Monday, November 7, 2011

Sex In The House Of Holes: Cute Or Sad?

I just finished reading Nicholson Baker's House of Holes.  Maybe you know, it's a novel about a sexual theme park.  Not just dildos and 360 porn movies, but rather a place you can go and exchange genitalia in a "crotchal transfer," or trade your arm for a larger dick, or have sex with just the arm the guy forfeited in the exchange. 

I like Nicholson Baker's work a lot.  He wrote the highly amusing U and I, which chronicles his obsession with John Updike; Vox, which is the transcript of a very long phone sex conversation between a nice guy and a nice girl; and The Fermata, which is about a guy who learns how to stop time for everyone else but do as he pleases while no one knows.

Many images from The Fermata have stuck with me for years.  Especially vivid is a scene in which Our Hero talks to a taxi driver, who says that if he could stop time, he would force a woman down, lubricate her with black grease from NAPA auto parts, and have his way with her.  Our Hero is appalled.  In addition to being appalled, though, he's disappointed by the fact of how little he and the taxi driver have in common.  We want, he says, to think other people are like us.  I think that is true.

In The Fermata and Vox, the characters have a distinctly Bakerian style.  The guys are Good Guys with Large Libidos and a Wholesome Attitude Toward Life.  They want to have a good time; they want their partners to have a good time, too; and even when they have kinks and obsessions they are good-natured and cheerful about them.  The Bakerian women are GGG for sure, but they're also not shy about saying No, Sorry, That's Not For Me.

So that's  . . .  nice

To some extent the same nice atmosphere pervades House of Holes.  But when you think "sexual theme park" -- well, when I think "sexual theme park" -- you tend to think not just adventure but also something utopian.  Like, if it's a theme park, you can get right to the really good things without any anxieties, fears, or whatever getting in the way.

And it is like that, in some ways.  There's lots of funny, good-natured sex.  The woman who has sex with the forfeited arm is very satisfied, and eventually gets to meet the owner and return the arm.  That's cute.  There are lots of funny puns and names, like when a guy calls his dick his "Malcolm Gladwell."  Also, cute.

But for a theme park, there are some surprises.  Most surprising to me was the the fact that it's expensive.  Men have to pay.  A lot.  And if they can't cough up the cash, they have to perform some service.  Like the man with a nice body and ugly face: he has to do time as a headless man -- desired, of course, by the women who want to have hot sex with a guy without being sized up, criticized, found to be too fat, whatever.  With no head, the guy can't even see you.

Expensive? A theme park?  What is up with that?

I was also surprised by the rules and punishments.  One man isn't supposed to put his finger  -- well, never mind.  But he does.  And I don't remember, but I think he gets his dick taken away or something.  This, mind you, not because the woman in question didn't want, but somehow just because it was some rule about how his involvement was supposed to be structured.

Maybe there is some deep point lurking here about sex, cost, and inevitable sacrifice.  I'm not sure.  In any case, it's a little sad. 

Also, surprisingly heterosexual, the House of Holes.  This is also a little sad.

My favorite thing in the book is the "Deprivos," who haven't been allowed to see nude breasts for three full weeks.  After doing their time, they line up in the places that naked women are likely to be, dying for a glimpse.  After a ride on the "pussyboard" on the White Lake -- known for its magic rejuvenating powers of clitoral healing -- some women feels so good they want sex immediately. Fortunately, there's a line of Deprivos, at the edge of the lake, just waiting.

A group of people, in a highly appreciative and uncritical mood, eagerly awaiting your appearance, anticipating your arrival, and really happy to see you.  It's a pleasant thought.

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