The Tournament of Literary Sex Writing: Philip Roth vs. James Salter
Judge Alexander Chee Picks a Winner
ERA III: Lolita and Everything After
PHILIP ROTH VS. JAMES SALTER
Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth
Finally it is The Monkey who sets our lust in motion. She moves across to Lina, above whom she towers (oh God, isn’t she enough? isn’t she really sufficient for my needs? how many cocks have I got?), and puts her hand between the whore’s legs. We had imagined it beforehand in all its possibilities, dreamed it all out loud for many many months now, and yet I am dumbstruck at the sight of The Monkey’s middle finger disappearing up into Lina’s cunt.
I can best describe the state I subsequently entered as one of unrelieved busy-ness. Boy, was I busy! I mean there was just so much to do. You go here and I’ll go there- okay, now you go here and I’ll go there- all right, now she goes down that way, while I head up this way, and you sort of half turn around on this… and so it went, Doctor, until I came my third and final time. The Monkey was by then the one with her back on the bed, and I the one with my ass to the chandelier (and the cameras, I fleetingly thought)-and in the middle, feeding her tits into my Monkey’s mouth, was our whore. Into whose hole, into what sort of hole, I deposited my final load is entirely a matter for conjecture.
A Sport and A Pastime, James Salter
She begins to make him hard again. In a few minutes he rolls her over and puts it in as if the intermission were ended. This time she is wild. The great bed begins creaking. Her breath becomes short. Dean has to brace his hands on the wall. He hooks his knees outside her legs and drives himself deeper.
“Oh,” she breathes, “that’s the best.”
When he comes, it downs them both. They crumble like sand. He returns from the bathroom and picks up the covers from the floor. She has not moved. She lies just where she has fallen.
JUDGE ALEXANDER CHEE DECLARES:
I have loved Salter a long time but in this match-up, the mix of the weird and the uncomfortable in the Roth overtook the simpler masculine fantasy presented in the Salter. Sex, like magic, is better in fiction when it complicates a narrative rather than simplifying it—and to my mind that was what the Roth did.
WINNER: Philip Roth