That old conundrum - where's the line between proper literature and erotica. Or porn for that matter. I found a collection of Barbara Kingsolver's essays in the library - beautiful and very human. One of them is detailing her exploration of sex in a book she is or was working on: 'Taming the beast with two backs'.
She seems to find herself strangely unsettled by the fact she's going to add sex in her book, rather than 'spacebreak sex scenes', (to paraphrase). Why is this more intimate than writing about strong emotion? She quotes, and notes, the names of a few (male) greats who've included full-blown sex in their books - Miller, Updike, Roth. I love these writers, and their vivid, searing scenes. There's a pushiness about all three of these writers that I find entrancing. And they lay open sex in graphic, masterfully crafted ways.
What none of them have done - at least, in my memory of their stories - is showed any much tenderness. Searing confessional style is respected. Ripping the guts out of a scene, laying bare the author or narrator's weakness, looking at it under a magnifying glass and musing on the historical resonances. Fabulous writing, yes.
But what you take from Kingsolver or Carol Shields is a different kind of honesty. I'm treading the line here of the old man-woman debate. I'll be careful. These writers will admit to warmth, to compassion, to a humanity.
Is writing always flavoured by sex (as in gender)? Are we just more squishy, more emotionally involved, weaker? What you resist, persists. The only way to join in properly is to take up a pen and make - more iconic characters who are female and many faceted, with strength and weakness. To try and avoid a knee jerk reaction or merely an emulation of the male way of doing things.
Is this turning into a manifesto?
I ought to be writing the synopsis of the next book. In order to do that, I need to work out A) the meaning of life and B) my characters. I feel for the heroine. She's got a lot to live up to. I don't presume to aim for the same high ground as the previously discussed authors, nor even anywhere near. But what they do and have done affects this girl.
She'll have to work hard.