Pedophilia and other assorted sexually deviant behavior, because of new revelations of the transgressions of Roman Catholic priests, have been firmly lodged in recent headlines. But this is well-trod terrain. Sexual deviancy has been covered extensively and credibly in Victorian scatological literature as well as and perhaps most memorably by Nabokov.
Now this delicate subject is tackled by a young French-American writer, Amanda Filipacchi in her first novel, Nude Men. Filipacchi tackles both adult sexual behavior and juvenile eroticism by attempting to invert sexualized objectification.
This intriguing topic needs to be handled with the sure, deftness of rational consideration. Instead, Filipacchi sets out, mechanically and determinedly, to shock her audience. She seemingly fails to realize that for a population accustomed to the excesses of tabloid television and a steady consumption of its lurid confessions, this may be an impossible task.
The author seeks, admirably, to dispel the myth of children's innocence by questioning our tendency to locate childhood in an Edenic state of prelapsarian innocence. To ascribe to them an imagined innocence is to do them and adults a grave disservice.
And the line between what constitutes children's sexual liberation and child molestation is an intriguing one, which steers us firmly in the direction of what constitutes consent. Can an eleven year-old make an informed decision about sexual activity? Should the parameters of what constitutes statutory rape be contracted given the increasing sophistication of children?
What happens at the explosive intersection of desire and power? Catherine MacKinnon has written that "sexual desire in women at least in this culture is socially constructed as that by which we come to want our own self-annihilation." Filipacchi's intent is to deal with this subject in a bold, unflinching way.
The minimalist plot is centered around Jeremy Acidophilus, a 29 year-old, marking time in a "veal-fattening pen" (a.k.a a tiny cubicle) at a publishing company where he is employed as a filer.
Jeremy is accosted one day in a café by an artist, Lady Henrietta, who pains nude men-not only quintessential nude men such as Michelangelo's David, but also and to great effect the average, flawed specimens that are commonly found in everyday life. Her modus operandi consists of approaching strage men and offering them sums of money to pose for her...in her home studio.
Lady Henrietta has an eleven year old daughter, Sara, a flaxen-haired nymphet, determined to seduce Jeremy who is initially attracted to her mother and resolutely determined to ignore Sara's persistent advances. Yet he, after much angst-ridden soul searching, reluctantly succumbs to her charms.
After this low-rent Lolita seduces Jeremy, she is almost immediately stricken with a fatally incurable disease, presumably as punishment for her sins, and dies, not as a result of her illness, but inexplicably, in a car accident. Lady Henrietta and Jeremy console each other and move in together, presumably to cohabitate in happiness.
Assorted eccentrics play secondary roles also be located in the novel, serving no real purpose but to add color to the novel and failing miserably at that.
For the novel, in spite of its erotic theme, is strangely sterile and unappealing. The characters are not fully developed. They do not engage us. The reader neither cares about nor understands their motivations or the tortured questionings of their hermetically sealed, inconsequential lives. This work reads like an unfinished draft, a semi-literate assault on what the author perceives as society's narrow-minded preconceptions.
The calculation behind the marketing of this novel is stunningly obvious. Provocatively titled, it utilizes sex primarily as a marketing factor. Why are nude men the subject of Lady Henrietta's work? For the shock value, if nothing else. Let's subvert the hierarchy, let's get a surefire gimmick!
Interspersed throughout the novel are embarrassing attempts at Gallic philosophizing. This too often emerges as juvenile, stream-of-consciousness rambling. Henrietta, asked to justify her subject matter, responds.
"I don't really paint types of men unless being naked is a type. Is a naked man a type of man...Some types of men are almost never naked."
There are also many vague, uninformed references to the implications of deviant behavior for the psyche. Pseudo-profundities are casually and liberally sprinkled throughout the novel, such as the assertion, "Nudity is the most profound subject in the world."
Similarly inane comments, verging on incoherence, include: "Destiny. I have always craved to control destiny. But she is frighteningly Whimsical Destiny, inexorably so. She does not like commitment...She's impatient, bored, restless, fidgety like a little kid who can't sit still at a table."
Nude Men is startlingly devoid of wit and singularly lacking in charm. Filipacchi's labored prose fails to update the idiom. There are no signal insights; little that is fresh or new. Filipacchi transforms what could have been a fascinating treatment of dealing with the consequences of dark, neurotic visions and succumbing to temptations into a turgid mess.
Because of the novel's subject matter, it will inevitably be compared to Nabokov's Lolita (which Filipacchi has said that she has never read) and will fare badly. The wave of publicity, some of which borders on adulatory, which has accompanied the release of this novel reflects the increasing focus on form over content. Toss this on the bonfire of the inanities.
Pseudo-profundities are casually and liberally sprinkled throughout the novel, such as the assertion, 'Nudity is the most profound subject in the world.'