Bad Sex in Fiction

Stephen King, James Frey nominated for Bad Sex in Fiction Award, in The Washington Post, opens with a bit of humor:

The competition is — um — stiff for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award this year. In the running for the prize, which is given out by British journal the Literary Review each year, are notable authors Stephen King, Haruki Murakami and James Frey.
Author Stephen King. (Joe Kohen – Getty Images)

King was nominated for the award — which celebrates excruciating passages of writing about carnal desire — for his book “11.23.63.”One of King’s cringe-inducing sex scenes is excerpted below:

“Ohmygodyes,” she said and I laughed. She opened her eyes and looked up at me with curiosity and hopefulness. “Is it over, or is there more?”

“A little more,” I said. “I don’t know how much. I haven’t been with a woman in a long time.”

It turned out there was quite a bit more. … At the end she began to gasp. “Oh dear, oh my dear, oh my dear dear God, oh sugar!”

The full list of nominees includes:

  • “1Q84“ by Haruki Murakami
  • “On Canaan’s Side“ by Sebastian Barry
  • “The Final Testament of the Holy Bible“ by James Frey
  • “Parallel Stories“ by Péter Nádas
  • “11.22.63“ by Stephen King
  • “Ed King“ by David Guterson
  • “The Land of Painted Caves“ by Jean M Auel
  • “The Affair“ by Lee Child
  • “Dead Europe” by Christos Tsiolkas
  • “Outside the Ordinary World“ by Dori Ostermiller
  • “Everything Beautiful Began After” by Simon Van Booy
  • “The Great Night“ by Chris Adrian.

The awards are in good fun — though they’re also intended to discourage bad writing about sex, says the Literary Review — but some writers disagree. Author Rick Gekoski wrote in the Guardian that there should be a prize for good sex in literature instead, and offers some examples.

“Prizes are given by genre generally – best biography, travel book, novel, play, poem, memoir – not for specific passages. We don’t reward a terrific description of a sunset, or a tiramisu, or an orgasm, though we’re keen on all of them, even all at once,” he writes. “Good writing about sex, somehow, eludes us, at least in novels written in English. Is such writing better in other languages, periods, or cultures? Or is the problem simply the subject itself?”

Genkowski quotes Martin Amis: “Sex is hard to write about because you lose the universal and succumb to the particular. We all have our different favourites.”

That must explain this passage from one of the bad-sex contenders, Lee Child’s “The Affair.” It makes an earth-moving sexual encounter seem like a terrifying geological event that might require a mandatory evacuation, and the services of the National Guard:

“Faster, harder, faster, harder. The room began to shake. Just faintly at first, like a mild constant tremor, like the edge of a far distant earthquake. The French door trembled in its frame. A glass rattled on the bathroom shelf. The floor quivered. The hall door creaked and shuttered. My shoes hopped and moved. The bed head hammered against the wall. The floor shook hard. The walls boomed. Coins in my abandoned pocket tinkled.”


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