In You Who Read Me with Passion Now Must Forever Be My Friends (Siglio Press), a collection works by artist Dorothy Iannone and edited by Lisa Pearson, sex is both everywhere and nowhere.
Iannone's work combines text and image in arresting fashion. While her figures are typically clothed, or at least ornamented, their genitalia are almost always on display. While the text describes erotic scenes, it's seldom vulgar—more Marguerite Duras than Anaïs Nin—and more often then not, the words are used to convey stories, recipes, anecdotes and aphorisms of a nonsexual nature.
The result is something that appears at first blush to be as shocking as Raymond Pettibon, only more poetic and much more polite.
For instance, "An Icelandic Saga" purports to tell the true story of how Iannone fell in love with artist Dieter Roth while on a trip to Reykjavik with her husband James Upham. In many of the illustrated scenes, Roth is depicted with an enormous penis while Iannone is almost always shown in a state of undress, wantonly available. When reading the story, it comes as something of a surprise to discover that Iannone and Roth did not consummate their love until after she went home to New York, declared her intentions to her husband and returned to Iceland.
In an essay about Iannone's practice, one of several texts about her art included in the collection, Trinie Dalton writes, "To experience her artwork as merely an exploration of sexual pursuits is to miss her message of ecstatic unity."
In Iannone's work, the truth of things is laid bare. For instance, Dieter is often shown with a fish under his arm. This was his gift for the Americans when they arrived in Reykjavik. One presumes that the fish was purchased at a fishmonger's and wrapped in paper, but in Iannone's paintings and illustrations, the fish is always a fish.
Heaving breasts, erect penises, swollen vulva, naked fish. In Iannone's oeuvre, desire is never under wraps.
Iannone's early art projects incorporated the texts of other writers, from Shakespeare to Henry Miller to Wallace Stevens. Born in Boston in 1933, she traveled widely and became a staunch opponent of censorship when books she brought back from Europe were seized by customs, and she was determined not to let it affect her own development as an artist.
Because of the frank and open nature of her work, and due to the fact that she's lived most of her life in Europe, Iannone has only recently started to receive attention in the United States. You Who Read Me with Passion Now Must Forever Be My Friends is certain to win her many more admirers.
Thankfully it's not too late for her to enjoy this attention. The octogenarian is still writing, still making art that some deem dangerous.
Female beauty, not sex, is the subject of Sarah Gerard's debut novel, Binary Star (Two Dollar Radio), which chronicles the dysfunctional relationship between a astronomy student with an eating disorder and her alcoholic, trust-fund boyfriend.
"The week before we're set to leave, I spend the night at a friend's house on Jones Beach, cramming for a final. I call John at two in the morning, speeding on Adderall, and tell him that I weigh 98 pounds, which is true at the time. I had weighed myself several times during the night. Then I'd become afraid."
It's not giving away too much to say that these two aren't great for each other. John's narcissism and the narrator's bulimia make for a couple with poor impulse control. Their addictions are compatible in that they are both capable of disappearing inside themselves for long stretches of time, barely noticing the other. But as soon as one of them veers out of his or her self-destructive path, it disrupts the other.
"The tops of my thighs almost touch. My lower stomach extends past my hipbones. My upper arms look flabby. I can't see my chest bones without pushing my shoulders forward. My collarbone looks okay but my breasts sag."
The story is propelled by Gerard's prose, which mirrors the narrator's sleep-deprived, thought-accelerated state. The sentences accumulate with manic intensity, painting a portrait of a young woman who's incapable of seeing things clearly and has a better understanding of stars that are light years away than of the workings of her own body.
What I'm looking forward to: Oh! You Pretty Things (Dutton Books) by San Diego writer Shanna Mahin.
Jim Ruland is the author of Forest of Fortune. He blogs at www.jimruland.net.