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Distorted Sexuality; Winking Etiquette

February 11, 2011 | by

What would you recommend as a good, raw novel/short story about characters with distorted sexuality? Shira, Israel

Distorted—such an interesting word! If I understand your question, you’re looking for fiction about characters who feel that their desires have somehow been bent out of shape, whether by life or by something native to them. That describes many of Mary Gaitskill’s protagonists, for instance the two heroines of Two Girls, Fat and Thin, or the narrator of Veronica. Dennis Cooper’s early novels are full of this kind of anxietybooks like Closer, Frisk, and Guide. But maybe you’re thinking of another kind of story, like Lolita, where sex acts as a distorting lens for the narratorbut the reader sees clearly. You will find that sort of dramatic irony in Evan Connell’s Diary of a Rapist or Dom Casmurro, by Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis. You might also enjoy Lydia Davis’s story “Story,” about how hard it is to think straight when you’re unhappy in love. As the title suggests, it’s one of the oldest stories in the book.

I just read a blog post about why sending someone a “wink” on a dating Web site is stupid. This seemed like a reasonable argument to make. But then the blog writer went on to say that in real life, it is “totally unacceptable” to wink. The guy said that if you wink at a stranger in a bar, the stranger would call the police. Is that true? Or is it sometimes okay to wink (in real life)? Should I save it for specific situations? (Which ones?) Georgia

You should believe only half of what you read on the Internet. To my knowledge, winking is neither illegal nor actionable in any county that permits the sale of alcoholic beverages. (I haven’t surveyed the rest.) Like the eye roll, the wink is a gesture of complicity. Between friends, it means you share a secret. Between strangers, it means you wish you had a secret to share. You shouldyou must!wink whenever the spirit moves you.

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  1. Debrah | February 11, 2011 at 11:29 am

    What an utterly divine post!

    Amusing as well as information-filled.

  2. A | February 11, 2011 at 11:38 am

    “You should—you must!—wink whenever the spirit moves you.”

    Ha, nicely put!

  3. John Gilling | February 11, 2011 at 11:57 am

    For Shira: You might also try “On Elegance While Sleeping” by Viscount Lascano Tegui. I just finished it, and it raised the hairs on the back of my neck with fear and empathy … but if you want distorted sexuality, you will definitely find it here.

  4. Tata Donets | February 11, 2011 at 11:59 am

    There are winks that make us happy. Between lovers, it means you wish you had a smile to share.

  5. Keith Botsford | February 11, 2011 at 12:41 pm

    I’m glad John Gilling managed to read Lascano in what is a pretty humdrum translation. De Eelegancia is a bizarre masterpiece and if some whiff comes through in the Dalkey version, imagine what it would be like in a version that also mirrors his style. (Cf. News from the Republic of Letters, #1, 1996)

  6. Baran | February 12, 2011 at 6:18 am

  7. C | February 12, 2011 at 8:08 am

    Distorted sexuality: Jonathan Ames’s The Extra Man, and Brad Watson’s The Heaven of Mercury, the chapter called “Selena in Ecstasy” in particular. Great stuff.

  8. Shira | February 13, 2011 at 8:59 am

    Thanks so much, all of you.

  9. Sian | February 15, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    In terms of fiction involving distorted sexuality/gender, Angela Carter’s ‘The Passion of New Eve’ is a must.

  10. Stan | February 16, 2011 at 8:50 am

    Worth a mention here: Evil, a collection of sweetly twisted short stories by Rennie Sparks (of the Handsome Family).

  11. wordscolliding | February 16, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    A wink, like almost any other non-verbal cue up to the point of touching and/or removing clothing from certain body parts, can mean a variety of different things. I don’t think a wink has been considered a sexual invitation since about 1962, unless you happen to be under the age of ten. Since this site is about writing, however, let me say something about the “wink” icon. Since deadpan and irony don’t always translate well in the world of 140 characters or less, a 😉 is perfectly valid as a means of cueing the reader to an unserious statement she might otherwise take seriously (even on a dating site). Can it be overused? Certainly. But we don’t invalidate the capital letter or the exclamation point simply because the illiterate and politically inflamed like to shout a lot.

  12. Lorin Stein | February 16, 2011 at 1:17 pm

    Oh, is that what a “wink” on a dating site means? The winky emoticon? Then I take it all back: I like the winky emoticon (and am glad that e-communication has brought the exclamation mark back into common use!).

  13. martin | February 27, 2011 at 4:44 am

    For the curious, here is a link to the blog post about winking etiquette:

  14. Grace | March 31, 2011 at 5:52 pm

    i too once thought that the wink was innocuous. On the days that I work behind my university’s bar i get the generic thank you winks whenever I plop change into a gentleman’s palm (never a lady). I didn’t think anything of it until one day i served a gentleman who first winked on approaching the bar, and then the thank you wink, returned for a second drink (*wink* “I’ll have a pint of guinness” *wink*), accepted his second round of change with yet another wink, accepted his guinness with another wink (the drink has to wait 119.5 seconds to set before it is served), walked across the room and looked my way with one more wink. This pattern repeated itself throughout the night, and now I cringe even at the once-accepted thank you wink, and slink out of sight of anyone who does it. 🙁

  15. panayotis ioannidis | April 6, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    let’s hear it for winking – on the ‘net as in real life!

  16. M.M. | September 26, 2011 at 1:34 pm

    Aren’t exclamation points are like shouting? Or does it just mean that the person doing the writing is hard of hearing?


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