Week in Review

by by Emily Gogolak & Barry Elkinton

illustration by by Diane Zhou

Writfully Raunchy

A group of literary types gathered in London’s In And Out Club this past Tuesday night. There was hype, there was whispering, there were held breaths. Who is it going to be? They were at the club for the presentation of an annual award, one that had to do with another kind of in and out.

For the past 20 years, the British literary magazine Literary Review has been giving the Bad Sex in Fiction Award to the author who publishes the worst description of a sex scene in a novel. The award, however, is more of an anti-award. Believing that writers were encouraged by their publishers to write sex scenes in order to amp up book sales, Former Literary Review editor Auberon Waugh, son of the late novelist Evelyn Waugh, started the tradition in 1993. The goal, then, was “to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it.”

Former winners and nominees include the Great—and Virile—Male Novelists trinity Roth, Mailer, and Updike—Rabbit even won the “Lifetime Achievement” award in 2008 for Bad Sex. Salman Rushdie, Amos Oz, and John Banville were shortlisted in the past few contests, as was Jonathan Franzen (the phone-sex scene in Freedom is indeed pretty bad). Tom Wolfe won once. But in the prize’s first 19 years, only two women’s names have been announced at In And Out.
This year, however, a lady came before the lads. Paris-based Canadian author Nancy Huston was pinned for the worst passage, from her latest novel Infared, about a photographer who takes pictures of her lovers during sex. Some lines the judges cited include: “flesh, that archaic kingdom that brings forth tears and terrors, nightmares, babies and bedazzlements;” and a long lead up to a climax of “undulating space where the undulating skies make your non-body undulate.”

Huston, 59, has a lot of work of literary merit to counter this literary diss. She even won the Prix Goncourt (think of it as the French Pulitzer). Though she wasn’t present at the awards, she seemed pretty proud of her raunch. She sent a message to the Bad Sex panel, saying that she hoped her win would “incite thousands of British women to take close-up photos of their lovers’ bodies in all states of array and disarray.” (Indy protip: Disposable cameras are currently on sale at CVS). —EG


Lighting a holiday tree in the State House is usually one of the more lighthearted moments among a governor’s duties. Last year, however, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chaffee became embroiled in controversy when he insisted upon calling the tree in the Rhode Island State House a “holiday tree” rather than a “Christmas tree.” Although Chaffee insisted that he was simply honoring Rhode Island’s longstanding commitment to religious tolerance, many conservative media personalities labeled Chafee a radical secularist and a ruthless aggressor in the ‘War on Christmas.’ On the night of the tree-lighting ceremony, hundreds of caroling protestors crashed the event, interrupting a local children’s choir’s performance with a rousing rendition of “O Christmas Tree.”

This year Chaffee seems to have learned his lesson. Although the tree was placed in the rotunda early last week, no official lighting ceremony was scheduled, and rumors circulated that there would be no ceremony at all. Then, at 11:31 AM on November 27, Chafee’s office made a surprise announcement: at noon Chaffee would light the tree. Sure enough, half and hour later, Chaffee stood by the ornamented, 17-foot spruce, electric switch in hand. “Last year, unfortunately, this event, turning on this switch, turned into what I thought was a very disrespectful gathering,” Chafee said to a small crowd of spectators and passersby. “So we’re going to light this tree, go visit some of the performers, and have a very merry holiday season.”

While his tactics have shifted, Chaffee’s semantics remain unchanged. “The governor has stated his position very clearly: He believes ‘holiday’ is more inclusive,” said Chafee’s spokeswoman, Christine Hunsinger. “It’s in a building paid for by all Rhode Islanders.” But while Chaffee successfully avoided a repeat last year’s debacle, many conservatives are determined to make sure he doesn’t get the last laugh. Representative Doreen Costa of North Kingstown, who last year labeled Chaffee a “Grinch,” said she was planning a separate Christmas-friendly party in her wing of the statehouse for sometime next week. “A lot of people were not happy,” Costa told the Associated Press about Chaffee’s surprise announcement. “People weren’t able to go. But it’s OK. We’ll have an actual Christmas party.” — BE