The XX Factor

You Have Neither Lived Nor Died Until You Have Read a Sex Scene Written by Morrissey

Morrissey’s first novel, List of the Lost, about a men’s relay track team in 1970s Boston, is out in a retro Penguin edition today in the U.K. and is already No. 1 in “Gothic Romance” on Amazon. It’s also inspired the worst reviews … for anything … ever? Here’s the Guardian: “It is an unpolished turd of a book, the stale excrement of Morrissey’s imagination.” It comes as no surprise that the famously prickly Morrissey might wish the public to eat his shit, but one would assume that it would be at least bakery-fresh.

Facing such opprobrium (and this after the general praise bestowed on his Autobiography two years ago), can Morrissey now really claim, as he once did in song, that he “know[s] how Joan of Arc felt?” Are we burning his turds at the stake without due process? Let us linger for a moment over a representative passage. Here, this single sentence will do:

Eliza and Ezra rolled together into the one giggling snowball of full-figured copulation, screaming and shouting as they playfully bit and pulled at each other in a dangerous and clamorous rollercoaster coil of sexually violent rotation with Eliza’s breasts barrel-rolled across Ezra’s howling mouth and the pained frenzy of his bulbous salutation extenuating his excitement as it smacked its way into every muscle of Eliza’s body except for the otherwise central zone.

If it is the role of great literature to provoke questions, then this passage succeeds wildly:

• Why is copulation a snowball? Why not any other type of ball? (An exercise ball?) Is it a snowball so that it can melt, thereby demonstrating the hot sexy force of the copulation? Or if copulation is itself a snowball, is it a frigid, mutually unsatisfying kind of copulation—a sort of diffident thrusting unto disappointment and eventual death?

• Does Morrissey invoke the ostensibly tired and clichéd image of a “roller coaster” in subliminal tribute to the spectacular erotic treasury of roller coaster thrill elements, including the Butterfly Inversion, the Camelback, and the Cobra Roll, all of which summon distinct variations on “sexually violent rotation”?

• How does a pair of breasts perform a “barrel roll” without detaching from a woman’s body? In conjuring this anatomically impossible image, is Morrissey subtly satirizing the poetic form of blason—identified with the likes of Petrarch and Shakespeare—in which a male poet attempts to praise his lady love by itemizing her physical features, but only succeeds in objectifying her and atomizing her being, to the point that, yes, her breasts could perform a barrel roll—or maybe even a Cuban 8, a rolling scissors, or a Hammerhead

• In stating that Ezra’s erection (“bulbous salutation”) caused him to feel anguish (“the pained frenzy”), and thus mitigated or made forgivable his desire (“extenuating his excitement”), does Morrissey critique or embody Puritanical modes of equating lust with shame? In other words, in this passage, are we taking the point of view of Ezra’s bulbous salutation, the narrator’s bulbous salutation, or Morrissey’s bulbous salutation?

• Is Eliza’s “otherwise central zone” her vagina?

• Has Morrissey ever had sex?