A review of

The Pornographer’s Poem

by Michael Turner

Central question: Can chic underground porn films liberate and clarify, or do they merely underscore the depressing fact that the world is brutal and people are disposable?
Format: 310 pp., paperback; Size: 6” x 9”; Run: 4,000; Price: $14.95; Editor: Richard Nash; Agent: Hilary McMahon; Publisher: Soft Skull Press; Text typeface: E Century Expanded; Book designer: David Janik; Position on list of best novels published in France in 2003 according to Le Figaro: Top 5; Number of countries published in before US publication: 5; Years spent writing the novel: 3 (1996-1999). Representative sentence: “I would devote whatever time remained to the advancement of my private life.”

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.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

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—Gary Lutz

Gary Lutz is the author of Stories in the Worst Way and I Looked Alive.

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