Satyricon Usa

Mary Elizabeth Williams reviews 'Satyricon USA' by Eurydice

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Senior Writer

Published February 12, 1999 8:00PM (EST)

Eurydice writes about sex. Wicked, deviant, dirty, dirty sex. But that doesn't make her some mindless bimbo, OK? The former Spin magazine contributor would have you know that she is one of those brainy sex writers, the kind for whom the dialogues of Plato are as relevant as the Kama Sutra. Because she wants to make absolutely sure you remember this, she's going to remind you at every opportunity that the 200-odd pages of her debut book, "Satyricon USA," will allow. It's not enough that her nom de plume and the title of her tome might be a tip-off to her bookishness. She's going to quote Melville and Sartre and lots of other people that only she, apparently, has ever read, just to make sure you get the point. And as she travels through a plethora of sex clubs and tacky strip joints, don't think for a minute she's going to sully her egghead cred by getting involved in the action. She is, in short, a crashing bore. She's the worst type of bore, too -- the kind you thought you'd never have to listen to again after you moved out of your freshman dorm.

It's not that Eurydice's quest is an unworthy or uncomplicated one -- literate hipster goes on cross-country tour to gauge the sexual state of the union -- or that her willingness to probe human nature at its most vulnerable isn't gutsy. It's that she's not only not up to the task, she's smugly, condescendingly wowed by her own limited abilities. Reading her prose is like going for a long ride with a driver who's still coasting on a learner's permit. You can understand a little of where the self-satisfaction is coming from, but you don't exactly want to share in it.

Since Eurydice reveals almost nothing of her own sexual tastes and experiences, it's left to the reader to ponder what kind of criteria she used in choosing the subjects for her story. She directs her attentions at the most extreme subgroups she can find, but then she can't decide whether to be blasi or horrified. In San Francisco, she hooks up with a dyke blood-sports community and voyeuristically meanders through clubs in which cutting and piercing play is common. In Los Angeles, she interviews a pair of bona fide necrophiliacs. And in Santa Fe, N.M., she meets up with a support group for individuals who claim to regularly knock boots with extraterrestrials.

While the worlds she explores certainly indicate something about how our culture interprets life, death and sex right now, focusing exclusively on the fringe and trying to draw general conclusions is akin to talking about New Orleans when you've only been there for Mardi Gras. Even this approach might be understandable (or at least entertaining) if the author delivered her report with a deadpan, seen-it-all style or even a penetrating, un-politically correct skepticism. But Eurydice's main reaction is just simple, undisguised disgust. She dismisses the paraphernalia of cross-dressers as "the vain scaffolding on which they build themselves so they can be sexually self-sufficient" and declares that dominatrixes are "mostly ex-strippers or call girls with accumulated resentment toward men." She wearily fends off the advances of smitten would-be suitors and, barring one joyless delivery of a spanking to a suburban dad, keeps herself far removed from the pastimes of her subjects.

Eurydice doesn't seem to enjoy seeing the things she sees, and she surely doesn't want to do the things other people do, so why then does she keep putting herself out there in the thick of all this debauchery? Bizarrely, it appears she believes she's on a mission. With her trusty portable "Varieties of Religious Experience," the author tries valiantly to make sense of the perversity around her. What for others are real, flesh-and-blood encounters are metaphors for her, keys to understanding universal truths of human nature. At first, it's almost sweet, the way she keeps drawing obvious parallels and taking great pleasure in them. Religious and sexual ecstasy have something in common? You don't say! Ultimately, however, her unending supply of epiphanies is about as illuminating as the average fortune cookie. And far less satisfying.

By Mary Elizabeth Williams

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a senior writer for Salon and author of "A Series of Catastrophes & Miracles."

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