Surveying the great dance of sex and procreation, Crace’s erotically charged eighth zeroes in on one freakishly fertile individual: another dazzling, imaginative feast from this British author.
Sooner or later, Lix Dern will impregnate every woman he makes love to. Fortunately, he’s not promiscuous; between 1979 and 2002, the tally is five women and six children. His encounters take place in the ancient City of Kisses in an unnamed country in Europe, though an overbearing military and a streak of sensuality lend it a South American flavor. Wittily, Crace (The Devil’s Larder, 2001, etc.) subverts the randomness of sperm-meets-egg to highlight the randomness and intrigue that precede any human coupling, foreplay’s uncertain path to arousal. Take Lix’s first time. The 20-year-old student actor has been using binoculars to spy on an older woman at a sidewalk café. The woman, aware of the spy and tired of mistreatment by cheating husbands, initiates a quickie in Lix’s pad. The two will never meet again, but Lix has sired his firstborn in an episode that also illustrates Lix’s main character trait: timidity. His one moment of courage comes when he makes a successful play for Firebrand Freda, the campus beauty, though Freda ends the affair abruptly and will bar Lix from contact with their offspring. Now alarmed by his reproductive powers, Lix goes seven years without sex, then marries Freda’s campus rival, Alicja. By now Lix is a star of stage and screen, and Alicja a successful politician; they produce two boys before the marriage disintegrates. Another sexual drought, another unplanned wham-bam (and a baby, you bet), and Lix marries Freda’s cousin Mouetta. It’s their second anniversary, and Lix is hell-bent on consummation, though there are riots and roadblocks and Lix shockingly betrays a student activist, all for six minutes of bliss in their illegally parked car.
It’s no secret by now that Crace is one of England’s finest. His prose is rich yet lean as he dives into life’s chaos, surfacing, every time, with the mot juste.