My favorite contest has come and gone, and it's time to dissect the "winners". Each year since 1993, the Literary Review--Britain's principal literary monthly--hosts the Bad Sex in Fiction award. Distinguished recipients of this award include Tom Wolfe, Sebastian Faulks, and Norman Mailer; and just this year, a lifetime achievement award went to one of my personal literary heroes,John Updike. So it's not just for Danielle Steel and Victoria Holt; it's for real writers, too.
Reading through the final bad sex examples was PURE. AGONY. I read this sentence out loud and totally lost it: 'But the kissing, the kissing was heavenly... he made her forget she was a Communist.' The Esq replied, deadpan: "That's the power of love." And if that made me cringe, just imagine what the creepy sex scene involving sibling metaphors did to me:
"They were still immersed in their lovemaking. It had begun slowly, tenderly, face-to-face, with long, lingering looks at each other, like devoted siblings at the start of a long absence taking their last leave of each other, gathering in all the details they had neglected to notice up to now."
If you've ever walked in on your parents doing something super nasty, like the Retrograde Wheelbarrow, or woken up from a Freddy Krueger nightmare to find Freddy Krueger standing over you, then you have a minuscule idea of how that sex scene made me feel: like DYING, and then never calling my siblings, ever again.
For someone who is embarrassed by pretty much everything--from kissing scenes in movies to sneezing in public--reading horrifically-written sex acts that, in some cases, aren't even humanly possible, is high on the list of Annual Traditions I'm Forsaking Next Year. You think it's just embarrassing to read these in front of other people, but I have news for you: I read most of these alone, and was completely mortified. I was in my kitchen, hanging out BY MYSELF (because I'm a winner--A WINNER), reading TERRIBLE sex scenes, and uncomfortably coughing for whom? I was burning bright red and avoiding the gaze of WHO, exactly? Ridiculous behavior that is mine all mine.
Favorite/most awful excerpts:
"And then they embraced and with their hands caressed each other's breasts and backs and arms – her skin smooth and creamy and soft as fine silk, his alabaster white and tautly drawn over muscle and bone – and their separate bodies gradually lost their boundaries and merged into a third body, one that contained all their female and male differences and erased all their anatomical contrasts and inversions."
Snotty prize: Best scene involving a third body, while not involving a third person.
"I find myself gripping his ears and tugging at the locks curling over them, beside myself, and a strange animal noise escapes from me as the mounting, Wagnerian crescendo overtakes me. I really do hope at this point that all the Spodders are, as requested, attending the meeting about slug clearance or whatever it is."
Snotty prize: Best sex scene involving three decisively un-sexy details: Wagnerian crescendos, Spodders, and a meeting about slug clearance.
"He raised himself to his knees and bent to roll his tongue around her weeping orifice. He was bringing her to a pitch of ecstasy when she heard Madame Veuve, on the landing, put down the supper tray. Whiffs of onion soup strayed over them as he engulfed her."
Snotty prize: Most gratuitous imagery (WEEPING ORIFICE, bleeaarrghbarfybarfewww), and best scene involving a soup I will never eat again.
"He's a madman, she thought as he made love to her again. Oh my God, after twenty years of being the most rational Bolshevik woman in Moscow, this goblin has driven me crazy!"
Snotty prize: Best sex scene involving a Jewish goblin and the most rational Bolshevik woman in Moscow.
To get seriously mortified in your kitchen, see the Bad Sex Award shortlist (with longer excerpts), here. And God save the Queen.