"I would have to know you really well before I would suggest that you would like this novel." Kevin Guilefoile wrote that recently in match commentary for the just-ended Tournament of Books. My thought exactly. Your friends frequently ask what they should read next, your book club at work turns to you for suggestions, your neighbor asks what you are reading now. So you tell them you have picked up this book, a both hilarious and empty tale of the American talent for commodification. It is about a failing salesman who is unable to sell a single vaccum cleaner in a territory that has been thoroughly exhausted. Filled with pie and numbed by rejection, Joe escapes back to his trailer in the middle of the work day to indulge his fantasy life where he masturbates distractedly as he tries to perfect the details of his fantasy. The mouths of your friends hang open a little at this point but you press on. Let me read you this excerpt to best explain the nature of Joe's fantasy, you continue.
His first fantasy was about walls. The woman would have the upper part of her body on one side of the wall. The lower part of her body would be on the other side of the wall... Sometimes the woman would be naked from the waist down. Most of the time she would be wearing a short tight skirt that could be pushed up and underpants that could be pulled down. Sometimes he would have trouble deciding whether it was better with or without the pants. The high point was pushing the skirt slowly up to reveal a firm, tight, unsuspecting ass.
And still not a word has escaped from your audience's mouth. So eager for them to understand the point of the novel, to not mistake it for mere pornography, you explain that Joe turns this fantasy into a multi-million dollar business that sets up the services of women, lightning rods, in work places for the "release" of high-achieving and testosterone driven males. He sells the service to companies as a preventative measure to lessen sexual harassment in the work place. Or scandals among the famous like politicians. The book moves from the voyeuristic look into Joe's fantasies to a detail laden and hardly sexy view of a country where anything is possible.
So for what portion of your intended audience will this conversation (or monologue) be appropriate? You see my difficulty. And Guilfoile's. But this book is such a telling read about the demystification of sex in our society, our talents for self-justification and our willingness to allow boundaries to be rationalized away in the name of commerce. Where sex can be so completely impersonal that a lightning rod views the job as a wonderful way to pay for law school and have extra time to finally read Proust when only the bottom half of her body is enagaged through a wall.
Simon Critchley talks about his new book Faith of the Faithless, a philosophical examination of the interplay of love and faith, over at Full Stop this week, and one particular section grabbed my attention in reference to DeWitt's book.
It was the extremity of that that drew me, which is because I guess the question is really whether you can love and desire in the same place. There are different ways of talking about this, but one way of diagnosing culture would be to say that we love in one place and that we desire in another place. So, for example, I’m sure Eliot Spitzer loved his wife, but he desired the hooker that ruined his career. What I’m exploring is not some sort of pacific, peaceful idea of love — love and harmony and reconciliation — but a love that is fueled by desire, that is sustained by it. I’m working with some idea that these could exist in the same place, whatever that means.
An ideal. And certainly not one that exists here where a decided lack of philosophical exploration, where a half-rate intellect drives the story, the effort. Thought provoking. You'll laugh through your sadness. Possibly. I don't know. Remember, I hesitate to recommend despite my enjoyment of the book.