Allan Gurganus on Fear of Sex in Fiction

The New Yorker has a very interesting interview with Allan Gurganus, author of the new book Local Souls. Gurganus is of the opinion that modern fiction treats sex the way it was treated by movies in the 1950’s, where you have the buildup to the event, then you skip ahead to afterward. He further believes that by skipping over the acts of sex, authors not only short-change readers on the full experience, but they also fail to give the readers a complete picture of the nature of the character. Gurganus suggests that fear drives authors away from the subject matter and into a somewhat darker place.

Fear of sex in fiction seems related to fear of operatic emotion, as well. There seems to be a terror of creating any overt narrative sympathy or pain that other students might label “corny.” That’s like the terror of inventing a fictional sex act that might be called “porny.” But what kind of artistry is scared of sex and emotion? Irony, with its killing metallic toxins, becomes the one safe Sherman tank. To shy away from human extremes and human sensuality makes for bone-dry fiction. A world parched of our sexual releases and our tumultuous daily emotional lives is deeply impoverished. It is not lifelike, at least life as I remember living it. Far better to, like Updike or Nabokov, have entirely too much fun with the subject than to never chance describing this replenishing source of frisky joy.

He makes a lot of good points, and I have to say I agree with him. The interview is very funny and insightful, and I think I shall have to get his books and read them. Too bad the Kindle edition of Local Souls is so overpriced.

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