The introduction to the recently published characterizes its subject like this: this collection "does not simply celebrate desire and sex, but shows that many sexual relationships are riddled with complex and difficult issues of power." "Typically," the editors complain, "the man takes control and the woman is put in 'her place,' both physically and metaphorically."
In at least two recently published novels by women, sexual play is portrayed as the equivalent of social positioning. You would think the proverbial glass ceiling had hair on its chest. In Moore's Hollywood-bound noir novel, In the Cut, a New York City detective interrogates Robert Chambers, the real-life "preppie-murderer" who strangled a female acquaintance in Central Park. "'Look, Bobby, this is off the record, I'm your friend, I know what it was like. . . . I know what happened, Bobby: she was sitting on you, her back to you.'" In short, the violence of her sexual aggression naturally led to the violence of his reaction. Several paragraphs later Franny Thorstin, the narrator, is taken by Malloy, her boyfriend and also a Manhattan detective, into his captain's office in the precinct house, where he has anal intercourse with her against the captain's desk. Afterward the narrator stimulates herself while "he talked to me in a low voice, asking me, no, telling me that I had liked it, I had liked what he did to me, I answering yes, yes, I did, until I came. . . ." The sudden juxtaposition of the two scenes makes the author's moral clear: men either selfishly dominate in the sexual act or their egos go murderously crashing through their sanity.
In Louise Erdrich's masculine self-knowledge is elaborately and imaginatively equated with a man's learning to enjoy sexual intercourse on his back. Meeting a woman in a bar on Easter weekend, Jack Mauser, a building contractor, spends hours drinking with her; then the two marry drunkenly on a whim. They prepare to make love in Mauser's car during a blizzard, but the highly intoxicated building contractor fails to achieve an erection and slumps over, depressed. After trying to win back his attention, the woman gives up, gets out of the car, and starts walking into the furious snowstorm. Paralyzed by shame, Mauser does not go after her, and she ends up dying of exhaustion and frostbite in an open field.
So concerned is Mauser with the fate of his phallus and his masculine pride that he lets a woman die -- perhaps the first time in literary history that the male member takes a human life. Mauser's negligence proves to be a curse that perpetually bedevils him, as he marries one woman, trips ineptly over his ego, and then marries another -- four times in all, not including the whirlwind marriage to the woman who expired in the snow.
By the end of the novel Mauser is set for a series of lessons that cause his redemption (a journey that began on that fateful Easter weekend) by breaking his pride. The first is that his business fails and he becomes virtually the indentured employee of another man. The second is that he must come to terms with two of his ex-wives, who have become lovers and are raising his one child together. This involves submitting to commands from one of them, Marlis, as he lies beneath her making love.