"Ecstatic burning harmedness"
November 12, 2014 5:42 PM   Subscribe

The nominess for the Bad Sex in Fiction award have been announced.
posted by anothermug (59 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite


 
They've had worse years, I think, although #5 strikes me as one long run of cliches. Some of those snippets look like they might be less objectionable in context (#7, for example).

There did seem to be a whole lot of people getting "lost," though--perhaps copulation requires a map these days? Maybe a compass?
posted by thomas j wise at 6:00 PM on November 12, 2014


These didn't seem as terrible as some of the previous years, at least in my memory. But yes, the layers and layers of bad cliches mixed with sudden overly-precise anatomical detail. Ick.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:14 PM on November 12, 2014


The Literary Review really needs to send winners huge purple dildo trophies.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 6:16 PM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Number 3 might earn it just for the egregious abuse of punctuation.
posted by mollweide at 6:20 PM on November 12, 2014


She rode him like a thermometer in a turkey, his cries of thanks giving her greasy loins the basting she had longed for all year.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:21 PM on November 12, 2014 [22 favorites]


I don't know. Whenever I see some of these lists, there always seem to be a couple passages that are there because "Teehee~ They're writing about ssseeexxxxx~" The first one seems rather unremarkable. Definitely not cringe inducing.

And there always seems to some that aren't due to bad writing so much as really bad mental imagery. Like 3 and 4. Well number four is a really poorly thought out simile. I mean owww...
posted by Zalzidrax at 6:23 PM on November 12, 2014


Let's just complete that with the coup de grace, Brandon:
She rode him like a thermometer in a turkey, his cries of thanks giving her greasy loins the basting she had longed for all year. A large dog stood at the top of the dune; its slobbery mouth clutching a twitching fairy penguin.
Better.
posted by barnacles at 6:23 PM on November 12, 2014 [26 favorites]


Not quite so bad as the 'bad sex in reality' award, I would think.
posted by McMillan's Other Wife at 6:27 PM on November 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


Too dry. Needs more cranberry sauce.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:27 PM on November 12, 2014 [4 favorites]


Scanned the list to see if they had included Haruki Murakami again. There he is. I don't know if the people making this list are taking the piss or what, but come on. Murakami is not trying to tantalize you. It's like making fun of the masturbation scene in Mulholland Drive for being sooooo unsexy. You are not clever, you have just missed the point entirely.
posted by buriednexttoyou at 6:29 PM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


I can't help wondering if the Murakami one has lost something in translation; the structure of Japanese can be so different that things that are very elegant in the original language come off as, uh, not when you put them into English, or if in context it's supposed to be kind of amusingly ridiculous, which the sex in the stuff of his I've read always seemed to be. Either way, if he wins this award it surely should be split between him and his translator.

None of these seemed too bad, really, but it's possible that years of fanfiction, a penchant for Jacqueline Carey's works and rereading some 0th draft sex scenes for my own book have lowered my standards; I certainly am unphased by a lot of purple prose that leaves other people rolling their eyes.
posted by NoraReed at 6:30 PM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


But what about bad sex in non-fiction?
posted by McMillan's Other Wife at 6:31 PM on November 12, 2014


But what about bad sex in non-fiction?

Read my blog.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:32 PM on November 12, 2014 [14 favorites]


But what about bad sex in non-fiction?

Read my blog.


Cleans coffee off of the monitor.
posted by McMillan's Other Wife at 6:34 PM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


unlike in previous years, the writing here is pretty uniformly bad. however, it's not enough that the writing should be bad, but that the badness should lead to the description of an act which is inapt, implausible, unintentionally awkward, or otherwise ludicrous.

as an example, the writing in 1) is terrible, just terrible. but the act described is really just lusty sex on a bed.

I think it's only really a competition between 6) and 7).

6) starts off with some awkward comparisons: pebbles, rain forests, ocean currents. then the writer ups his game, describing a vagina as an "airless vacuum" and finally asks you to imagine a woman straddling a man while rotating her torso, which action is likened to drawing a figure in the air. I think that's fairly described add both awkward and implausible.

7) is tricky because it's not clear how intentional the writing is. first we have a description of kissing with the phrases "jabbing around" and "wrinkled roof" ewww. but then he "steps into her" and "it hits her..." which takes us away from a description of unpleasant sex to something inapt and ludicrous to imagine.

so, it's a toss up. 6) describes a sex act which seems silly and awkward whereas 7) implies things which are baffling...
posted by ennui.bz at 6:38 PM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


These are actually fantastic writing about difficult suibjects--precise, amusing, with an only occasional excess that matches the act--and a strong knowing history. Auberon Waugh hated sex, and this prize just seems censorious and churlish. I have read bad sex writing and mostly it is the ellipses, and the vaseline soft fade, i like the directness.
posted by PinkMoose at 6:39 PM on November 12, 2014


Can we move that the word "pudenda" be banned from the English language forever? Eugh.
posted by sciatrix at 6:40 PM on November 12, 2014 [10 favorites]


I get the impression that the sense of bewilderment that one gets from #6 is intentional. It is good writing about silly and awkward sex, whereas the others are bad writing about... well presumably good sex, but if the writing manages to actually convey that, presumably it shouldn't be on the list.
posted by Zalzidrax at 6:47 PM on November 12, 2014


Like--

but it was as if a dam within me had burst and we made love that day and night like two people starved, slowly suffused with more and more pleasure, exploring and devouring every inch of each other, so as not to miss one single possibility of passion


all those gorgeous s sounds--the rippling effect of starved, suffused, pleasure, interupted as if one is taking a breath, by explored and devoured, and then conclusing with possiblity and passion--the nice parraellel of eating and being eatien in the problem of staved and devouring. Even the near rhyme of those two word.s That is a great sentence.

They were perfect rounds, white as mare's milk and tipped with ruby nipples that puckered as my gaze passed over them.

Tipped with Ruby Nipples, is just pure poetry, like and white as mare's milk, contrasting aesthetics and funciton is clever as well.

Ok, the one with a penguin is a bit silly, but last year a parody of bad writing won as actual bad writing, and not reading Flanagan, I suspect that this is the same situation here.

as if she's storing lava in her cheeks. I shut my eyes, holding her hair by the roots. My bones start to liquefy.


What does lava do, it hardens that which is liquid--the soft flesh and the hard cock, and the Lawerencesque renewing of nature--that's fantastic.

The Saskia Goldschmidt is just medicore bad mixed metaphors--it isn't fantastic, but it isn't the WORST EVER.

Murakami is working from a magic realist tradition, and therefore cannot be judged by the standards of realist fiction the prize wants to reward.

I think we need to celebrate great sex writing, not read it badly.
posted by PinkMoose at 6:49 PM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


Murakami is working from a magic realist tradition, and therefore cannot be judged by the standards of realist fiction the prize wants to reward.

murakamu doesn't deserve a pass. unless the passage, in context, is meant to be ridiculous, he's describing something which, if you try to imagine it, is really silly. plus the vagina as "airless vacuum." and that's not even getting into how she can "deftly guide his penis" if there is no resistance...
posted by ennui.bz at 6:56 PM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Can we move that the word "pudenda" be banned from the English language forever? Eugh.

It depends on how it's used. H.L. Mencken once said that American football matches were all about watching cheerleaders display their pudenda. I thought that was pretty accurate.
posted by McMillan's Other Wife at 7:01 PM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Prudery disguised as intellectualism; these awards are a fraud on taste. Would that the mirthless, joyless, loveless tut-tutters of the Literary Review stop boring adults with their petulant snobbery.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 7:02 PM on November 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


I"m pretty sure that inserting one's penis into an airless vacuum would't be erotic, but rather very, very painful.
posted by happyroach at 7:10 PM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


He inserted his penis into the airless vacuum, and yelped as it exploded violently
posted by DoctorFedora at 7:15 PM on November 12, 2014 [17 favorites]


Tipped with Ruby Nipples, is just pure poetry, like and white as mare's milk, contrasting aesthetics and funciton is clever as well.

To each their own, but that particular excerpt reads to me like a precise distillation of everything that is terrible about poorly written sex scenes in fantasy novels: the cascading hair (check), the "ruby nipples" (check), the skin white as milk (check), the milk being a mare's (check), the hairless body (check), dew-like arousal (check), the choppy, repetitive sentences listing all of these things because grace is beyond the author (check).

I disagree with the inclusion of it in a contest of sex scenes purely on the grounds that it's impossible to distinguish from a million others. It's not uniquely terrible, which I think is the purpose of such contests.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:17 PM on November 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


Thrusty living creature breasts sound horrifying. The woman needs to see a doctor, or perhaps an exorcist. Also, why is her slit vertical? From the hair-shaking description it sounds like she's standing up, so??? Definitely doctor time.

Also to each his own, but mare's milk as a comparison just pisses me off. Has smith ever seen mare's milk? Is it whiter than cow's milk? Does he expect his readers to know this? If so, is it because they are familiar with the substance or with the cliche?
posted by lollusc at 8:05 PM on November 12, 2014 [8 favorites]


Maybe instead of harping on how bad things are, one could provide an example of good sex in fiction?
posted by hermanubis at 8:10 PM on November 12, 2014


An example of good sex in fiction? Done:
Oh, to release oneself, to strip oneself more and more, to annihilate oneself with all the sin that one had accumulated and bore about, yet to release her too whose mouth one sought for, to annihilate Time that had her in its grip, Time that had embedded itself in these aging cheeks; oh, the desire he had to annihilate the woman who had lived in Time, to bid her be born again timeless, motionless and perforce at one with him! His seeking mouth had found hers, that was now pressed against his like the muzzle of an animal against a pane of glass, and Esch was enraged because she kept her soul tightly enclosed behind her set teeth so that he should not possess it. And when with a hoarse sound she opened her lips at last, he felt an ecstasy such as he had never yet experienced in a woman’s arms, he flowed boundlessly into her, yearning to enter into possession of her who was no longer a woman to him but a re-won heritage wrested from the unknown, the matrix of life, annihilating his ego by transcending its confines till it was featureless and submerged in its own enlargement. For the man who wills Goodness and Righteousness wills thereby the Absolute, and it was revealed to Esch for the first time that the goal is not the appeasement of lust but an absolute oneness exalted far above its immediate, sordid and even trivial occasion, a conjoint trance, itself timeless and so annihilating time; and that the rebirth of man is as still and serene as the universal spirit that yet contracts and closes round man when once his ecstatic will has compelled it, until he attains his sole birthright: deliverance and redemption.

— Hermann Broch, The Sleepwalkers
posted by Lorin at 8:19 PM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


I always think of sex in books like someone telling me about an awesome party I wasn't invited to. Like, I don't want to know.
posted by zutalors! at 8:26 PM on November 12, 2014 [1 favorite]


Ruby Nipples sounds like the name of a bad restaurant chain.
posted by 4ster at 8:31 PM on November 12, 2014 [5 favorites]


That's one of Murakami's better sex scenes, although he forgot to tell us what their ears look like.

(Kuro and Shiro = black and white)
posted by betweenthebars at 8:37 PM on November 12, 2014


Lorin, that is indeed an example of good sex in fiction. I've just bought a copy and look forward to reading it. Thanks!
posted by hermanubis at 8:38 PM on November 12, 2014


I just enjoy reading that passage aloud in a hackneyed German-art-film accent, because I'm a terrible person. It is a good read though.
posted by Lorin at 8:44 PM on November 12, 2014


I thought they ended this when 50 Shades of Grey won the lifetime achievement award.
posted by T.D. Strange at 9:18 PM on November 12, 2014 [2 favorites]


Honestly, this is one of those contests where everybody deserves the top prize. I mean seriously ...

1. I had never imagined that I was capable of wanton behaviour, but it was as if a dam within me had burst

2. This rippling curtain did not cover her breasts which thrust their way through it like living creatures.

3. As they lost themselves in the circumnavigation of each other, there came from nearby shrill shrieks that ended in a deeper howl.

4. God. It's like sticking your cock into the sun.

5. We both came at the same time. I stayed inside her for a few seconds, gazed at her, and smiled.

6. Their breath mingled with his, becoming one, like currents from far away, secretly overlapping at the dark bottom of the sea.

7. And when it hits her, it slams her hard and fast, as life once had.

8. She became aware of places in her that could only have been concealed there by a god with a sense of humour.

9. "It hurts, it hurts." I did not stop until it stopped hurting,

10. He thrusts again, and he's gone, he's off into the careening nowhere.

posted by philip-random at 9:23 PM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


All sex writing is bad sex writing. When I reach one of those passages, I say to myself, "They fuck," and skip the details.

Having said that, why is it that only women complain about "bad" sex?
posted by Repack Rider at 9:51 PM on November 12, 2014


Tame year overall, but #2 made me laugh out loud. Because the immediate image that leaped to mind with the cascading hair verily unto the knees but breasts bursting through the strands was the Addams Family's Cousin It having a hirsute malfunction that the television censors would not have approved of at all.
posted by Drastic at 10:33 PM on November 12, 2014 [9 favorites]


Having said that, why is it that only women complain about "bad" sex?

I guess it's because they are unsexy prudes, or shy little flowers that can't even handle reading about it, unlike us sexy sexy men who are comfortable with all kinds of sexing, good and bad.
posted by Dr Dracator at 11:36 PM on November 12, 2014 [3 favorites]


"He regarded her folds with the rough fascination of a toddler examining the paper airplane his father had folded for him."
posted by mikurski at 1:30 AM on November 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


Unfortunately fairypenguin.org has already been registered - and appears to be filled with information about birds.
posted by rongorongo at 1:32 AM on November 13, 2014


murakamu doesn't deserve a pass. unless the passage, in context, is meant to be ridiculous, he's describing something which, if you try to imagine it, is really silly. plus the vagina as "airless vacuum." and that's not even getting into how she can "deftly guide his penis" if there is no resistance...

It's a dream sequence that's supposed to be disquieting. It starts with: "This was not something Tsukuru was hoping for, not a scenario he wanted to imagine. It wasn't something that should be happening. But that image, against his will, grew more vivid, the feelings more graphic, more real."
posted by dng at 3:39 AM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Pudenda" oughta be banned, if for no other reason than it apparently means something like "the part that you're supposed to be ashamed of". Kind of unsexifies things a bit.
posted by Aya Hirano on the Astral Plane at 4:28 AM on November 13, 2014


Having said that, why is it that only women complain about "bad" sex?

Because sex is like pizza.

It's always better the next morning, cold and greasy in a cardboard box.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:28 AM on November 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


All I can think of is that line from one of the Naked Gun (ahem) movies: "Then he plunged his purple headed warrior into her quivering mound of love pudding."

Still better than 50 Shades, though.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 5:54 AM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Having said that, why is it that only women complain about "bad" sex?


Because the sweet dew of feminine arousal.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:03 AM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


But what about bad sex in non-fiction?

I can remember being a curious youth and reading my way through the HQ section of the library, and finding an awful lot of bad sex.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:08 AM on November 13, 2014


Ruby Nipples sounds like the name of a bad restaurant chain.

DIBS!!!!!!!
posted by Billiken at 6:14 AM on November 13, 2014


moist
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:18 AM on November 13, 2014 [2 favorites]


In the Murakami, the "rotation" thing makes total sense, if you picture the proper axis of rotation.
posted by idiopath at 6:23 AM on November 13, 2014


MetaFilter: It's like sticking your cock into the sun.
posted by I-baLL at 6:23 AM on November 13, 2014 [3 favorites]


Black hole sun
Won't you come
posted by Kabanos at 9:15 AM on November 13, 2014 [5 favorites]


he kissed the slight, rose-coloured trench that remained from her knicker elastic, running around her belly like the equator line circling the world

It's not possible for a line to be sexy when it includes the phrase "knicker elastic". Also I just thought "Round her belly? How high does she wear them?"
posted by billiebee at 11:29 AM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


What are some examples of GREAT Sex in Fiction writing? By that I mean both "writing that is about great sex" and "great writing that is about sex."

I've read wonderfully written descriptions of awful sexual experiences, but those are nothing I'd want to touch if I wanted to read some delicious smut. By the same token, nothing makes smut less erotically enjoyable than painfully terrible prose. It's such a delicate balance!
posted by nicebookrack at 12:51 PM on November 13, 2014


Well everybody has their preferences - for writing and for sex I guess. Unless it's the Song of Songs, or any tradition in which it's not acceptable to be anatomically explicit, I find the silliest sex writing to be the kind the dwells in florid metaphor. Followed by the kind that does get graphic but in a really unappealing way. Bonus points if you transition abruptly from one to the other. Describing the things that people actually do while having sex? You're fine - until you suddenly decide to put a cock in the sun! But that's assuming you *mean* it to be sexy, which it would be quite unfair to assume about a few of these - c.f. knicker elastic and the fairy penguin. But maybe that's beside the point.
posted by atoxyl at 1:18 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Ruby Nipples sounds like the name of a bad restaurant chain."

(Don't) try the poppers!

Also I just thought "Round her belly? How high does she wear them?"

She's 85, so quite high.
posted by klangklangston at 4:08 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


the worst is anything using the word 'turgid'
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 4:40 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


I once worked in a theater that had a cargo lift with the switch labeled "Turgid/Flaccid."
posted by klangklangston at 5:17 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Sort of in response to PinkMoose's defense and people asking what is good sex writing I've been thinking about what I think works and what doesn't. "Works" meaning "captures the act in a way that is true and not [unintentionally] ridiculous and maybe actually a bit erotic - if also literary." Obviously if you're not trying to do any of that you don't have to do any of that, and of course sex can be real and true and ridiculous - outright slapstick in fact - which is why I say "unintentionally."

One of the first things that occurs to me is that elaborate figurative language may be totally called for in describing the emotional dimension - overpowering desire, idealization of a new partner, bittersweet familiarity with an old one, a narcissistic sense of accomplishment etc. etc. whatever is actually going on inside the characters' heads. Which is (again I'm not talking about pure porn here) ultimately the point, no? When you start to use all these (ahem) turgid metaphors for anatomy and sensation - keep in mind the majority of your readers have personally experienced sexual congress and have a working understanding of what naked human bodies look and feel like - things can get really weird and incommensurate really easily. That's not to say you shouldn't be graphic or detailed but just come out and tell me what you're touching and what she whispers in your ear and say it like we are both grown-ups.

In contemplating this subject I decided I would pick a sexual memory and think about how I would try to capture it in writing and I recommend this exercise to anybody - no pressure to share, understand because I sure as hell don't plan to.
posted by atoxyl at 5:31 PM on November 13, 2014 [1 favorite]


Maybe instead of harping on how bad things are, one could provide an example of good sex in fiction?

This passage from Lolita is not "good sex" in the sense of erotic, but "good sex" in the sense of a well-written evocation of a self-centred pedophile. I've always found it haunting and creepy:

Suspended on the brink of that voluptuous abyss (a nicety of physiological equipoise comparable to certain techniques in the arts) I kept repeating chance words after her—barmen, alarmin’, my charmin’, my carmen, ahmen, ahahamen—as one talking and laughing in his sleep while my happy hand crept up her sunny leg as far as the shadow of decency allowed. The day before she had collided with the heavy chest in the hall and—“Look, look!”—I gasped—“look what you’ve done, what you’ve done to yourself, ah, look”; for there was, I swear, a yellowish-violet bruise on her lovely nymphet thigh which my huge hairy hand massaged and slowly enveloped—and because of her very perfunctory underthings, there seemed to be nothing to prevent my muscular thumb from reaching the hot hollow of her groin—just as you might tickle and caress a giggling child—just that—and: “Oh it’s nothing at all,” she cried with a sudden shrill note in her voice, and she wiggled, and squirmed, and threw her head back, and her teeth rested on her glistening underlip as she half-turned away, and my moaning mouth, gentlemen of the jury, almost reached her bare neck, while I crushed out against her left buttock the last throb of the longest ecstasy man or monster had ever known.
posted by anothermug at 8:18 PM on November 13, 2014


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