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William Lashner's PI-Writing Blog

Licking Fire

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Writing about sex is not for the fainthearted. No matter how you approach it, someone will squirm and someone else will mock and someone else will throw the book away. Which is why a lot of authors punt, they play it like the old movies, a look, a touch, an intimation, and then cut to the next morning. But if it's done right, well . . ..

There's been a bit a kerfuffle going on about modern day sex writing. Katie Roiphe wrote an article worth reading in the New York Times complaining that modern writers, specifically modern male writers, don't do it as well as the old guys did it. I'm not sure I agreed, her selection of writers was pretty narrow, but it got people talking. And now, Sonya Chung has offered an interesting reply. The rules of sex writing she gives are fun, as long as you remember that rules are meant to be broken. But the best thing she does is bring James Salter into the argument.

Salter is simply one of the greatest American writers. His war writing is stellar, his short stories are models of the craft, and his memoir, Burning the Days, is one of the greatest things written in the last century. And yes he writes brilliantly about sex in Sport and a Pastime, as well as in all his other work. You should read him, no one writes like him. There is a scene in his memoir where he is having sex with a beautiful Italian women in a grand hotel, a great moment. But at the same time, there are reports about a mission to the moon. And Salter had been a fighter pilot and had given it up to lead this other, different life. And even as he is having this ravishing sex, he is acutely aware of what he has given up, and how all these young pilots who stayed pilots are accomplishing great things that he will never accomplish. And he feels small, and inconsequential. But at the same time he is gleefully pointing out to the reader, hey, I'm having sex with this fabulous woman, what about that. Such a deep, layered moment, and only Salter could do it justice.

Read the masters, and James Salter is one of them.


Blogger Unknown said...

I have to say, I was pretty pleasantly surprised by the frank opinions about sex you have in your books. I don't go looking for nookie in my novels and it bothers me when they're there for their own sake but your characters have real feelings about sex. They're horny and dumb about it a lot of the time, but sometimes they're poetic and powerful.

Sadly, I've never read Salter, I'll have to check him out.

February 4, 2010 at 4:35 PM  

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