A review of
The Pornographer’s Poem
by Michael Turner
The Pornographer’s Poem, the story of a boy who becomes early conversant in the unspeakable, is, by design, anything but poetic: it’s laid out in scuffed, unsmoothed blocks of first-person retrospection. And the narrator, whose name we never learn, doesn’t become the titular pornographer (he makes his first film at age sixteen) until slightly beyond the midpoint of the novel. The book is billed by its publisher as “push[ing] the boundaries not only of the novel form, but of sexuality itself,” and the departures from routine narration consist of occasionally scrambling the chronology in the early portions of the book, rendering some scenes as extracts from screenplays, inserting letters and journal entries, and frequently interrupting the narrator’s recollections by subjecting him to terse probing by a panel of unidentified inquisitors. As for its treatment of sexuality, the book is very earnest in its mission to shock the reader. Being sexually abused at the hands of an adult is treated as practically a rite of passage, kiddie pornography makes its queasy appearance, we witness the imperfectly concealed depravity of seemingly respectable citizens, and much is made of the dehumanizing effects of pornography on its makers, its subjects, and its consumers.
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