Briefly noted: Undone — John Colapinto

Undone is okay and “John Colapinto Revives the Male-Centric Literary Sex Novel” got me to read it, but the novel is not particularly literary, not particularly sex-obsessed or even interested, and not even all that male-centric. So be prepared to be underwhelmed. I hate to recommend my own work, but if Undone seems remotely appealing to you try The Hook instead.

Undone is not really a page-turner like Gone Girl (and like the blurbs promise). Except among a small crowd of social justice warriors and English professors, it is not really scandalous. Still, like Gone Girl it does challenge the oddly dominant cultural narrative that women are pure and don’t do awful things and don’t manipulate others (including the media) by pandering to victimhood, and in this sense the novel does unsettle slightly contemporary New York Times and NPR thinking. That—not the sex itself, or the desire itself—is what the publishing machinery is talking about when it’s talking about the supposed scandal in Undone. The real discomfort is the challenging of the relentless victimhood narrative; that’s also how it’s like Francine Prose’s Blue Angel functions. Except Blue Angel is narratively more interesting and less obsessed with self loathing. Both do have writer-protagonists. Here’s Jasper, in Undone:

Typing fast, he began to sketch in the villain’s background, tracing his motivations to a childhood of deprivation and cruelty in an orphanage; he started to write notes on the grieving family, conceiving of them as a wealthy clan with deep New England roots. Freed from the agonizing writer’s block that had stalled him for weeks, Jasper wrote rapturously, without pause, stopping only when he heard the ringing of the doorbell.

The scene is very functional, but it’s hard to choose really evocative passages from the book.

I’ve heard guys say variations on the crude phrase, “No pussy is worth prison.” Undone maybe endorses this idea.

Should you read it? Maybe. As it is, reading about this wet rag flopping about is not quite satisfying, and the novel’s antagonists are not as brilliantly nasty as Amy in Gone Girl.

I want all the characters to be weirder and more obsessed and hazier and more like a fairy tale and more willing to go all the way. To be hard core. Being hard core is what’s admirable about a book like The Sexual Life of Catherine M. by Catherine Millet. That book has some flaws that numerous critics noted at the time it was released. But it remains essentially literary and essentially hard core in a way most smut isn’t, and that’s what keeps it in the front of the mind when weaker novels are forgotten.

Based on this one I’d read the next Colapinto novel.

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