Levy, Erotomania: A Romance

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.

—Juancarlos Feliciano