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Big Books Feature

The Right Now

Big Books Issue 2006

In Praise of Indecency Smut--Still Dirty After All These Years

The Trail-Blazer Barney Rosset's Grove Press Paved the Way for Literate, Intelligent, Risk-Taking Book Publishing | By Byron Coley

The Reigning Queen Editor Dian Hanson Navigates the Fine Line Separating Art from Pornography | By Bob Massey

The New World Finding Your Own Personal Way Amid the Greatest Porn-Delivery System Ever Invented | By Rahne Alexander

The Good Parts Finding My Place In The World By Writing Erotica | By Petula Caesar

The Un-Speakable Exploring the Work of Splatterspunk Author Edward Lee | By Tim Kreider

The Books Reading Smut from the 1950ís to the Present | By Wendy Ward

The Right Now Alan Moore was one of the first to introduce realistic sex into traditionally juvenile genres. He ha... | By Tim Kreider

By Tim Kreider | Posted 9/27/2006

Lost Girls

By Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie

Top Shelf Productions, hardcover

Alan Moore was one of the first to introduce realistic sex into traditionally juvenile genres. He has drawn this conceit to its extreme in Lost Girls, an oversize, lavishly designed, three-volume rendering of the erotic adventures of Alice Fairchild (from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland), Wendy Darling (Peter Pan), and Dorothy Gale (The Wizard of Oz). Lost Girls makes the sexual subtexts of these books pornographically explicit. Our heroines' familiar stories are revealed to be symbolic transpositions of more mundane events: the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion are all farmhands Dorothy takes as lovers (each with his own characteristic deficit); Peter Pan a working-class boy who sneaks into Wendy's window at night; and the White Rabbit a family friend nicknamed "Bunny" who feeds Alice wine ("Drink Me") and molests her. Moore isn't just taking perverse glee in soiling beloved childhood classics with adult sexuality; he's re-imagining sexual lives as fairy-tale adventures, full of mystery, wonder, and terror, populated with colorful companions, mentors, and villains.

Melinda Gebbie's coloring is gorgeous-especially the thousand shades and textures of flesh-and her pastiches of contemporary artists, from Aubrey Beardsley to Henri Matisse, are impressively virtuosic. But her draftsmanship is at first distinctly amateurish, less evocative of children's books than of children's drawings, so that you sometimes feel as though you're peeking through a pubescent girl's erotic doodles. It's hard to decide whether this quality makes the content creepier, or hotter, or creepier and hotter. (Moore considers, and then tosses aside, the question of why things that morally appall us also excite us. "Fiction and fact: only madmen and magistrates cannot discriminate between them," one character shrugs, in what sounds like a pre-emptive defense strategy.)

A more serious problem is that anything less than assured artwork threatens to break the synergistic spell of words and imagery. Moore's prose tends toward the violet end of the spectrum, which lends itself conveniently to Victorian parody, but without effortlessly convincing art to beguile the critical faculties, lines like "Between her legs was a slimy Lemurian temple, her clitoris sea-smoothed pink marble where my tongue basked, a cerise manta" sound preposterous.

At the end of each volume, historical events intrude on fantasy: the premiere of Le Sacre du Printemps, the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand, the outbreak of the Great War. Voluptuous Art Nouveau gives way to the distorted forms and Fauvist colors of Modernism as the war encroaches on the girls' idyll. The book's last image is a pullback from a young soldier with his legs spread and torso split open by a shell, his wound richly glistening like a vulva, to reveal, in the foreground, the opening of a velvety red flower. Lost Girls exalts sex and storytelling, and memory and imagination, as our fragile but ineradicable defenses against the dumb, brutal forces of war and time-which may be too facile a way of lending artificial weight to what is, after all, a bawdy picture book.

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Big Books Feature archives

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City Paper's Big Books Issue 2009 takes a look at fiction's overlooked gems

Neverending Stories (9/23/2009)
Short stories continue to be where sci-fi writers explore their big ideas

More from Tim Kreider

David Foster Wallace: 1962-2008 (9/24/2008)

When Books Could Change Your Life (9/24/2008)
Why What We Pore Over At 12 May Be The Most Important Reading We Ever Do

The Frightener (9/26/2007)
William Sloane's Two Novels Cut Right Through Genre And Burrow Into a Dark, Uncanny Unknown

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