If you've been near a TV these past few weeks, then you've probably seen the trailer for the new movie version of Endless Love, coming on Valentine's Day. The laws of probability dictate that it will be better than the famously dreadful 1981 version starring a very young Brooke Shields. But chances are equally high that it won't be nearly as good — and certainly not nearly as explicit — as the novel on which it's based.
Endless Love, the 1979 novel by Scott Spencer, is overwrought and unsubtle and occasionally laughable. But it also happens to be — for a certain type of reader, anyway — one of the most intense experiences available between two covers.
In its honor, and with the hope that the new movie (despite a PG-13 rating) manages to capture something of its spirit, I present three of the best sex scenes modern literature has to offer.
1) Endless Love, Scott Spencer:
David Axelrod (no relation, presumably) and Jade Butterfield, a pair of Chicago teens who once enjoyed the steamiest young love affair this side of Romeo & Juliet, are being forcibly kept apart. There was a fire involved, and a court order, and a traffic accident — it's a long story. But now, in a hotel room in New York City, for one night only, they've been reunited.
What follows is a sex scene so graphic and memorable and above all long (thirty-six pages, by my count) that it stands as a kind of endurance test, both for the characters and for the reader. In the years since first reading the book, I've had conversations with other fans that consist of nothing more than:
"I mean, jeez."
Notable characteristics: Endless, bloody, unplanned
Representative passage: "I carefully touched my erection. It felt as if its root spanned my entire body, ganglia down through my thighs, the backs of my legs, clinging to the soles of my feet and up through my belly, shooting straight up my throat."
2. Vox, Nicholson Baker
Vox is one of those Nicholson Baker books (he's got a few) that is essentially nothing but a sex scene, so the particular bit I have in mind is really a sex scene within a sex scene. A man and a woman, Jim and Abby, are having a phone-sex conversation. Abby tells Jim about a date she went on with a man named Lawrence that began with a trip to the circus, and ended with the two of them emptying a bottle of olive oil over each other in the bathtub. It is perhaps the quintessential scene in Nicholson Baker's entire oeuvre: funny, bizarre, sexually explicit, and inordinately preoccupied with mundane household items.
Notable characteristics: Inventive, culinary, wasteful
Representative passage: "A rather powerful smell of olive oil surrounded us, and I began to feel quite Mediterranean and Bacchic, and honestly somewhat like a mushroom being lightly sautéed."
3. "Accident," Alice Munro
Alice Munro is — particularly since she won the Nobel Prize in October — one of those authors so highly respected that her raunchiness is easy to overlook. She's no Philip Roth, but when some genitalia needs describing, she's as good as anybody.
"Accident" is a short story about a schoolteacher named Francis who has an affair with a fellow-teacher named Ted. They're under the misimpression that their affair is a secret from their colleagues. One afternoon, just as they're getting underway in the supply room, the school secretary appears shouting outside the door. Ted's son has been in a fatal sledding accident.
Notable characteristics: Interrupted, scholastic, tragic
Representative passage: "His body was a great friend of hers, no matter what. There was the dark, flat mole, tear-shaped, probably more familiar to her… than it was to him. The discreet bellybutton, the long stomach-ulcer scar, the appendectomy scar. The wiry pubic bush and the ruddy cheerful penis, upright and workmanlike. The little tough hairs in her mouth."