As the success of Sex and the City has shown us, this is not true. There are plenty of women who have explicit sexual fantasies that go beyond “holding each other until we fall asleep.” Moran’s short stories touch on women’s other – earthier – fantasies of rough sex, sex in the outdoors, taboo sex, et cetera. Moran pulls that off with gusto, not afraid to use the more explicit sexual language that accurately depicts the depth of those fantasies.
In the opening story, “How I Want You,” the heroine has a life that mimics Moran’s writerly art. Although the heroine wants one boyfriend who will fulfil her sexual fantasies – and wants to write about the same – her publisher insists on something different:
More men. Less feeling. The main character can struggle with some feelings, maybe even end up in some tentative traditional romance B.S., but we’d prefer just play, games and lots of sex and maybe a fight somewhere. Think Madonna, Christina Aguilera, Pam Anderson.
The majority of Moran’s characters play within these parameters: sometimes loving, sometimes fighting, but always looking for that “fuckglorious, fuck-happy” state. This pursuit is most successfully accomplished in the first and last stories. Unfortunately, Moran is not always able to consistently keep that balance between “story” and “porn,” causing the narrative to backslide frequently into coarse descriptions of numbing sexual mechanics.
One of the principal arguments against pornography is that it’s dehumanizing and that it reduces women to mere sexual flesh. The least successful stories in the collection do just that, reducing the heroines to sex machines who have no control over what happens to them and who allow themselves to be used for the pleasure of men. Many of Moran’s characters are so stripped of their personalities that it becomes difficult for the reader to engage with the narrative.
Moran attempts to offer a kind of comic relief by interspersing her first collection of short stories with less traditional, more subversive types of storytelling. In these instances, one would expect to find the female Woody Allen promised on the back cover, but Moran does not deliver the goods.
Although sometimes amusing, these detours have little relation to the stories that bookend them and they are not sharp enough to stand on their own. Moran occasionally resorts to footnote storytelling, but the notes lack the neurotic tremble or obsessive-compulsive detailing used with such aplomb in the footnote storytelling of David Foster Wallace or Nicholson Baker. Moran also uses faux surveys in the Cosmopolitan style, but they lack a plausible satirical edge that would make that subversion successful.
On a brighter note, the two stories that break away from this formula, “Bun Head” and “Chuck-Chik,” are probably the most successful in that the characters are better developed and more engaging. These two stories are mostly dialogue, but the kind of dialogue that is revealing and authentic in its expression. In “Bun Head,” the teenage heroine writes a letter to her friend containing “all the gross details I know she would like. […] And I took the letter to my grandma’s house and doused it in Anaïs Anaïs and wrote, ‘PS Enjoy the smell of my sweet anus anus.'” With a few sentences, Moran is able to express the heroine’s need to impress her friend, as well as her affection for and sexual attraction to said friend.
Similarly, in “Chuck-Chik,” Moran writes, “Would he command ‘Get down on your knees and pray before the almighty altar of Charlie!’ with a gigantic erection in his pants? Would I gladly repent?” Once again, the writing is unashamed, and the emotion behind the language is evocative.
Overall, this collection does not deliver an easy read, especially if the reader has difficulty absorbing a crude vocabulary. Although there are flashes of authenticity that shine on the page like tiny gems, many of the stories are unremarkable. Moran does not succeed in creating the promised mix of “porn” and “story,” but the intrepid reader can still fall back on old Sex and the City episodes, or even a book of Anaïs Nin’s erotica. mRb