I'm in the middle of reading Norman Mailer's The Castle in the Forest
, the first book in what is projected to be a trilogy Bildungroman
of Adolf Hitler, and what struck me about, particularly after glancing over J.M. Coetzee's review
, is the depiction of Alois Hitler's (Adolf's father) sexuality.
In Mailer's strangely affecting telling, Alois was raised on a farm, got off the farm into the Custom's Service in order to wear a uniform and boss other people around, and slept with every woman he could trick or seduce or bully into bed--including an aunt, half-sisters, and a niece. Not a nice person, not one I particularly identify with--but there's something in the way Mailer describes Alois's sexual drive--and then later, in its dying away--that just surprises me, in the way the adolescent sexuality evoked in Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
did, as completely and utterly different from mine.
These books begin to describe for me what sexual experience feels like from a man's perspective. It's hard for me to specify what, exactly, were the qualities that seemed so different, but, to be crude, a lot of it had to do with the penis. Alois calls his "the Hound" and blames it, loves it for his philandering; he feels separate from it and manages (poorly) his life to accomodate its almost alien needs. I don't have a copy of The Portrait of an Artist
right now, but I vividly remember the narrator's sense of wonder at an unexpected erection; like a scene in a movie in which the protagonist approaches an impressive landscape, he grabs at himself and exclaims, "My God, look at that!"
These better descriptions of male sexuality, while they are specific enough to be utterly different from my own experience, are human and vulnerable; they make me aware of frailities and anxieties I wouldn't otherwise understand. Joyce's description of a young man's not being in control of what his penis is doing is so beautiful that it's become almost a false memory, of discussions had or not had with this or that lover.
(And here comes the part where I ask for help.)
I was discussing all of the above with my honey, and he asked me what books I'd recommend for him to understand women's sexuality in this way. And I was stymied. Not only did nothing come to mind, but I wasn't even sure that as a woman I would know what to recommend to a man when I read it. So, I turn to the wisdom of the internet:
What works of imaginative writing communicate best--vividly, sympathetically, phenomenologically--the way women experience sexuality?