John Colapinto: Nowhere Near the Edge
Meet John Colapinto. John is a staff writer at the New Yorker. John had a full page article about his new book in the New York Times. John is the face of white male privilege.
When John decided to write a new book he decided to go back to the forgotten genre of old books that he loved, following in the footsteps of Vladimir Nabakov, John Updike and Philip Roth. The “literary sex novel.” At the time that those original books were being published, they were risque, talking about threesomes and extra-marital affairs. Admittedly many of them were ego inflating self-congratulatory literary masturbation, but they were pushing the edge of what was acceptable and opening up the world to the sexual revolution in a very safe and detached way.
So you may expect a modern version to push the modern boundaries. We could, and do, see books talking about living in the complexity of queer, polyamorous relationships where issues of gender and identity are as bound up in events as the sexual appetites of the characters. So what does John produce when given the opportunity to join this fringe edge of brave new authors? He writes "Undone," a book about a middle aged man lusting after teenage girls. When I talked about following in the footsteps of Nabakov I meant that he is treading an identical path. But while the disturbing classic Lolita had the courage of its grotesque convictions John has decided to duck out. His “under-age temptress” is eighteen by the time she eventually engages in the sex that the book has been building up to and the description is all kept deliberately vague. There is nothing original in John's milquetoast sexual fantasies. Even the implication of pseudo-incest is pathetically feeble when compared to the writing being done by people on the real sexual fringe in the small presses.
This is not the reason that the world outside his self congratulatory bubble has turned on John. He was genuinely surprised that publishers were not interested in his book. He is noted to have been expecting a bidding war on the manuscript. A writer being rejected is not news. But his smug belief that he is too edgy to be published is ridiculous. I can't speak to the quality of the writing, but the reason that the literary sex novel no longer revolves around straight white men being complete studs is that we have already read every perspective on that concept a dozen times. Men have been bragging about their virility since the dawn of time, thankfully literature had finally moved beyond that infantile stage.
A New York Times article is a massive boost for any author's new book but especially one being published by a smaller publishing house after the “harrowing” experience of being rejected by the major publishing houses. To the minds of many, his connections and privilege are the only reason that John is receiving coverage for a book that does nothing new or interesting. It is a celebration of white male heterosexuality. Just like every other aspect of American culture.