French Tickler

Catherine Millet remembers yesterday's orgies; Dennis Cooper brutalizes today's teens

Catherine Millet
The Sexual Life of Catherine M.
Grove Press

Dennis Cooper
Thread
Canongate

Expert on orgy etiquette Catherine Millet
Jacques Henric
Expert on orgy etiquette Catherine Millet

Now here's what I call erotic: good ol' Lisa "Suckdog" Carver, of Rollerderby fame, creaming in these pages over sharks a few months back---bringing it hard, and funny, and sweet:

    When sharks have sex, they rip each other to shreds. They writhe against one another, wrapped tight in a blood blanket that slowly drifts away on a current when the act is done. Sometimes you want more than a handsome face and smooth moves... nature is always vicious and terrible and glamorous.

Compared with this, 54-year-old Catherine Millet's bestseller The Sexual Life of Catherine M. reads more like Rousseau's Confessions than steamy herotica. Like the escapist smash film Amélie, La Vie--as it's called in its native France--has been all the rage on the Continent. Though not without detractors, Millet's demure, Proust-paced dissection of her own libertinism let the middlebrow masses eat cake without feeling too depraved.

One major component of the mystique is Millet's intelligentsia cred: This isn't just some logbook of a common slut, no no no. Book clubbers are put at ease by class-courting lines like "We had constructed ourselves a solid philosophy by reading Bataille." Even more important, Millet is the editor of the Parisian magazine Art Press, which was characterized unwittingly by one shocked La Vie objector as an "upstanding organ." Could be, but as we learn, for Millet, it's just been one of several hundred.

Introduced to group sex at age 18, the self-proclaimed plain Jane soon found herself the guest of honor at frequent consensual gang bangs, sometimes spending hours pinned on beds and car hoods, under bridges and on the velvet cushions of backroom sex clubs like Chez Aimé. Passively escorted by male friends, who served as protectors and intermediaries, she was whisked through the looking glass, behind the green door, and into a starring role as the belle-laide blowjob queen.

As raconteur, Millet affects the earnest discernment of the scientific researcher, albeit one who's taken a seminar in Barthes. Eschewing soft focus, she wipes the Vaseline off the lens and describes experiences of multiple penetration, aggressive anal sex, eclectic ass love, and outdoor exhibitionism with matter-of-fact precision. Though she tends to be a mite too convinced of our interest, the net effect of her musings on various positions, body types, and techniques is the always-welcome glow of sex-positivity.

Yet for all the tasty exploits, Millet's prose is never hotter than gazpacho. Her clinical take on technique can be as much fun as watching Mr. Potato Head play Operation. "It is not unusual, at an orgy," she writes, "for a man occupying a pussy well-reconnoitered to worry about the effect his predecessors might have had....'He's got a big cock, hasn't he?'" But there's something truly affecting about her attempt to tell, not titillate, that ends up bolstering your readerly resolve to fantasize more guiltlessly, and maybe act out more roguishly. Millet is for the most part aware of the pitfalls of her tendency toward submission, describing the expansion of her own repertoire for sexual satisfaction over time, and her happy discovery of successful self-pleasure.

Most compelling though, is her account of negotiating boundaries with her primary lovers, creating special activities reserved for these relationships, especially within her marriage. There is a rueful humor in her admission that while "during an orgy, my tongue could easily sweep around a pussy that had just been ejaculated into by a man who had first aroused himself with me," the thought of using the same towel as her husband's lover horrifies her "as much as an epidemic of leprosy."

 

In My Loose Thread, another linguistic Spartan, cult novelist Dennis Cooper, remains in thrall to the teen-sex brutalism of his recently completed five-part semiautobiographical cycle of short novels. His newest slim trip is a roman à clef of sorts, his characters a gruesome mix of the Columbine duo, Kip Kinkel, the Menendez brothers, and Matthew Shepard's murderers.

In Cooper's dim, suffocating spaces, words combine to form an acid spew, motivations blur, and scenes lurch from sluggish to savage. Our protagonist, Larry, is a ninth grader involved in a mutually abusive homosexual relationship with his brother. His disgust at his own actions leads him to various bloody conclusions. Through his psychotic smear of words, we meet a neo-Nazi, a boy who asks to be murdered, a tree-house drug dealer, a gay-bashee, and a guy who watches his girlfriend having sex to amp up his rage. There's a lot of talk about killing, some actual killing, guilty sex, and sundry rapes.

Cooper's internal monologues bear little resemblance to high school patois. They are, instead, laconic raps like this one: "I can't help it. I want to kill Jim then kill myself. If I'd been Rand, I would have killed Jim and me. But I killed the boy instead of us, because that's more how I am. I never do what I want." As you can see, Cooper is not big on slang or detail. Compare his spare presentation to the relative baroqueness in conflicted homophobe Eminem's new song, "Sing for the Moment": "His thoughts are wack/He's mad so he's talking back/Talking black/Brainwashed from rock and rap/He sags his pants/Do-rags and a stocking cap/His stepfather hit him, so he socked him back." Cooper isn't going for Russell Banks Rule of the Bone-style vernacular. Where Banks and Eminem are stylizing the real, Cooper is personifying the id.

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