Ian McEwan's new book On Chesil Beach contains one of the most awkward euphemisms for sex I've ever read. For your wincing pleasure, here it is:
"...Edward had been mesmerized by the prospect that on the evening of a given date in July the most sensitive portion of himself would reside, however briefly, within a naturally formed cavity inside this cheerful, pretty, formidably intelligent woman." --pg. 8
Now, I will be the first to tell you that the human body is a beautiful thing, but really now, "naturally formed cavity"? Yuck! However, I will forgive McEwan this, because also contains a depiction of the first asexual character I have ever read about in a novel. Since the book takes place in the 1960s, the term "asexual" isn't used. But McEwan's descriptions of Florence, while not always flattering, are extremely realistic and on the whole, gentle. Much like Reading Rainbow, you don't have to take my word for it. Here are some quotes that, among others, really sealed the fact that Florence is, indeed, "one of us":
"Florence suspected that there was something profoundly wrong with her, that she had always been different...Her problem, she thought, was greater, deeper, than straightforward physical disgust; her whole being was in revolt against a prospect of entanglement and flesh...she simply did not want to be "entered" or "penetrated". Sex with Edward could not be the summation of her joy, but was the price she must pay for it." --pg. 10
If Florence lived today, I suspect she would be a regular at London's AVEN meetups. However, in Chesil Beach she attempts to do what millions of asexuals have done and still try to do: go through the motions. Since this is a literary novel, there are, of course, disastrous consequences. Later in the story, Florence tells Edward, her husband:
"Not only am I no good at [sex], I don't seem to need it like other people, like you do. It just isn't something that's part of me. I don't like it, I don't like the thought of it. I have no idea why that is, but I think it isn't going to change."-- pg. 187
My favorite thing about Florence is that even though she's asexual, she isn't dispassionate. It's clear that she deeply loves Edward, possesses a zest for life, and as a professional violinist, is truly dedicated to her music. Since music is the "sex" in my life as well, I really enjoyed that McEwan chose to make her a musician. And since I have the attention span of a locust, I also appreciate that this book is very small. I recommend it for short train trips-- and as a cautionary tale. It's a pocket-sized manual for what not to do in a "mixed" (sexual & asexual) relationship. If you somehow missed the memo that communication in a relationship is key, Chesil Beach will remind you. Fail to communicate, and you could end up the victim of a strange and speedy epilogue. Don't say I didn't warn you.
For once, I've talked about a current and popular book, so I have hopes that some of you have read it as well. What did you think? (Well, besides the fact that you thought the ending was odd...)