Reviewed by Jane Smiley
Washington Post Book World
Jack, 65, builder, often a Muse. Jane, 58, writer, often amused. In their bed in the house that Jack built.
Jack: What are you reading?
Jack: What is that? Is it a novel?
Jane: I can't tell. It's cute: 50 short monologues, in pairs, from various couples while they're having sex. His previous book like this was about severed heads. You know, those alleged seconds between when the head is cut off and the brain dies.
Jack: This must be more of a comedy.
Jane: It has its ups and downs. There's a pair of newlyweds who are interrupted by the sinking of the Titanic. On the other hand, he has the same woman sleeping with Hitler and JFK.
Jack: Wow. Is that true?
Jane: Well, JFK is a very young man, during World War II. I'm willing to suspend disbelief.
Jack: How long do you have to suspend it for?
Jane: About four hundred words altogether.
Jack: Who's the first couple?
Jane: Adam and Eve. I would have started with Gaia and Uranus, myself, and gotten some Big Bang theory in.
Jack: Maybe he's a Biblical Creationist.
Jane: He's not especially reverent otherwise. But you have to start somewhere.
Jack: Read me a line.
Jane: "The sex was so good that even the neighbors had a cigarette." He gives that to Milton Berle.
Jack: ( laughs) That was good.
Jane: He's having sex with Aimee Semple McPherson.
Jack: How does she like it?
Jane: He's supposedly the best endowed man in the history of the world. Or, at least, in her experience.
Jack: Do you think that's true?
Jane: I'm willing to suspend disbelief.
Jack: Read another one.
Jane: This is Albert Einstein: "Teller lost the pool and I didn't know if his voice was fuzzy from telephonic static or from grief, and then my dear Margarita arrives moments later and I hope I can do what I have to do." Margarita Konenkova is a Russian spy. They've just had the first A-bomb test. He was fond of her. That's true.
Jack: How do you know that?
Jane: Wikipedia. This book could increase the traffic on Wikipedia. But my favorite is Joseph McCarthy. He's unbelievably paranoid. He's worried about "someone ready to bust in blazing away with their Kalashnikov AK-47 automatic weapons, whose development and manufacture were financed secretly by the March of Dimes, thanks to Franklin Roosevelt . . . "
Jack: Some of my uncles thought Franklin Roosevelt was capable of anything.
Jane: " . . . whose own eyes shifted away from the cameras at Yalta to give Joe Stalin a wink." The modern monologues are livelier and more varied than the older ones.
Jane: Lucrezia Borgia. Attila the Hun. Mary Magdalene. The chicken one is good. He should have included more animals. But then, where do you stop? He should franchise it as a game. Who would you have included?
Jack: You mean "whom."
Jane: Well, in the privacy of our bedroom, I can say "who." It's colloquial.
Jack: Hugh Hefner. Who else?
Jane: Who is he making love to?
Jack: More than one 25-year-old at a time. Let's say three. That gives each one a chance to take a break. What about you?
Jane: The Godolphin Arabian and the mare Roxana. I would have him tell us where he actually came from. He preferred her, you know. Stallions do have preferences.
Jack: ( changing the subject) Is it erotic?
Jane: Not at all, really. In fact, most of the time it's anti-erotic. It's about the things you were thinking about when you should have been paying attention. Personally, I would think that at least one of these couples might be portrayed as actually communicating and enjoying themselves. But that's not the point he's making.
Jack: How can you call it Intercourse if it's not erotic?
Jane: I suppose he means that other sort of intercourse: conversation.
Jack: ( losing interest) Oh.
Jane: Are you asleep?
Jack: Not if you turn out the light.
Jane Smiley's most recent novel is Ten Days in the Hills.
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