A man with his sex doll in Chengdu, China, on August 18, 2016. Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images

'Made for Love' Is a Hilarious Novel About Sex Dolls, Dolphins, and Surveillance

Alissa Nutting's newest novel is easily one of the funniest books about sex and modern technology you'll read this year.

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Jul 9 2017, 4:00am

A man with his sex doll in Chengdu, China, on August 18, 2016. Photo by VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Alissa Nutting is an author who isn't afraid to just go for it. Her first novel, the brutally insightful Tampa, told the story of a female pedophile and was inspired by her real-life classmate Debra Lafave, a 23-year-old middle school teacher who had sex with a 14-year-old student. Nutting's hilarious sophomore effort, Made for Love, is equally daring, if quite different. The book, which was published this week, follows a woman named Hazel trying to escape her powerful tech-baron husband who is downloading her memories via a secretly implanted chip in her brain. (When Hazel learns about the implant, she thinks: "Was she supposed to not look after wiping? No. Screw that. She'd look even longer.")

There's also a dolphin-horny con artist, sex dolls with personhood, and a part-time grave sitter. Made for Love is a madcap satire—think Fifty Shades of Grey rewritten by George Saunders—and easily one of the funniest books you'll read this year. It's also a timely novel that examines the fraught and bizarre intersection between sex, love, and modern technology.

I recently spoke with Nutting over the phone about sex-doll preferences, Google stalking, and whether or not we humans are made for love.


Watch on VICE: 'Slutever: Making the World's First Male Sex Doll':


VICE: Your novel has a lot to say about the weird intersection of technology and sex. What's the future of sex and intimacy in our tech-obsessed world?
Alissa Nutting: While I was writing this book, I got divorced. So I was also very much coming from this angle of having failed at a relationship, and feeling this mantle of failure. And thinking about what kind of calibrations are perfect for a relationship—the continuum of how much sexual fulfillment you're getting with your partner versus how much you're getting alone, with or without technology. For a person alone in a room, I can think of a lot of ways that technology can help you get off. But in terms of a tool for intimacy—can technology strengthen sex as a bonding experience with a human? Or is it more of a stand-in for a human? This is something I'm particularly interested in posing as a question, because I'm not sure. I've definitely tended more to use technology alone, but there's all sorts of couple-geared devices now, and I think it's always this balance. I know a lot of people who are really worried about bringing technology into the bedroom because they're afraid it is going to be better than anything they can do for their partner, it's sort of this Pandora's Box to them. [They think,] Will this make me irrelevant in my girlfriend's life?

There's the weird intersection of that with remote-controlled sex toys where you can kind of be there when you're in another state or whatever.
It's funny because FaceTime and Skype are the complete ends of the binary. Because on the one hand, you use them for seeing your grandparents in rural Kentucky, and then you're calling to maintain your long-distance relationship in webcam ways. The same platform is used to get off with your partner or to check in with geriatric family members. What interests me, there are all kinds of technology things, like sex dolls—

And sex dolls are featured in the novel.
In the book, her father is a very anti-tech guy, so he wouldn't want the bells and whistles. But I did a lot of research into bells and whistles, and anti-bells and whistles. So there's this option, if you just want the cock of the doll. If you don't need the legs, don't need much torso, there's this option where, on the other side, it's a flat bathmat basically. So you set this mat with the cock down on the floor. That's very interesting to me. Like, why the mat? Why not just a suction cup one? But if you just want a broader surface area, right, surrounding the cock then you can do that. It's fascinating to me the ways that it teeters between super-humanizing and dehumanizing. When you get into parts, right, that begins to feel very object-related. But on the other end, where you're having these extremely realistic lifelike dolls, it's an uncanny feeling, and it's like where is the best zone for sexual experience? Is it better if your doll is talking? And it's not universal, it's individualized.

Photo by Sara Wood

There's a point in the book where Hazel's ex-husband, Byron, is talking about how, from his perspective, if you're not on the internet, you don't exist.
I asked my Lit Analysis class about how they'd feel if they had been set up on a blind date with someone, and they google, that person and they find absolutely nothing. Would they still go on the date? Would that be a good sign for them? Would that be a scary sign to them, like what would their assumptions be with that? When I began the book, I was in that situation where I knew a divorce was probably going to come, but at the same time, I was just like, He's going to be able to see me forever. Even if I block him on Facebook, with mutual friends, he'll always have these windows into my life. So what's the point in even breaking up when he's still going to be able to watch? That was one of the places that I really began to write from. What does it mean to be viewed and seen by this other person who maybe no longer has benevolent feelings for you? What does it mean to not be able to control that viewing? It's kind of like the sex-doll conundrum in a different way: At what point does technology turn you off versus enhancing your turn-on? At what point does knowing information stop benefitting your relationship versus starting to harm it?

I know people who have broken up over their Twitter usage.
I can say with so much certainly that I could not be loved by a single person if my thoughts were just public. We think of intimacy and sharing and two halves making a whole when we think of love, when, really, I feel like love is highly dependent on this intricate nexus of light-blocking curtains that you have with each other in terms of thoughts and feelings and emotions and desires.

The novel is really, really hilarious, and often even slapstick. There's a really great extended sequence where Hazel has her fist stuck in one of the sex doll's throats around the semen-collecting pouch and is trying to get it off. Are you influenced by stand-up comedians or comedy?
Completely. When you look at successful stand-up, dramatic comics, they are train wrecks. They are hurting so badly. I really need comedy in my life. I couldn't get through a day without it, let alone writing a novel without it. That's what writing does for me that makes it worth revolving my life around, when I hit upon a moment that's really funny where the humor is allowing this very painful truth to become transparent and shine through. I think comedy is all about pain, and that's one of the biggest impulses of laughter, just coping.

You've talked about how part of your inspiration was Fifty Shades of Grey and the phenomenon of all of these books about poor women who get their sexual awakening with billionaire assholes.
I find that setup gross and ridiculous. There's going to be a price. Within that power dynamic—and just knowing what's required to amass and maintain that sort of wealth—I just don't see them being someone who wants to just lovingly give you endless orgasms. They're probably going to be a little bit sociopathic, and they're probably going to want you to do things that are really frightening to you. I really sort of hate that capitalist, virginity plot structure of like, "Yeah, I'm really sexually inexperienced," and then some guy with money turns you on. Is it the money? Is it the sex? Is it the love? It's America, it's all of those things. I don't know. I find it really shitty. Particularly because the inverse, there's just not that story.

Of a powerful woman executive—
Right. It's seen in a really, really different way culturally.

"I think comedy is all about pain, and that's one of the biggest impulses of laughter, just coping."

So are we humans made for love?
I get so frustrated with myself because I want the wrong things. And the wrong things make me happy. I'm really addicted to fast food, I'm really addicted to diet soda. I'll try to go on these detoxes, and by detox I mean I don't eat Taco Bell three times a day, I don't mean juicing or cleansing or anything like that, and I'll always inevitably break down and be parked in front of the dumpster, eating in my car and wondering why I'm there again. I'm really still trying to figure out the nuts and bolts of being in love with someone. I want to be better at it, and different at it, and I want to yell less, and not be irrational. I want to feel completely open and generous and giving in terms of decisions of free time, and labor, and all of that stuff. I don't know if it's part of getting older, but love is becoming a much more practical thing to me. But I do think that we are made for love. Yeah, I think that we live in a pretty toxic society, and that there are various ways that we're trained and bullied out of loving, but that's what we should put our attention towards: How do we love better?

Follow Lincoln Michel on Twitter.

Made for Love by Alissa Nutting is available in bookstores and online from Ecco.

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