Neptune and Surf by Marilyn Jaye Lewis
Blue Moon Books, 2012
Sex is not simple. Marilyn Jaye Lewis' story collection, Neptune and Surf, offers readers a rich and wildly imaginative sampling of sexual shenanigans: public couplings, steamy birchings, violent ravishments, lewd tenderness. There is the soapy buggery of the pregnant woman in the shower; the butch nun's strap-on penetration of her recalcitrant pupil as her victim recites New Testament verses; even a lasciviously-inclined Great Dane.
What is most impressive about this book is the skill with which Ms. Lewis navigates the complex emotional landscape of sexuality. Her characters wander from shame to lust, from confusion to power, from anger to love, drawn to the flesh but never with complete understanding. Her nuanced portraits make the stories believable, even when the plots seem extreme or contrived. The shy, horny black sailor, the tough but tender-hearted half-Chinese hooker, the self-indulgent gangster's moll, these people linger in the reader's mind long after the details of their erotic encounters have faded.
Ms. Lewis' style is crisp and evocative. One smells the popcorn at Coney Island, hears the snap of the birch cane, shivers with Victoria, exposed and violated on the bridge above the swirling winter
river. The shortest of the three tales in the volume, "Gianni's Girl", is switch-blade sharp, laced with seductive danger. The deadpan dialogue crackles with barely suppressed violence. The plots of the
two novellas, "Neptune and Surf" and "The Merry Cure", use numerous temporal shifts which Ms. Lewis handles deftly, with admirable clarity. On the other hand, a more linear treatment might have made these stories even more effective. By the time the reader reaches the climax of "The Merry Cure", she has experienced so many thrilling trips to the past that the present feels a bit flat.
The sexual scenarios are inventive and explicit, described with eloquence and grace even at their most raw. Occasionally, one has the sense that a flashback or daydream is gratuitous, interjected purely for the purpose of adding yet another sex scene. In most cases, though, the sex unfolds organically, propelled by the psychologies and histories of the participants. Even within a single scene, there may be many moods, as the emotional balance shifts and mutates. Gentleness morphs to savagery. Terror melts to passionate arousal. The effect can be a bit overwhelming, leaving the reader with damp and breathless, head spinning.
That is the nature of sex, though. It touches us at every level. It makes us dizzy. It awakens our fears and insecurities, delusions and creativity. In the erotic realm we are both beastly and divine, and sometimes both at once. Ms. Lewis' work captures this truth, with sympathy and considerable craft.