Neurotica, edited by Melvin Jules Bukiet, Norton, $14.95
Run, Catch, Kiss by Amy Sohn, Scribner, $12
Slut! Growing up Female With a Bad Reputation, by Leora Tanenbaum, Perennial, $13
The Oy of Sex: Jewish Women Write Erotica, edited by Marcy Sheiner, Cleis Press, $14.95
Bittersweet Journey: A Moderately Erotic Novel of Love, Longing and Chocolate, by Enid Futterman, Viking, $20.95
Neurotica by Sue Margolis, Bantam, $6.95
JEWS ARE PURPORTED TO BE the best-educated group in this country, as well as the most sexually liberal. One consequence of this: a lot of sex books. “Witness the people of the book, in bed,” says Melvin Jules Bukiet in the introduction to his wonderful anthology Neurotica: Jewish Writers on Sex. How could one go wrong with 26 fictional excerpts by Cynthia Ozick, Erica Jong, Francine Prose, Woody Allen, Isaac Bashevis Singer and a one-act play by the ever-randy Saul Bellow? Personal favorites include the beginning of Jong’s infamous Fear of Flying: “There were 177 psychoanalysts on the Pan Am flight to Vienna and I’d been treated by at least six of them. And married a seventh,” and the late Harold Brodkey’s immortal line from his short story “Innocence,” about the sexual conquest of a co-ed named Orra: “To see her in sunlight was to see Marxism die.” Though Bukiet succeeds in his quest “to hit 100 on both the Jew-o-meter and the sex-o-meter,” how could he choose a scene from Philip Roth’s Counterlife instead of Portnoy’s Complaint? We want the liver!
When it comes to the sex-o-meter. Amy Sohn’s Run, Catch, Kiss delivers. Her clever, chaotic autobiographical first novel tells the story of Ariel Steiner, a nice Jewish girl from Brooklyn who just happens to be a sex columnist at New York’s hottest downtown weekly. Trouble begins when Ariel falls for a male writer named Adam and decides to lie about her romantic escapades in print to make him jealous. Sohn, who wrote the “Female Trouble” column for New York Press, offers little psychological insight but there’s enough weird fornication and self-deprecating humor to make up for it.
Not that being liberated — even in our own time — is always so easy. Leora Tanenbaum’s Slut! Growing Up Female With a Bad Reputation, chronicles the author’s difficult struggle with being sexually branded. In ninth grade, she fooled around with a guy on whom a friend of hers had a crush. In retaliation this “friend” spread the word that Tanenbaum was a slut, and she was subsequently snubbed at school. Like Sohn, she went to the Jewish confessional; revealing her carnal chaos in print, she penned a piece for Seventeen—which led to a book contract. Tanenbaum combines her personal account with interviews of young women and a cultural overview, concluding that the double standard still exists. If you don’t believe it, she has two words for you: Monica Lewinsky.
There are no cigars or stained blue dresses in The Oy of Sex: Jewish Women Write Erotica, but the 20 fictional selections here throw in everything else: Jewish women who lust for Catholic boys, Jewish women who lust for Jewish women, Jewish women who lust for their own husbands, S&M on Shabbos. Picture a Penthouse-style letter wrhten by a Yiddish grandma: “I mehed in bed, takeh, like a puddle of schmaltz” The most intriguing are pages from Marge Piercy’s futurist novel. He, She and It about a woman seduced by a cyborg, and a sharp section from Any Woman’s Blues by Erica Jong, (doesn’t she ever get tired?) explaining why nice Jewish guys get laid less than WASPs, heiress-hunters, gigolos and grifters.
If Catholic boys or Jewish grandmas don’t do it for you, how about chocolate? Enid Futterman’s Bittersweet Journey: A Modestly Erotic Novel of Love, Longing and Chocolate, tells a strange, sad story about a Brooklyn girl who spends her life longing for her father’s love. Traveling around the world she finds lovers less satisfying than truffles, cake, petit fours and fudge. She includes luscious pictures, stories, recipes and — brava — not one mention of a diet!
Sue Margolis’s funny British heroine Anna Shapiro, on the other hand, is a man-eater. Margolis’s frenetic comic novel Neurotica—not to be confused with the anthology mentioned earlier—begins with Anna’s hypochondriac editor husband, Dan Bloomfield, hiding in the bathroom, examining his testicles. Following the advice of the book The Clitoris-Centered Woman, Anna attempts to find her own sexual nirvana. Of course this ruins her sanity and marriage. Anna could be Isadora Wing’s British cousin, having long ago “rejected the whole neo-bourgeois, cryptofascist Jewburbia thing by smoking dope in the ladies’ room synagogue during the Yom Kipper service and turning up to her bubba’s shabbos dinners wearing no knickers.” Dan fell instantly, utterly and overwhelmingly in love. Who wouldn’t?