Until I’ve read this slim edition of Nerve: Literate Smut, I’d been very wary of people who spew nonsensical slogans like “the brain is the sexiest organ.” As far as I know, the brain is mushy and white with a lot of corrugations in it, and it’s best kept out of sight inside the skull. I’d have said it’s pretty obvious, just watching people walk down the street, that there are three to five body parts clearly much sexier than the brain, and possibly a lot more. But Literate Smut has given me pause. Writers ranging from Norman Mailer to Joycelyn Elders to William Vollman explore just how much of our sex lives goes on between our ears, and they demonstrate that it’s quite a substantial amount.
Some of the essays here border on the literate and scholarly, with intelligent, titillating prose — which is sexy — just like the title claims. The short stories, however, are a garbled mess — incredibly shallow and non-erotic. The best thing about them, though, is that you don’t feel like you need a shower after you read them. More than anything, you feel snotty.
This book is correctly subtitled; as far as the essays are concerned, the writing is certainly literate, and, given that it has a sufficient sexual content to offend those with low levels of prurience tolerance, I suppose it must be acknowledged to be smut. Still, for all of that, it failed in it’s implied mission, if not its stated one; I expected (and wanted) this book to be a collection of well-written erotica, unlike most porn, which is written by and for the barely-literate. And while a few of the entries accomplished this, most failed miserably at the task of being erotic. Some were interesting, even thought-provoking. But very few were sexy. I expected better; I expected interesting, thought-provoking, AND sexy. I guess I just expected too much.
Nevertheless this book is full of real sex. It offers provocative-enough insights and observations that are well articulated yet not abstracted from the sweaty, visceral sensuality of what really goes on in most people’s minds and bedrooms.