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Department of Sex Ed

Trashy Is as Trashy Does

September 24, 2010 | by

My first sexual fantasy involved my abduction by a composite character made up of equal parts Danny Zucko from Grease and the weathered carny who had looked me dead in the nine-year-old eye as he pulled the lever of the Tilt-A-Whirl. The post-abduction details were unimportant. What mattered was the moment of being caught; what mattered was the fact that one moment I’d be navigating the root-torn sidewalk of my street and the next an arm would be around my waist and the world would be set into wild motion.

The next fantasy I can remember was a lesbian prison gang rape. I appropriated this fantasy not from the wonders of cable TV but from books. My mother was a voracious reader, if not a discerning one. Lining her shelves were the eighties airport standbys: V. C. Andrews, Danielle Steele, and Sidney Sheldon. Every night I sat on my white wicker bed and read trashy novels by flashlight until I began to understand what sex was in those stories—a plot device. Sex, I learned from my reading, was a function of power and nothing more. If one could just wield it properly, one might figure out a way to win a happy ending, or at least a prison protector.

But it wasn’t until age fourteen that I met Seymour Glass and fell in love. I read Nine Stories and read it again and found that it left me suffering more sleepless, feverish nights than the carny and Danielle Steele combined. I wasn’t even sure why I related to it exactly. I had so little in common with the female characters who populated Salinger’s landscape—slim, Gentile women in camel-hair coats sunk in noble pain while standing on train platforms in New England college towns.

There is nothing literary about the pain of a fat, Jewish Jersey girl wearing a Sex Pistols T-shirt and sitting on a bench in the Livingston mall, eating bagels and smoking cigarettes.

And yet, boiled down to the metaphysics of the thing, there was my world, a world of persistent discomfort and inappropriate hunger. A world in which perilous desire trembles just under the surface of the polite world. Seymour kisses the arch of a small foot and moments later puts a bullet into his brain. Eloise, drunk and heartbroken, kills her daughter’s imaginary friend. It was a world of sensual details and dangerous, irreparable moments.

I first read Nine Stories and felt the nakedness of being recognized in my loneliness. Desire wasn’t a narrative device with a neat payoff; rather, it was an ocean of longing that unfolded toward an ever-receding horizon. The book got inside me in a way that changed me irrevocably and, conversely, felt like it had been there all along. And that, I imagined, would be what having a lover would feel like.

Trashy novels encouraged me to employ sex as a strategy. But it was ultimately Salinger who made me want to fuck.

Jillian Lauren is the author of the memoir Some Girls: My Life in a Harem. Her novel, Pretty, will be published by Plume next summer.

13 COMMENTS

10 Comments

  1. Lorin Stein | September 24, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Our contributor April Ayers Lawson wrote in with this comment:

    Dear Jillian,

    This was a really, really bad morning for me until I read the following:

    “And yet, boiled down to the metaphysics of the thing, there was my world, a world of persistent discomfort and inappropriate hunger. A world in which perilous desire trembles just under the surface of the polite world. Seymour kisses the arch of a small foot and moments later puts a bullet into his brain. Eloise, drunk and heartbroken, kills her daughter’s imaginary friend. It was a world of sensual details and dangerous, irreparable moments.”

    “I first read Nine Stories and felt the nakedness of being recognized in my loneliness. Desire wasn’t a narrative device with a neat payoff; rather, it was an ocean of longing that unfolded toward an ever-receding horizon. The book got inside me in a way that changed me irrevocably and, conversely, felt like it had been there all along. And that, I imagined, would be what having a lover would feel like.”

    I love it too. Thanks for helping me feel closer to the mystery of why. Made my day,

    April

  2. Claire | September 24, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    Couldn’t agree with you more. I’ve been in love with Seymour (and Zooey too) for decades. And the brother who died in the war. All of those Glass boys. I want them to be real. Beautiful piece.

  3. Madge | September 24, 2010 at 2:14 pm

    Love your essay.

  4. Nicole | September 24, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    I kind of love you for this line alone:

    Trashy novels encouraged me to employ sex as a strategy. But it was ultimately Salinger who made me want to fuck.

    This was a great short piece. Thank you!

  5. Lynn | September 25, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    Jillian Lauren has obviously not read Joyce Maynard’s “At Home in the World,” wherein she says that tring to have sex with Salinger gave her a case of vaginismus. She was the Yale drop out, who after publishing “An Eighteen-Year Old Looks Back at Life,” in the NY Times Magazine (spring ’72), moved in with Salinger.

  6. Caitlin | September 26, 2010 at 10:20 am

    Jessica – Hope that comment made you feel better about yourself.

    Jillian – Loved this piece. Thanks.

  7. Jo G | September 26, 2010 at 10:03 pm

    Those who can, write. Those who can’t, leave nasty comments. Jack is whack. I loved the essay and I had the privilege of reading her book. Lauren is a brilliant writer. More please!

  8. Anne D | September 26, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    Wrap it up, I’ll take it!

  9. Lisa | September 27, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    Oh hell!I thought I was the only punk rocker with a thing for Seymour Glass! I guess I’m just not that original. Did you have spiky blue tinted hair, too? Thank you so much for this post. It explains something about myself I’d always wondered about.

  10. Laura Spaulding | May 26, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    Wonderful piece!!

3 Pingbacks

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  2. [...] have a new essay up at the Paris Review Daily’s Department of Sex Ed. It’s called “Trashy is as Trashy Does” and it’s [...]

  3. [...] quarterly print publication. Suddenly, America’s literary magazine had a sports column — their essays on the World Cup and the US Open were better than anything ESPN published that summer. Their advice column, written by editor Lorin Stein, deals with topics from how to fight writer’s block to how to seduce a man with a book. And speaking of sex, I never thought I’d read an essay on Salinger and sexual awakening that didn’t make me cringe until they proved me wrong. [...]

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