July 2003

Jessa Crispin

hundred books

Sophie's Choice by William Styron

Oh, how do I hate Sophie's Choice. Let me count the ways.

1. The worst sex scenes ever.

So even now with the cloud of fear around her, while he taunts her and abuses her - even now her pleasure is not mere mild enjoyment but the perennially re-created bliss, and chill waves shiver down her back as she sucks and sucks and sucks. She is not even surprised that the more he torments her scalp, the more he goads her with the detested "Irma," the more gluttonous becomes her lust to swallow up his price, and when she ceases, just for an instant, and panting raises her head and gasps "Oh God, I love sucking you," the words are uttered with the same uncomplicated and spontaneous ardor as before. She opens her eyes, glimpses his tortured face, resumes blindly, realizing now that his voice has become a shout which begins to echo from the flanks of the rock strewn hill… The delicious marble palmtree, the slippery trunk swelling and expanding, tells her that he is on the edge of coming, tells her to relax so as to accept the pulsing flood, the seawater gush of palmtree milk, and in that instant of hovering expectancy, as always, she feels her eyes brim over with stinging inexplicable tears.

"Delicious marble palmtree?" What the fuck?

2. Sophie is an annoying twit.

We are only ever given two reasons to like Sophie. She has a nice ass and she survived the Holocaust. Stingo, the narrator, gushes over how cute it is when her English goes haywire. He gushes over how cute it is when she talks about how much she likes to suck cock. That's all we're given to work with. For such a long book devoted to her character, you would think there would be some depth there, but there isn't. It's not really her fault. After all, William Styron wrote her to be the perfect male fantasy, the perpetual victim, the blow job queen. He even made her toothless, which I think relates back to the blow jobs. We're supposed to like her, and think her boyfriend is a thug, which he is, but the day after he leaves her for suspecting infidelity, she gives a handjob to Stingo. Which doesn't really help her case. When Nathan starts hitting her, I'm almost glad.

3. Rape fantasies.

Stingo is a bastard. He's the narrator, and evidently he's supposed to be sympathetic, but he's an asshole. He criticizes other people for being racist and bigoted, and yet the words "nigger" and "faggot" roll off of his tongue. When one girl wouldn't sleep with him after she "promised," which she didn't, he fantasizes about hitting her. When another girl, who he only met two days before, refuses to sleep with him but instead offers a handjob, he fantasizes about raping her and tells her all she really needs is to be held down and fucked. We're supposed to believe he's in love with Sophie, but after she confesses that once Nathan broke her rib, he doesn't seem to have a problem with that. After all, Nathan is his friend. God forbid he try to protect the woman he loves.

4. William Styron has some women issues.

Between Stingo's rape fantasies, Sophie's cock sucking, and his liberal use of the phrase "cock tease," I think William Styron needs some heavy therapy.

4. William Styron is way too impressed with himself.

As my friend Jessica put it, "He's one of those writers who I imagine spends much of his writing time patting himself on the back--"Oooh--that sentence is a grabber!" or "That is *exactly* what that character should've done--I'm a genius."

And what was the Styron book that came out before Sophie's Choice? The Confessions of Nat Turner. What book does Styron reference a thousand times in Sophie's Choice? The Confessions of Nat Turner. Asshole.

5. It's so goddamn slow.

Sure, make it 626 pages long. Insert despicable characters. Use every cliché in the world. Write pulp fiction and slap "literary" all over it. At least make it a quick read. Instead, it was like pulling teeth. The writing just plods along so self-consciously you can hear William Styron stroking his beard twenty years later. Only my rage kept me from giving up. I had to find more examples of its stupidity, I had to find more passages to read to Kenan. (Of course after I read him the "Suck the Jew-boy!" passage, he forbade me from any more readings.)

This is a bad, horrible, terrible book. I have no idea what it's doing on the list. Random House said it was good and we foolishly believed them. Bastards.