Granta’s Sex Issue
You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but Granta’s new “Sex” themed issue is an exception. The cover is beautiful, tongue in cheek and whip-smart, like the writing it contains. As much as I like to read magazines online, picking up this issue of Granta feels like a ritual. The cover feels powdery, silky, and a bit like a condom. The cover features a photograph of an pinked and open coin purse, which rather than being explicit, reflects that state of heightened awareness, lets just call it arousal, where everything you see/touch/hear begins to seem sexual– the kind of awareness that might make you see the pink tongues of a coin purse as an invitation.
Contrary to expectation, this issue is distinguished as much by what it conceals as by what it reveals. The photo spread muses on empty porn sets, like a nurse’s station where a lone, white dildo is all that remains of the day’s activities.
The essays and stories in the issue also seem to draw power from absence, whether it is the absence of desire, as in Jennifer Egan’s story “The Gold Cure” or the inability to write about desire, as with Mark Doty’s “The Unwriteable.” Egan’s story centers around a hairy businessman who hasn’t had an erection in so long he’s’ beginning to think he never will. The only thing that seems to get him back inside his body is sniffing gold dust.
Last week I heard Jennifer Egan and Mark Doty read from their pieces in Granta’s Sex issue at the Half King, which on Monday nights hosts an excellent reading series. In his introduction to “The Unwriteable,” Doty explained that although he’s written explicitly about his life there was one story he was never able to approach. But when Granta asked him to write about a little-talked about phenomenon–of married men who have affairs with other men, he decided he couldn’t write about other men without writing about his own experience. “The Unwriteable” is an essay about Doty’s own early marriage to a woman and love affair with a man, an experience he says he couldn’t write about until the parties concerned had died. As with Doty’s poetry, the language here is breathtaking, and he alternates between confession and an exploration of why in this case sex was so difficult to write about.
Online you can hear Victor LaValle read his short story “Long Distance” and watch a video of Editor John Freeman introducing the issue.
Check out Ted Hodgkinson’s A Plausible Portrait, an introduction to the life of James Lord, “a writer who befriended Picasso – and Picasso’s mistress – and inspired Giacometti,” and, an online exclusive, an interview with Natasha Wimmer on translating Roberto Bolano’s sex scenes (the print issue also features a Bolano short story).
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