The titular story, third in line, started out terrific; here comes the spooky archaeology at last!
But just as the action got going it ground to a halt in favor of a graphic and tiresomely anatomical sex scene:
She was swamp-wet and feverishly hot. His middle finger curled over her pubic bone and found the faint rough patch of her G.
Yes, he said “G” instead of “G-spot,” because I guess that was the hip new slang in 1987. I actually groaned, and not with feverish hotness: My sharp disappointment at a story that began as a cerebral pleasure finally drove home for me what a pleasureless drag the modern sex scene is. Just so the writer can show off the new synonym he found in his thesaurus for “lick” or “stroke,” you”re expected to stop and wait for two strangers” boring hormones to run their course before you can get back to the intellectual stimulation”which is what books are for, right? I don”t recall there being any “vibrate” option when I bought my Kindle.
That being said, I love a good satirical sex scene: the painfully funny moment when a Kingsley Amis hero realizes how terrible he is at being a mammal. And Ana Kai Tangata is not devoid of such; one of the best-used motifs in the book is a buildup of hysterical guilt over male sexuality, a modern plague which Nicolay explores in brilliant metaphors. Once you get past the poor-white-bashing in “Phragmites” the rest of the collection is fairly clear sailing through the interesting waters of what is indeed a solid talent.
I”d just like to see Nicolay sit down and question a few of the givens he’s accepted from the overall culture, as we all must do from time to time. Look, gang, we”ve done sex to death now. You can only grind the parts together in so many directions. Replace the last steamy scene you wrote with the simple closing of a bedroom door (or spaceship airlock, or curtain of greenery) and I bet you the sum total of your lifetime royalties that it will not harm the book in the slightest.
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