In an unabashedly erotic novel, Kneen (Steeplechase, 2013, etc.) follows the science fiction–flavored adventures of a young woman whose sexual awakening is set into motion by works of classic erotic literature.
Holly White is fascinated by sex but remains a virgin. This is partially because she and her best friends—all beautiful, privileged college students—have made a pact of chastity and wear rings engraved with the words “true love waits.” It's also partially because when Holly finds herself aroused, a glowing blue wetness emerges from between her legs, and this abnormality, a potential “beacon” of lust, shames and disturbs her. When she stumbles into an invitation to join Sex Club, a book club that discusses the erotic classics, she finds both intellectual excitement and the nerve to pursue her sexual freedom. At first, Holly’s explorations follow the predictable narrative of a girl flinging aside her cloistered youth for a bohemian discovery of womanhood, complete with endless and tiresomely described trysts. As the novel progresses, her escapades become stranger and stranger, and the story takes a breakneck left turn into a bizarre realm of science-fiction lunacy. Kneen attempts to weave threads of this strangeness throughout the novel—dwelling on Holly’s ectoplasmlike affliction and dipping into a secondary storyline about a scientist and the machines he built to collect the energy of orgasms—but the surreal elements feel unbalanced and awkward. They get in the way of the novel’s most pleasurable aspect: an infectious enthusiasm for the books that fuel the emotional action. Reading about Holly reading James Salter, Angela Carter, and a slew of others and finding the experience so wholeheartedly transformative makes the reading list in the back of the book irresistible.
An uneven novel whose disparate parts make a sexual awakening ridiculous and sometimes apocalyptic but that offers a keen appreciation of the erotic writing of others.