With the possible exceptions of rock music and baseball, no subject is easier to write about badly than sex. One false note and an author is ripe for ridicule or righteousness. Particularly from book reviewers, a snide, morally superior lot.
So let it be said that Richard Rhodes’ Making Love: An Erotic Odyssey, a surprisingly frank account of the author’s intimate life, is a courageous book. Readers of his previous work — including the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Making of the Atomic Bomb and A Hole in the World, a moving autobiography centered on his brutalized childhood — already realize that Rhodes, 55, hardly knows how to write any other kind. But it should also be said that there are whole chapters of Making Love that will have some readers squirming with discomfort. Here, for example, is Rhodes explaining why he spends hours watching pornographic films and masturbating: ”Because I’m a writer, determined to extend the boundaries of what I know. Because I’m a primate, and correspondingly curious about the sexual organs and proclivities of others of my kind. Because I might learn a trick or two.”
The deeper and more affecting theme of Making Love is Rhodes’ personal quest to overcome through sensuality the wounds of his childhood. More than a sequel to A Hole in the World, the new book is almost a companion volume. Nevertheless, some readers, particularly women, may find his many paeans to their gender less than convincing. They also may suspect, long before the author gets around to admitting it, that his uncommon zeal to induce women to multiple orgasms contains an element of sadism.
The real shortcoming in Making Love is Rhodes’ persistent solemnity. He propagandizes about erotic playfulness and the subversive joy of sensuality, but he remains unremittingly sober. Truth is, there are some subjects better left to fiction. B