Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Position by Meg Wolitzer

Typically I don't discuss sex on this blog. But I thought I could make an exception for this novel. I heard about it on NPR a year or so ago and it sounded fascinating.

The basic premise is that four children (ages 15 through 6) discover that their parents have written a sex book. And not just any sex book, one with pen and ink illustrations of the parents in the various positions. The book they've written becomes a runaway bestseller. The novel follows their lives and how each child deals with the knowledge and the notoriety.

In an interview I heard, the author, Meg Wolitzer, remembered coming across "The Joy of Sex" book. She wondered if the couples in that book had children - and if so, how their children would react to that book. The Position was born.

What's poignant about the novel for me is the attitude of the parents before the children discover the book. The parents are so in love with one another - and it's the sixties - people are throwing off the shackles of societal disapproval. They don't want to keep their book wrapped in boxes in the basement - labeled as kitchen misc.

But it's not that simple. Throughout the novel, each child attempts to reconcile themselves with the knowledge of their parents. Later, we find out that there were protests in the childrens' suburb against the book. The parents really didn't think about what it would mean for their parents, their children, their childrens' teachers, everyone to read that book and look at the drawings.

And in truth, I think I can speak for many of us by saying, we just don't want to know. There are some places we just don't want to go. I do want to have a healthy attitude about sex, and things have certainly changed since the earlier decades of the twentieth century.

But there are still some things most kids don't want to know. They don't want to talk or think about their parents having sex. I think this may be unique to American society - I don't know. I do think everyone recognizes that sex how babies are made (apologies to my readers if that's a news flash) and therefore some parents somewhere had to do "it" for them to exist.

Perhaps I'm just a bit odd - I really am fascinated with the kinds of things in our society that make us uncomfortable. Questioning precisely why something makes us uncomfortable. And it's also fascinating that while one person reacts in one way, another (even from the same family) reacts completely differently. And while a person may have the best of intentions, sometimes things get complicated very quickly.

PS. For the record, I would not necessarily recommend this book to my own parents or my in laws. For me, my attitude is a little it was toward the movie "The Secretary" that came out a few years ago. I would read it (watch it) and recommend it at your own risk, since there is definitely sexual content within the book. It really depends on how comfortable a person is reading and discussing sex and its relationship to the family unit.


Freckle Face Girl said...

That is an interesting topic. Most Americans & especially Mormons seem to put up mental blocks when it comes to family members & sex. It is easier to pretend that it isn’t happening. I know I would rather not think about it, but I have no problems discussing things or joking with friends and somewhat with siblings. I would have HATED for my parents to write a book like that. Actually, considering that my dad was an overly religious letter of the law kind of guy, it would be a bit funny (now).

In high school, I remember thinking that it must be embarrassing for girls to return from their honeymoons with everyone knowing that they are no longer virgins (temple marriages). It is like advertising the deflowering. I have often wondered if those girls find it hard to face their family or just pretend like they are growing up and this act matured them.

Aerin said...

FFG - I remember an especially uncomfortable wedding reception where the father spoke and mentioned something like "And tonight..." I can't remember how he finished that sentence but it was something referring to how his daughter (married in the temple) and her husband could now officially have sex... it was incredibly odd and strange. I'm sure that everyone else in that room (including the bride) were just as uncomfortable.

Thanks for picking up on that parental thing - I can't think of anyone I know who would be comfortable with that. That might be just me though.

jana said...

Sounds like a book that I might enjoy. ;)

I liked The Secretary, but like you, I'd be reticent to recommend it to just anyone...

(and I am oh-so-glad that my husband and I left on our honeymoon right after our temple wedding and returned for the big reception a few weeks later!)