Today’s book battle pits The Surrender by Toni Bentley against The Sexual Life of Catherine M. by Catherine Millet.
Presentation: Catherine M.’s straightforward title is unavoidably bland, even a little clinical, like she was a psychologist’s case study. I appreciate its honesty but it gets no points for creativity. Frankly, a better name would have been, Those Bunch of Guys I Fucked: A Book. But I guess I should be grateful she didn’t go that route, because then what I would call my autobiography? (Still looking for a publisher, folks.) Also, my boyfriend saw me with The Sexual Life and asked, “Are you reading the girl version of Dennis Reynolds: An Erotic Life?” Sigh. I wish. As usual, Dennis Reynolds may have not been the first to do it, but he was the best.
Both covers feature images of what I presume are the bodies of the authors. Bentley rips off Lost in Translation’s opening butt shot, which is only fair given how often we have to read about the tight supremacy of her impeccable ballet ass, while Millet opts for toplessness and an emo hair-in-face look. Screaming infidelities indeed.
Both are tasteful enough, by which I mean they’re less obvious than romance novel covers, and designed to appeal to snobby folks who like their dirty stories packaged as “erotica.” (You know how subway conversations with those people go: “What’s that you’re reading? Mutiny on the Boobies by Jackee St. Clair? Well, I’m learning about this dancer’s 176th encounter with God through anal ravaging. Grow up, plebian.”)
Who You Would Rather Bone: I’ll give you the facts and you decide. Our girl Toni styles every anal encounter with fin-de-siècle decadence, which means lighting incense and candles, saving her lover’s come-filled condoms in a giant lacquered Chinese box, and dressing up for him in a long velvet gown. (Yes, I said velvet! That’s one step away from velour. And that’s one step away from Zap Branigan.) She left out the part about wearing opera length gloves and dropping belladonna into her eyes but I suspect that was usually involved. She and her lover, who she calls “A-man,” never go on a date, but if they did, I like to think they’d shop for taxidermied animals or visit the Renaissance Faire.
Meanwhile, Catherine’s dispassionate, cerebral recounting of her many humpings is fastidiously monotone. Almost every time I read a contemporary French author, I get the impression his or her soul is perpetually cloaked in glasses and a white lab coat. It’s no different with Ms. M. Whether she’s taking it from some random guy through a car window or servicing 30 men in an hour, she’s got all the placidity of a hand mirror held between a lady’s legs. Yeah, there’s a pussy involved, but there’s no reaction.
It’s exactly like another Catherine’s (Breillat) movies: nakedness abounds, you want to feel turned on, you feel turned on with a question mark because Rocco Siffredi revealed his big slab of meat but the sex is cold and abrupt; then you’re left feeling empty and untouchable like Camus’s L Étranger, and so eat ice cream straight out of the container, standing in your kitchen with a blank look on your face. I’m not saying Millet doesn’t have a personality. I’m saying she doesn’t have a personality while she’s having sex, and she admits as much.
Both women claim to have superb blowjob technique.
Speaking Of Bones: I have two big ones(!) to pick with Bentley. Firstly, she compares testicles to almonds. I don’t want to give anyone a complex, but I’m pretty sure that if your guy’s balls are the size of almonds, you’re either dating someone who needs immediate medical attention or you’re a pedophile. Secondly, she indulges in that arrogant, lecturing style of sex advice. You know, lots of imperatives related to technique, including “If you can’t gag for your man, how can you really love him?” Mercifully, this is brief, but I’m over it even in small quantities. Do men talk to other men this way about sex? Are articles in dude magazines exhorting their readers to “eat her until you’ve swallowed so much girl juice that you have to pass on dinner?” Or “spank her with sincerity and precision?” Or accusing, “if you won’t snowball your own ejaculate, you’re not serious about her happiness?” (Ok, I admit I stole that last one from He’s Just Not That Into You, the movie.)
Makes Me Wanna Shoop: I tried reading The Sexual Life years ago, and went through the first hundred pages with an incensed crankiness over the downright anti-sexual rendering of Millet’s wild nights and days. My shy self could only dream of such debauchery and here she was, bored by it. Yet finally the sheer litany of ol’ in and out got to me, and I had to resort to masturbation. That didn’t happen with The Surrender. It’s not that Bentley’s sex isn’t inspiring; it is. But it’s described as so outrageously intense as to be nearly unattainable, or at the very least not attained with a simple Craigslist posting. And dammit, sometimes a Craigslist post is all you have in you.
What About Getting Off?: Both women spend very little time writing about their orgasms, except to mention that they (orgasms) are entirely beside the point. The consensus seems to be that fucking of such profundity and variety and athleticism as theirs is beyond orgasms, maybe even insulted by orgasms. Millet mentions that one of her partners says she’ll someday find a man “who would know how to take me from the front and bring me to orgasm that way,” but she also says her anal sex was purely “a primitive method of contraception.” According to Bentley, “Only a fool would hold on to what she knows while being shown some land of release beyond orgasm.” What about getting off, you say? Grow up, plebian.
Well, Then, What About God?: Bentley writes “I came to know God experientially, from being fucked in the ass.“ Millet replies, “I can no longer really pretend that I believe in God. It’s highly possible that I lost this belief when I started having sexual relationships.” That pretty much sums it up.
Winner: I read a Tin House interview with Millet not too long ago, and she was likable and intelligent, so I mean this with no disrespect—but anyone can have sex with hundreds of men, especially if those men are French. Toni Bentley found true love and spiritual fulfillment through her fornication. In other words, there’s no contest. (Full disclosure: she also admits to being a cat lover. That’s the equivalent of slipping me a large cash bribe. More promiscuous cat ladies, please! )
Next time when Sex Books Throwdown, former Hefner flame Izabella St. James challenges the Vivid Girls to determine who truly has the most XXX Sex Life.