by Alma Marceau

Published by Studio Loplop

282 pages, 2001

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One-Handed Reading

Reviewed by M.J. Rose


Let's get one thing out of the way first: Lofting is what many people would call smut. It's erotica -- written in polished, evocative prose that is the antithesis of pulp pornography -- but all the same, it's fundamentally and unapologetically a dirty book. No coy hints at the sexual here; Lofting's salaciousness is vivid and exhaustive. The characters in this novel may have obscure psychological motivations, subtly sketched backstories and intellectual complexity -- but when it comes to their carnality, Marceau leaves little to the reader's imagination and she describes it all in loving and gritty detail. And after the spate of recent erotic bestsellers, I must say I find something refreshing about a dirty novel that, for all its legitimate literary qualities, makes no pretense to being other than what it is.

Unlike Susan Minot's Rapture, which employs an extended act of fellatio as a pretext to talk about a lot of things other than sex, or Catherine Millet's Sexual Life of Catherine M, which is too much a French laundry list of wanton acts to qualify as my idea of a hot read, Lofting is one-handed reading for discerning lovers of literature. Except sometimes the other hand is looking up a word or two in the Oxford English Dictionary. That's how smart the smutty Marceau is.

The plot of Lofting will be familiar to anyone who's even just dipped their reading glasses into the genre: girl gets dumped, sets out in search of her sexual identity, meets perverse mentor, meets second perverse mentor, meets girl, meets boys, meets whip, out-perverts perverse mentors, lives happily and hornily ever after. In other words, despite its modern trappings of cyber and phone sex, Lofting adheres faithfully to the established conventions of the erotic novel. Marceau does a workmanlike job of moving the story along, and there are a couple of decent surprises on the way, but anyone looking for a truly novel narrative trajectory will be disappointed.

What makes Lofting unique isn't the story but the telling -- and the characters. The protagonist, Claire, is 30ish, Jewish, intellectual and a psychologist with a practice in New York. She's also too smart for her own good, sarcastic as a morgue reporter and knows exactly how to bend her lovers to her will, even when she's tied up and blindfolded. Proud and passionately individualistic, Claire might be described as the anti-"O" -- the exact opposite of Pauline Reage's self-denying and ur-subservient heroine. Andres, Claire's "virtual" lover (he's married, and in Denver) is manic, brilliant and twisted. When Claire and Andres have "sex" it's all in the talking, and the words run and bounce between the most creatively imaginative filth, literary and artistic allusion, and whacked-out humor. Claire has many real-life sexual adventures too, including public debauches in places as varied as Macy's homewares department and the Staten Island Zoo reptile house. But even there it's her idiosyncratic point of view, with its wild arcs and swings between graphic description, interior monologue and meta-commentary that distinguishes this novel from its superficially similar brethren. That and the puns, which crop up nearly everywhere in Lofting, as in this apres du sex bit of dialogue between Claire and Nick, her drug-dealing, Bolivian-American artist boyfriend:

"I love the way you come," Nick said. "It's beautiful. 'Le petit mort.' Ever think about that? Sort of a strange conception of death, if you ask me. Very optimistic -- seems more American than French."

"The Jews call it 'le petit Mort Sahl.'"


That appended "what" is typical of Marceau's style throughout the book. Characters miss each other's references, talk at cross-purposes and tease one another relentlessly. The intellectual banter that makes up the interstices of Lofting is thus saved from the forced earnestness that so often characterizes novelistic conversations involving ideas. Lofting describes an orgiastic world, replete with blindfolds, shackles and the classic sadistic pleasures of pain, but it thankfully avoids the Marquis' other obsession of interminable philosophical speculation. Funny, filthy and tolerably smart, Lofting deserves a place on the short shelf of good erotic fiction. | September 2002


M.J. Rose's most recent novel is Flesh Tones.