Over the last year, the prolific and popular mystery writer Walter Mosley has published a bizarre book of science fiction (The Wave), a slack racial parable (Fortunate Son), and the innocuous third installment of a crime series featuring a mild-mannered bookstore owner (Fear of the Dark). You can’t fault an artist for branching out and stumbling, but Mosley’s latest genre experiment — the pornographic novel Killing Johnny Fry — will make you blush for him.
Narrator Cordell Carmel is a square 45-year-old translator living in New York City who, after a lunch spent chastely ogling a bosomy young photographer, realizes he’s had too much mineral water to drink. He lets himself into the apartment of his longtime girlfriend, Joelle, for a bathroom stop and finds her moaning deliriously as mutual acquaintance Johnny Fry (bigger than Cordell ”in every way”) sodomizes her. His manhood ”mashed” to a ”pulp,” Cordell quietly slips out of the apartment — ”My woman was unsatisfied by me…. My passion could be contained in a span of a few minutes a week” — and decides to both murder Johnny Fry and embark on his own ”sexistential” journey.
Step 1: a quick trip to the video store, where Cordell purchases the S&M epic Myth of Sisypha. Step 2: head back to his pad, pop the disc in the player, and pull the drapes. And before long, Cordell is acting out his own blue movie with, among others, a cute neighbor; a single mom he meets on the subway; and the treacherous Joelle herself, each encounter culminating in ever more gargantuan orgasms until you think Cordell may be epileptic. The plot is but a flimsy excuse for the raw sex scenes: ”Tangy” and ”mung bean sprout”-scented fluids ”cascade” (and ”gush” and ”splash”); members (gradations of size, tilt, and firmness obsessively calibrated) strain and plunge; dildos get well-oiled workouts. Women shout, bark, and, in one particularly feverish situation, bellow ”like some large woodlands creature in ecstasy over the wild.” And in the novel’s weirdest climax, Cordell resolves his oedipal issues while slaking both thirst and lust with a lactating black mother figure (”My t–ties are full wit’ milk”) before an applauding audience at a sex club. (Don’t ask.)
I might have found this all somewhat less depressing if it were good porn. Which, of course, raises the question, What is good porn? I’ve never given this a lot of thought, but then it doesn’t really require thought. What it requires is a subjective physical response. Here was mine: Every time Cordell unzipped his trousers, I put my head in my hands.