Age of Consent

I slept late this morning–I didn’t even, as I inevitably do, wake up at five and fall back asleep, instead sleeping until almost eight thirty and then taking another fifteen minutes or so to acclimate myself to the idea of getting up. It wasn’t easy, as my entire body was still relaxed and the bed so accommodating and comfortable, but there was simply no way I could stay in be any longer. I have, as always, too much to do and get one today and as lovely as the thought of staying in bed for another couple of hours may have been, it was simply not to be. But the sleep felt marvelous; I don’t think I’ve slept so deeply in quite some time, to be honest, and while you may not be as fascinated as I am by my sleeping, I did feel it necessary to comment on such a good night’s sleep for a change.

I was talking to a friend recently about Lolita–I can’t remember how or why the subject even came up in the first place–butthat conversation put me in mind about how we as a society have changed when it comes to the sexualization of teenagers by adults. I recently watched a terrible show called A Teacher, about a woman in her twenties who teaches high school and ends up having an affair with one of her students, and how this basically ruins their lives on both sides. There has been a lot of that in Louisiana over the past decade–there were two teachers in Destrehan having affairs with male students, occasionally have three-ways with them a while back–and it seems like these kinds of scandals break down here all the time. Teenaged boys and older women have long been looked at societally as not the same thing as the reverse–inevitably triggering responses from adult men things like I wish I’d had some older woman to teach me a few things and so forth, that whole “boys will be boys” mentality that still pervades the culture and society to some degree. This is something I may write about at some point, because it interests and intrigues me–even if it is a bit of a third rail, a dangerous path to follow with lots of potential pitfalls along the way. Teenagers often confuse hormonal responses as love–the whole conflation of sex and love that usually most grow out of it at some point–and of course, teenage boys are easy to manipulate because of their hormones. I think the primary problem I had with A Teacher was I never understood the woman’s motivations; it never made sense to me that she would be so self-destructive; they tried tacking on some back story after the affair was exposed which involved a difficult relationship with her own father, but it didn’t work for me. I also think back to all of the “coming of age” fiction I read when I was a kid, and how inevitably such romances/relationships were always seen as positive things, or depicted that way; there was always some inexperienced teenaged boy falling for some beautiful older woman who inevitably will take his virginity–going back as far as Tea and Sympathy, where the woman did it to “cure” the boy of suspected homosexuality, through Summer of ’42 (I also read the book of this, which impacted me with its tale of loss and longing, and how thirty years after that summer the now adult man still remembers her with love and longing; it would not be depicted that way now) to Class, which really does not hold up well AT ALL. There was a few of these in the early 1980’s–I remember another one called My Tutor, where a wealthy man hires a beautiful woman to tutor his son, they have sex eventually and then the boy (played by Olivia Newton-John’s then husband, Matt Lattanzi, who was stunningly beautiful) finds out his father not only hired her to tutor him but to seduce him (“make a man out of him” is how it was put, how it was always put)–but for a very long time adult/teenager relationships like this were seen as no big deal, at least in films; but I also think it’s pretty safe to say that this was also true societally as well; a father would tend to be proud of his teenaged son for fucking a teacher, rather than being horrified and pressing charges….I think A Teacher missed a beat there, frankly; by having the main male character being raised by a single mom instead of a single dad or at least both parents (or one being even a step-parent) they miss the chance to really address this aspect of toxic masculinity; naturally a mother would think of her child as being molested, whereas a father….that would have been interesting.

It is something I am considering for a Scotty story; it’s all amorphous up there in my brain right now, but it’s slowly forming.

And of course, if the teenaged son was having an affair with an adult male, the father’s reaction would be vastly different than if the affair was with an adult woman.

Yesterday I watched the film version of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, which wasn’t nearly as good as it could have been. The film came across as very cold, and also got off to a very slow start. It was enjoyable for the acting, which was top notch–and one can never go wrong casting Charlotte Rampling–and it was a beautifully done film; a very quiet British style ghost story (I really have been enjoying British ghost stories over the past few years, and now I want to read The Little Stranger, of which I have a copy somewhere), and the film has a very dream-like sense to it that is rather marvelous…but that same sensibility also keeps the viewer at a slight distance, which results in the viewer not getting emotionally invested in the characters or the story. (At least, that’s my takeaway from it.) It also put me in mind of Sarah Waters, who is an enormously talented, award-winning British lesbian writer. I reviewed her first novel, Tipping the Velvet, years ago when I still a reviewer, and was blown away by it completely. At some point since then I stopped reading her–not sure why, and I don’t think it was a conscious choice, to be completely honest; I think she somehow just fell off my radar–but watching this film reminded me of what great writer she is, and perhaps I should go back and read her entire canon, including rereads of the first couple of books–I believe her second novel was Affinity–but…as always, time stands in my way.

I also was thinking of revisiting some Agatha Christie; Catriona McPherson posted on Facebook the other day about a talk she is giving for a public library (I believe in South Carolina?) about Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie, which put me in mind of Christie again–sending me own a rabbit hole of memories of her novels–in particular my personal favorite of hers, Endless Night–and how I came to read Agatha Christie in the first place. (I picked up a copy of Witness for the Prosecution off the wire paperback racks at Zayre’s; I knew it had been a movie and I knew who Christie was, but had never read her and was beginning to transition from kids’ mysteries to adults. I also didn’t catch the smaller font words beneath the title reading and other stories; I thought it was a novel and was most startled to discover it wasn’t. So the first adult mysteries I read were Christie short stories, which blew me away. The first actual Christie novel I read was The Clocks–after which I was hooked. Remembering this made me also remember the great mass market paperback publishers of the day: Dell, Pocket Books, and Fawcett Crest. Almost every paperback I read as a teenager was from one of them, and I do remember those publishers very fondly.) I have some Christies here in the Lost Apartment,–I was thinking of rereading either A Caribbean Mystery or Nemesis. I always, for some reason, preferred Miss Marple to Poirot; still do, to this very day. I read the first few paragraphs of Nemesis last night, and was, as always, entranced. So perhaps for this weekend I shall reread Nemesis and some short stories, around working on the book.

Because I absolutely, positively, must work on the book.

And on that note tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and don’t forget there are panel discussions for Saints and Sinners up on the Tennessee Williams Festival’s Youtube channel.

The Twelfth of Never

God, what a year for crime fiction, and what a year for crime fiction by women. The women are killing it this year–but then, they pretty much kill it every year, and have killed it every year since Agatha Christie’s first novel was released. I’ve read so many amazing crime novels by women this year that I can’t even begin to remember them all; I know there’s been terrific novels by Alafair Burke, Laura Lippman, Alison Gaylin, Lori Roy, Jamie Mason, Steph Cha, Angie Kim and so many, many others that I couldn’t being to name them all or possibly be expected to remember them all, either. (This is in no small part, of course, due to the fact that my memory works about as well as my desktop computer since the Mojave update.) There are so many others as well that I’ve not gotten to read yet–I am way behind on my reading of Catriona McPherson, for example, and Lori Rader-Day–and I’ve also been trying read more diverse books this year as well.

And just this past week, I finished reading Lisa Lutz’ amazing The Swallows.

the swallows

Some teachers have a calling. I’m not one of them.

I don’t hate teaching. I don’t love it either. That’s also my general stance on adolescents. I understand that one day they will rule the world and we’ll all have to live with the consequences. But there’s only so much I’m willing to do to mitigate that outcome. You’ll never catch me leaping atop my desk, quoting Browning, Shakespeare or Jay-Z. I don’t offer my students sage advice or hard-won wisdom. I don’t dive into the weeds of their personal lives, parsing the muck of their hormone-addled brains. And I sure as hell never learned as much from them as they learned from me.

It’s just a job, like any other. It has a litany of downsides, starting with money and ending with money, and a host of other drawbacks in between. There are a few perks. I like having summers off; I like winter and spring breaks; I like not having a boss breathing over my shoulder; I like books and talking about books and occasionally meeting a student who makes me see the world sideways. But I don’t get attached. I don’t get involved. That was the plan, at least.

The Swallows is set at a second-tier elite boarding school in New England called Stonebridge. Alexandra “Alex” Witt has been hired to teach Lit there after leaving her previous teaching job under a cloud of some sort. The daughter of a failed literary writer who has taken to writing crime novels under a pseudonym and an Eastern European fencing Olympic medalist, Alex is a bit of a mess but also has a strong character and equally strong sense of self. The job at Stonebridge is given to her by a friend of her father’s, who is the headmaster, and when she arrives she refuses to live in the dorms and takes up residence in a crappy cabin near campus without power or phone or much along the lines of creature comforts. Alex is the primary point of view character–there are others, including another teacher/writer named Finn Ford (who is writing a book based on the school and what goes on there); a nerd boy who is on the edges of the popular kids, “The Ten”; Gemma, an orphan whose actions primarily drive the story (she is also one of The Ten), and several others. There’s also a dark secret at Stonebridge–a secret website that only a select few have access to, where the boys try to get the girls to give them blowjobs after which the boys score them…with an eye to winning what they call the Dulcinea Prize, awarded to the best blowjob performer at Stonebridge. Gemma has found out about this, and wants to do something about it–and her desire to get back at the boys who–in the most eye-opening and honest statement I’ve ever read, “see the girls as things rather than humans.” The horror of that realization drives the story, which grows darker and more complex and awful with every page.

The book is also darkly witty–there were a few times when its macabre humor made me laugh out loud–and the characters are absolutely, positively real; Lutz has created complicated people who do things that might not make sense on the surface, but that conduct and behavior only adds to their layers and complexity. It’s hard not to root for both Alex and Gemma to bring the rotten boys down, exposing their crimes to the world and the sunlight so they will shrivel up and die. The twists and turns of the story are all earned, all realistic, and all startling. The book is masterfully written, and never has a second-rate boarding school been brought to life in such a vivid fashion.

It reminded me, in some ways, of both Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Bret Easton Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction, in the best possible way. I enjoyed both of those books, but not in the same way that I enjoyed this one; I think because Lutz’ story is more cohesive and her characters are somewhat likable and believable despite their flaws.

I greatly enjoyed this book, and look forward to reading more of Lisa Lutz’ canon.