The worst sex writing of the year?

Britain's Literary Review names an awkward Oedipal shower scene winner of its infamous Bad Sex in Fiction Award

Published December 7, 2011 7:00PM (EST)

What's more cringe-worthy: Haruki Murakami's comparison of "a freshly made ear" to "a freshly made vagina" or the scene from "Ed King," David Guterson's modern retelling of the Oedipus myth, in which the title character ends 12 hours of marathon lovemaking with his mother with one last quickie in the shower?

According to the U.K.'s Literary Review, it's definitely the shower. The journal has awarded Guterson (also the author of "Snow Falling on Cedars"), its Bad Sex in Fiction Award for 2011. (Whether either finalist really compares to Rowan Somerville's now-infamous 2010 sentence -- "Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her" -- is another question entirely.)

The novel's "victory" might not surprise readers and reviewers; as GalleyCat's Jason Boog points out, Ron Charles of the Washington Post anticipated that its awkward descriptions of an awkward encounter might make it a strong contender for the prize.

These two paragraphs from "Ed King," specifically cited on the Literary Review's website, helped bring home the prize:

These sorts of gyrations and five-sense choreographies, with variations on Ed's main themes, played out episodically between 10 p.m. and 10 a.m., when Diane said, "Let's shower."

In the shower, Ed stood with his hands at the back of his head, like someone just arrested, while she abused him with a bar of soap. After a while he shut his eyes, and Diane, wielding her fingernails now and staring at his face, helped him out with two practiced hands, one squeezing the family jewels, the other vigorous with the soap-and-warm-water treatment. It didn't take long for the beautiful and perfect Ed King to ejaculate for the fifth time in 12 hours, while looking like a Roman public-bath statuary. Then they rinsed, dried, dressed and went to an expensive restaurant for lunch.

In a recent essay for the Financial Times, Literary Review senior editor Jonathan Beckman called the prize "a comic coda to the literary year and a gentle spoof of a culture in which awards have proliferated at speed." He added: "Despite murmurings to the contrary, the mere presence of a sex scene does not inevitably lead to a pillorying. Every year we rule out many examples sent to us by enthusiastic readers on the grounds of utter competence."

Earlier this year, Salon published its first Good Sex Awards, judged by Laura Miller, Louis Bayard, Maud Newton and Walter Kirn. Read their discussion of "What makes a good sex scene?" here.

By Emma Mustich

Emma Mustich is a Salon contributor. Follow her on Twitter: @emustich.

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