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Life Arts    H3'ed 10/24/09

If It's Art, Must It Be Pornography?

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If you can't trust the recommendations of your local independent bookstore, what can you trust? Anyone who has faced the dizzying racks of new releases in the chain bookstores, millions of books on, and the daunting The New York Times bestseller list knows what I am talking about. It was trust in a recommendation from my local island book mistress that had me wasting two days reading the "New York Times Bestseller" The Garden of Last Days by Andre Dubus III. He also wrote the House of Sand and Fog.

Don't get me wrong. I'm all for freedom of expression, even when it comes to veiled pornography, but I don't want to be tricked into buying it for God's sake.

All I wanted was a good book to take to the beach--something with some heft and decent writing. I found this novel on the "recommended" shelf. The clerk said the owner "could not put it down." I'm going over there in a couple of hours to talk to her about her experience. It may have been the same as mine, and I really need some clarification.

I should have known better and not trusted the cover testimonials either. The New Orleans Times-Picayune called this romp into the mysteries of the vagina "a hymn to all those who struggle to live as good people." This from the same organization who ignored all of the trickery and malfeasance of the Army Corps of Engineers post Katrina.

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The Boston Sunday Globe called it "art" with a plot "thundering toward catastrophe." Well, the catastrophe description was accurate, and as far as Stephen King's endorsement goes, I really think he should get some therapy if the book was "compulsively readable."

I confess that I read all 535 pages of the paperback edition, but that was because it was so unbelievably bad and offensive to women that I was certain it had to take a turn for the better. The chapters were very short, so it was easy to convince yourself that things would get better in the next vignette.

What I found instead were so many missed opportunities, two great characters, the bouncer, Lonnie, and the landlady, Jean, who could have been redemptive, had the author been able to accomplish some character development. Instead, Dubus wastes three quarters of the book on the depravity of strip clubs and the goings on in the back rooms. Lonnie gets killed off in the end. And Jean just gets old. She is never allowed to claim the wisdom of cronedom, and she deserves it. Dubus actually sexually violates her in some scenes.

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One chapter on the strip club and another on pornographic videos would have been plenty. We get it already. Part of me wants to sue the author for the therapy I may need whenever I see or hear the word "pink."

I just hate it when men get away with this stuff and call it art. It's voyeurism, it is titillation, and I don't care if you wrap it all up in the history of September 11, it is manipulative, lousy writing.

It is also dangerous to women and children, especially when one of the main characters verges on the edge of child abuse, including that of the sexual variety. It is subtle, but it is there.

Perhaps I am overly sensitive because much of my work deals with sexual violence. I dunno.

But men, leave the Vagina Monologues to Eve Ensler. Please. Spare us this kind of "art."

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Georgianne Nienaber is an investigative environmental and political writer. She lives in rural northern Minnesota and South Florida. Her articles have appeared in The Society of Professional Journalists' Online Quill Magazine, the Huffington (more...)

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