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 twelve hours, while looking like Roman public-bath statuary. Then they rinsed, dried, dressed, and went to an expensive restaurant for lunch.
Ladies and gentlemen, we present you with the winning prose in Literary Review’s 2011 Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Or, as the journal also calls it, Britain’s Most Dreaded Literary Prize.
This years winner is David Guterson for the above passage in Ed King, a reimagining of the Oedipus myth in the latter half of the 20th century.
As Jonathan Beckman, a senior editor at Literary Review and bad sex judge, writes in the Financial Times:
Prudishness lies at the heart of poor sex writing. You can sense the urge to shy away from sex, to displace it with simile or hide it all together. It’s striking how frequently the view becomes cloudy or obscured. In previous years Carlos Fuentes got “lost in a leafiness like that of a forest of fleshy ferns”; Amos Oz was “like some piece of sonar equipment … anticipating and consciously avoiding every sandbank, steering clear of each underwater reef”; John Banville has “a passionate dalliance … on the edge of a precipice beyond which can be glimpsed a dark-green distance in a reeking mist and something shining out of them”.
For what it’s worth, when Guterson isn’t winning bad sex writing awards, he’s winning things like the PEN/Faulkner award for his 1995 Snow Falling on Cedars.
Somewhere there’s something hopeful in that.