Entertainment

Looking Back at My Grandmother's Erotic Novels

Heidi Julavits's new short story is a collage of sentences taken from smutty books she found in her grandmothers collection of smutty books in the 1970s.

by Heidi Julavits
Mar 13 2015, 4:00am


Illustration by Heather Benjamin

When I was ten I stole some books from my grandmother. Her books were best sellers (this was the 70s), and excepting a memoir about a plane crash, they were all really smutty. I learned about prostitutes, the 70s American attitude toward Jews, class anxiety, and the best positions for cunnilingus. More important, I learned that my grandmother read smutty books. This very old woman with a slightly hunched spine and a hand tremor, she still wants to read indulgently graphic sex scenes. She will do it without shame or any paranoid sense that she's behaving illegally. She will do it on a park bench and on a train, i.e., she will do it not at all in secret, as I was doing it, behind a living-room couch.

Read is not the right verb to describe what I did to her books. I selectively strip-mined them. Her books were quarries. I scanned their interiors for the louche sparkle of a word like cock, and then I pickaxed it free of its surroundings and pulled it to the surface. I did this again and again until all the books were empty. In my mind, these plundered sentences turned liquidy, and conjoined to form one slippery and ebullient act of intercourse traversing many story lines and connecting characters that, in the confines of the original books, at least, had never even met.

Thirty-six years later and in the midst of a lot of sexual-politics talk, and campus-rape talk, and mega-best-selling-erotic-literature talk, and discussions regarding what, starting as girls, women learn about sex and how to behave actively or passively during it, I was curious to revisit my stolen sex education. I wanted to create the textbook I'd covertly piecemealed. I wanted to rub together the sentences I remembered most vividly and (maybe) generate the same heat of discovery. I wanted to see if I remembered the excitement and the confusion and the loneliness and the empowerment that come not from being empowered, necessarily, but from being small and believing that someday you will dare.

Each sentence is from one of the following books: Scruples by Judith Krantz; Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann; Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors by Piers Paul Read; The Happy Hooker by Xaviera Hollander; Wifey by Judy Blume; Fear of Flying by Erica Jong; Class Reunion by Rona Jaffe.

One day I was lying around by the pool thinking I would go ape out of horniness. My mother walked in unannounced and found the mustard girl, her mink coat open and nothing underneath, down on her knees lustily sucking my father's penis. The hell with them, she thought as she tossed in a barbiturate haze. He always left shit stripes on my sheets. Then there came a deafening crash as the right wing hit the side of the mountain.

They ordered more drinks. Blood poured out of the severed artery. I became aware of the big German shepherd lying restless by my side. I started kissing his balls, but not for too long. (Often they really appreciate a good blowjob.) She sat on the lid of the toilet, forced him down on his knees, thrusting her aching, wet cunt at his lips.

Now Vazquez was dead. Emily walked nonchalantly toward the booze table. Their food supplies were running out. She was a baby hippopotamus—it was incredible, a disgrace. She committed the crime of marrying a Jew. She was once thrown into a little wooden hut full of corpses where the temperature was like that of an oven, for a week. They knew from their estancias that one should never eat a steer that dies from natural causes.

"Small, long bones—long, small bones," she murmured to herself like a mantra, over and over for hours—"small, long bones."

So here they were, in a dream house built on the side of a mountain. She helped herself to some caviar. They would have to eat the bodies. Laura stuffed two high-speed vibrators into her pussy and her ass. Her social position in Atlanta made her overqualified for most jobs.

It was time for the children's baths.

"They say it will be a vintage year," she murmured to the speechless pilot. What was wrong with her not to feel happy and grateful? The ass is much like the vagina—a warm place to put a finger or a cock in.

There now arose a division among the boys. It was the worst Christmas she could remember. Billy took to fucking Jews with an enthusiasm even Jessica couldn't have matched. They were like flowers, opening, waiting to be discovered and picked. German toilets are really the key to the horrors of the Third Reich. Boobs, bottoms, and legs—in that order—are more important. If she has never sucked a cock before, I show her some of my home movies. She is obviously the type who never goes out because she enjoys staying in Cabbageville, raising the family. The Nazi bitch, I thought, the goddamned Kraut. She never even sucked me off. A quality called in French, du chien.

"It is meat," he said. "That is all."

(Tiny, vulnerable, shrieking children. Chien is spicy, tart, amusing, pungent, tempting and puts the male world on notice that this is no ordinary woman. The brains smelled putrid so they put them aside and set off back down the mountain.)

With the need for mature, conventional sex now critical in my mind, I found myself at home alone one day with my brother-in-law. "Don't put your cock in—whatever you do—keep your promise, slave." At the same time I was handling the animal's penis. "It's just that Jewish girls are so bloody good in bed." The snow was like rock and their tools were inadequate. Each orgasm seemed to be made of ice.

Loneliness... rebound... social pressures... the narcotic of love. Her advisor was an attractive middle-aged woman named Mrs. Tweedy. She leisurely drew the whole length of his prick across her clitoris.

Should we join a new tennis club?

Should we get a divorce?

If they had been found, why were there no helicopters?

A couple of days after the dog episode, I was in charge of the children. Barbara and Gish. Lucille and Ben. Phyllis and Mickey. At a certain level of society, heiresses are treated with the same attention as women of accomplishment. As he stood there on all fours I climbed across his back facing away from him with my clitoris pressed against where the curve of his tail meets his body, and started moving back and forth. "How come we're having chicken tonight? It's Monday, we always have chicken on Wednesdays."

The ones who had eaten the meat were quite well.

They had no means of knowing that Harriet was a member of the most hidden of all major sexual subgroups, an international network of middle-aged and powerful Lesbians. They got ready for bed without speaking. He drew back and rammed his prick all the way up, brutally, wonderfully, just as she came in violent, mindless, racking shudders. Only the spine, the ribs, the feet, and the skull remained. A French aristocrat, female, without money, has an equal obligation to maintain certain forms, until she literally starves to death. The corpses were difficult to move.

"Max is here on business," Ken said. I reached down languidly and started stroking the hair-covered mound between his hind legs. His cock was as hard as a cock should be. Her clitoris, already engorged, pouted out from her pubic hair. That was her cue to go to the kitchen and start dinner. There was no alternative but to eat it wet and raw off the bone.

Ken sighed. What did you expect after five years of marriage anyway? A man who'll go down on you when you have your period? An officious Austrian girl in harlequin glasses and a red dirndl? Let's put the "mutilated genital" question to rest. Look like a whore and you'll be treated like one is my belief. The British toilet is the last refuge of colonialism. Too much friction can injure a girl's vagina. I look like a fresh, contemporary girl, which is one of the reasons I do pretty well. Men in their late twenties to forties don't mind a slightly older girl, so long as she has a nice personality. But from this experience I learned to be very careful letting anyone get anything from me, and especially I have never let any pictures be taken anymore of me sucking a cock. Their little dog stood at the bedside, wagging his tail in amazement. A good education was never wasted.