Erotomania: A Romance
Levy, Erotomania: A Romance
Publisher: Two Dollar Radio
2008, 163 pages, paperback, $14
francis levy’s novel, Erotomania: A Romance, is initially as shocking as a giant penis materializing before one’s face and suddenly ejaculating a tangled barrage of ropey semen in one’s eyes and mouth. What is surprising is that the experience—reading the book, not the penis stuff (as far as I know)—is not only memorable, but pleasant.
The story follows James Moran—a lonely, middle-aged man recently beset with performance anxiety—after he begins an anonymous, infrequent sexual blitz with a woman whose vagina, “a hot hairy thing that surrounded [his] hard dick, with muscles like hydraulic clamps that sucked [him] in almost against [his] will,” qualifies as a modern wonder of the world. After initially enjoying the gourmet, emotionally antiseptic sex, James begins to obsess about meeting her and uncovering her identity. He decides to risk ruining the relationship by having a real conversation with her and attempting to introduce the idea of emotional commitment.
Erotomania: A Romance combines an unlikely mix of form, style, and characters, resulting in a unique take on modern romance. The novel subverts the typical love story in that it opens with the couple already having had sex. As the narrator says, “Most lovers overcome obstacles to achieve consummation. We had consummated our love. That wasn’t the problem; the obstacles came after.” Stylistically, the novel falls between Henry Miller’s hardcore Under the Roofs of Paris and Anaïs Nin’s psychological but lush The Delta of Venus. Hardcore sex descriptions are rampant but clinical to the point of humor.
The novelis meant to be absurd. James Moran describes how his mother initiated him into the art of sex. He cherishes memories of performing cunnilingis on her when she’d get up from their kitchen table and stand next to him, pretending to review his homework. He and his girlfriend, Monica Coole, visit an exclusively gay Chinese restaurant, The Golden Cock, and have sex in the bathroom, an event hardly noteworthy except that many gay men are also simultaneously doing so—with the addition of golden showers, penis rings, anally-destined candles, and various tasteful piercings. As they leave the bathroom, James’s penis is still hanging from his zipper, but it’s not a big deal—the customers briefly notice, a waiter politely informs him of his problem, and the couple sits down to enjoy a “beautiful and suggestively displayed selection of pepperoni and salami.” Then, after futilely trying to satisfy her oral cravings on a length of deli meat, Monica crawls under the table. When she rises, James notes that his “seed hung with romantic, almost mythic abandon…with little droplets of cum on her lips, cheek, and forehead, she looked like Aphrodite after a nervous breakdown.” Monica gazes back “with love in her eyes—the lashes of which were also caked together with ejaculate.” Dinner is too rarely so satisfying.
The book’s success depends on clashing values. The style is dry, but grammatically complex, and is appropriate for a respected journal. The narrator goes into long philosophical and psychological asides amidst the sex and relationship stuff. Throughout, there are references to philosophy, literature, film, modern art, and politics. It is this blend of cold, improbable sex, straight-faced humor, and banal domesticity that makes the book entertaining and meaningful. We watch these sex maniacs as they struggle to get to know each other, live together, learn how to prepare food, battle their addiction to television, and fill their weekends with traditional weekend activities, all the while having brutal sex in strange places. They go from radical to a shade of normal, retaining their intensity, while revealing the contradictions of our culture and accepted attitudes towards love.
After the title, my initial attraction to the book began with the cover. It is simple: in front of a smoky backdrop, a female bonobo lies glamorously sprawled on the ground, looking mysteriously away as a male bonobo humps her. The photo is given a brief explanation inside the book, above the acknowledgments: bonobos, our most closely related animal relatives, are known as the “make love, not war” primates for their frequent sexual activity. Furthermore, it was once believed that only humans had face-to-face sex. The cover designer deserves credit for so adroitly exploring the contradictions of the book. Yes, sex is important to the cover, to Levy’s style, and to the novel’s protagonists, but the awkward moments after the fluids have dried are what make the book meaningful.