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The Atlantic Monthly
Tuesday, March 5th, 2002




A review by James Marcus

Sex and the single girl have seldom been absent from Susan Minot's fiction. Her second collection, let's recall, was titled Lust & Other Stories (1989), and even her 1992 period piece, Folly, included the odd glimpse of Edwardian canoodling. Still, Minot has raised the erotic ante with Rapture, structuring this short novel around a single act of fellatio. No doubt the opening salvo in book groups across America will be Was it good for you, too? Yet readers in search of a paper-and-ink aphrodisiac are bound to be disappointed, because the author's take on oral intimacy — on any intimacy, really — is less rapturous than we might expect.

The protagonists, Kay and Benjamin, have been locked in a romantic agony for more than a year, because the latter is involved with another woman. This hasn't prevented him from making the occasional cameo appearance in Kay's bed, usually without much premeditation, and the close encounter that Minot chronicles here is the pair's first in many months. Nonetheless, things seem to be falling short in the ecstasy department. Kay can't keep her mind on the business at hand: "It often happened at some point during sex: the oddness of what she was doing, in this case, swallowing a man's private parts, pumping him up and down. He wasn't making a sound or a movement. For an instant she felt the absurdity of sex like a wink."

To be sure, Kay attains a certain spiritual momentum by the end, feeling "lifted and golden and electric." But it's hard not to think that the whole thing is wasted on her partner, a quintessential masculine clod who can't keep his pants zipped up. This bed hopping does present some logistical challenges, over which Ben mulls while he's being serviced: "It had never helped, in his experience, to admit anything. You just got punished for it. His male friends all corroborated this: never tell." No wonder his climax is so, well, anticlimactic. Rapture, in fact, would make an excellent argument for abstinence, were it not for the genuine allure of Minot's prose. Her ruminations on modern romance have an old-fashioned glow to them, while the graphic bits manage to evoke James Salter's sublimely lyrical French postcard, A Sport and a Pastime. And despite her half-ironic title, sex in Minot's fiction is at least a temporary sacrament—and anything but safe.

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