This week “Obsession: An Erotic Tale” (HarperCollins), by Gloria Vanderbilt, is arriving on a bookstore shelf near you. Honestly, I thought the lady had passed a while ago. Apparently I am not as up on my “society” studies as I should be. Then again, I have a history of thinking people are dead when they’re not. For instance, I know that Jack Palance died at least twice before the final time in 2006. It was disconcerting to have him showing up in things when I knew he was gone. So the other day I blinked in surprise to read that the creatively creative Ms. Vanderbilt is indeed still very much with us and has penned what Charles McGrath in the New York Times suggested “may be the steamiest book ever written by an octogenarian”. I am still not clear if I was blinking more in response to finding out she was alive or finding out that she wrote an erotic novel. How many octogenarians have written erotica I wonder? Are there varying levels of “steaminess” depending on how “octo” an author was when they wrote? Was this particular book about octogenarians behaving erotically? That answer, at least, is no.
Gloria Vanderbilt has always been on the artistic side. A prodigious artist and designer, probably best known for those jeans that everyone I knew in college tried desperately to squeeze into. Although she and her famous jeans have long since parted company, she continues to put her stamp on the printed page. “Obsession” is her third novel. I’ve read several opinions on the simple fact that she has written this book and found them to vary from grudging admiration to bewildered embarrassment to downright oh, that just simply isn’t done.
I begin to wonder if the opinions weighing in on the embarrassed side of the scale have more to do with the fact that the woman is 85, or more to do with the fact that sex in general seems to embarrass a lot of Americans. We are a curious mix as a culture. On the one hand glorifying youth and beauty and whatever our broad definition of “sexiness” is at the moment, yet on the other hand, stampeding up onto moral high ground over any sexual expression deemed “not nice”. I am not saying there should not be some stampeding over pornography. There is a difference between erotica and pornography. Not that I am about to explain that here. All I will say is that if you have experienced them both, you know the difference. As a people, we tend to accept more easily things that are “safe”. This is understandable on some levels, but deadly dull on others. The seniors frolicking in Cocoon was a safe experience, even cute. Erotic novels, not so much.
I don’t fall on the embarrassed side of the scale. I say good for Gloria. Why not write an erotic novel? Why not still succumb to adventure at 85? If you haven’t earned the right to do what you want by then, you never will.
You go girl.