Michael Turner | The Pornographer’s Poem

When a couple of libertine adults invites the kids over for joints, sangria, and mischief in the basement, a chain of events leads to our boy covertly taping a three-way with a man, a woman, and a horny Great Dane. We’re not just looking at porn now—we’re making it.

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(Soft Skull; 296 Pgs; $14.95)

In its short existence, Brooklyn’s Soft Skull Press has made a name for itself publishing quirky, deep fiction. Add to the list The Pornographer’s Poem, the tale of a pair of high school misfits who find salvation in sex and porn.

The unnamed narrator is a cipher, an emotionally flat loner practically considered a psychopath by his classmates in 1974 Vancouver. He bonds with Nettie, an unrealistically precocious girl, and together they skirt the fringes of high school life. Their oddball pairing would be suitable for a John Hughes movie—a John Hughes movie in which Molly Ringwald uses child pornography to coax Jon Cryer to finger her.

The narrator’s and Nettie’s budding sexuality is warped by porn at every turn. In several hilarious scenes, the pair just happens to be nearby when an eccentric neighbor drives through a remote area to toss an incriminating bag of gay porn and used “beer sausage” into the bushes. The heightened taboo kicks the high schoolers’ sexual experiments into overdrive.

When a couple of libertine adults invites the kids over for joints, sangria, and mischief in the basement, a chain of events leads to our boy covertly taping a three-way with a man, a woman, and a horny Great Dane. We’re not just looking at porn now—we’re making it. By the time the narrator and Nettie start shooting their “social commentary” stag film, Rich Kid Gang Bang, it’s just a natural progression in their perverse young lives.

All this sex, and so much of it cold. We’re along on a search for human connection by a detached kid coming of age way too fast. Life—scripted by parents and school, voyeuristic and flat, ripe for fantasies that only seem to deaden—imitates porn. The nihilism is creepy.

The story is buoyed, though, by its sheer fun. A treatment for a film in which GI Joe, sick of Barbie’s nagging, turns to Barbie’s sister-doll Skipper for fulfillment is hilarious. This is Canada in the ’70s, so we get Hermann Hesse, mirrored ceilings, The Devil in Miss Jones, Steeleye Span, and King Crimson. And, for all their dark adventures, the graphic sex between the narrator and Nettie is encircled in a bubble of purity—two teenagers discovering the alternate uses for their plumbing for the very first time.

Still, Turner does some stumbling. An “interrogation” style of storytelling grows tiring, as do lengthy passages about nattering high schoolers and their soap-operaesque hallway dramas. Some subplots are overwritten and could have been pared. Emotion is handled delicately, but there’s still a taint of schmaltz.

In the end, though, this stuff lingers. We’re ready for the darkness to part, and in a breathless climax, it finally does. Out of amorality, grace. Out of pornography, poetry.

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