious consideration”.
The leading candidate for this year’s award is Morrissey’s List of the Lost, and with good reason:
Eliza and Ezra rolled together into the one giggling snowball of full-figured copulation, screaming and shouting as they playfully bit and pulled at each other in a dangerous and clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation with Eliza’s breasts barrel-rolled across Ezra’s howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza’s body except for the otherwise central zone.
If anyone knows where we can find excerpts from the other books on this shortlist, please let me know.