It is very amusing to me that with the Novice Master, the criticisms about its sexual content (being gratuitous) are coming from men, while my female readers seem fine with it. With Secret Vow, it was the exact opposite, although that was twenty years ago. I can only conclude women have become more relaxed and comfortable with their sexuality, while maybe some men are regressing! But this idea of slightly prudish men turns out to be a very timely topic for me, since it is one of the themes in the novel I am currently working on.
My protagonists are two ladies of a certain age (OK, they’re in their 50s), who have been married forever to a set of best friends. They are—as I know from experience, being a lady of certain age myself—changing in a good way as they age, becoming freer to express thoughts and longings, more comfortable with themselves and their sexuality (and that urge doesn’t necessary go away after menopause but sometimes gets stronger!) They are also struggling with identity issues, empty-nest syndrome, and society’s tendency to ignore and even denigrate older women. Alas, females do often become invisible when they turn fifty. I was hoping that was a myth, but it happens to me all the time.
But back to my novel: These ladies have been married to very good, upstanding, decent men, men who not only grew up together on the same street, but spent a year at seminary together before realizing they had vocations to marry, not preach. So they are uber-Catholics, God-fearing men, but rigid and pious in the extreme. They are dismayed by the changes in their wives, and don’t want them to be quite so interested in sex! Alas, they are not good lovers, because any kind of erotic adventuring seems sinful and immoral to them, even if it involves their own wives. And of course they want their wives to be completely devoted to them and their lives and interests, and not go off having interests of their own. They are no end of trouble for their more free-wheeling wives and not surprisingly, this has evolved into a comic novel. It was always funny, in the old Marx Brothers’ movies, to see the staid matron shocked and outraged; and I realized this holds true for certain stiff-necked men, too. My male characters are not villains, but basically sweet, loving—if a bit overbearing and authoritarian–men hobbled by Church-dominated childhoods and moral rules concerning the body that were crafted in the 5th century by rampant misogynists. Wouldn’t think you’d find such men in the year 2016, but trust me, there’s still more than a few of them out there. And I don’t offer any quick fixes for this dilemma–obviously my married pairs would have to seek marriage counseling at some point. Just assume that they do after the book concludes.
Let me just point out for the record that my own good Catholic husband somehow managed to transcend all that nonsense! (Thank God…literally!)
My poor boys are constantly being shocked and outraged, but I will console more sensitive readers with the news that there are no explicit sex scenes in this new book, only a lot of talk about it. And by the way…the word ‘gratuitous’ did pop up in a review I got this week—I was actually denied a star because of it, the enforcer-reviewer (a man!) had to let me know. I’ve already discussed all this in former blogs, so you know I don’t see or accept that word as a criticism of my work. It only tells me one particular reader’s lack of comfort with honest depictions of sexual activity, and frankly that makes no difference to me. My mission as a writer requires absolute fidelity to my own vision, and I’m not going to start backing down now. Because I happen to be a woman of a certain age…