Ole Bottomless and ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and Recollecting


I’ve not read Fifty Shades of Grey, nor its succinct sequel Grey, and don’t imagine I ever will. This is not a censorious exclusion: I simply don’t read enough at all and have many others to pursue before I would consider this infamous erotica. I have two Richard Ford’s to read – his last two which I bought but haven’t touched – and other Cormac McCarthy waiting.

In terms of erotic literature, I have never pursued this as a precise genre, and in thinking about this [you’ll see why more clearly in a minute] I was surprised that I don’t recall reading much at all that could be considered so, even if ‘literary’. In fact. all I could genuinely recall is DH Lawrence, Lady Chatterley’s Lover obviously, although even here I can’t remember any specific scenes apart from what I recollect as its general notoriety [at the time], and then Sons and Lovers, even though more metaphoric as innuendo: Miriam being pushed on the swing, and Clara with Limb’s stallion scene, and I only know this latter well as I wrote a unit on it for the AQA A level English Lang and Lit unit Talk in Life and Literature, a unit that is still on – and useful I believe – Teachit. There are others of his, uncomfortably so in his latter misogynist work, and I also recall writing about his own writing proclivity for ‘non-fricative sex’, a Freudian/Lacanian reading which I understood then, the late 70s studying for my degree.

So reading on the beach at Sidmouth the other day I was surprised to find myself encountering 13 pages of sustained erotic writing from Donald Harrington’s delightful novel Lightning Bug, one I have been trying to read for far too long. The chapter is called SUB ONE: Recently – not that anyone would seek out that on its own, surely – and within this often poetic and often highly comic narrative, the ruse for this episode is the idea of the main character Latha remembering ‘as if’ a situation had happened, which as readers we soon learn obviously has, and in summary it is the sexual encounter between her and a stranger, the suggestive and sassy and sensual foreplay of that encounter told in a mix of colloquial and vivid [rather than explicit, though perhaps a nuance difficult to defend] detail over most of those 13 pages. I say ‘most’ because it starts with the ruse of imagining if Latha had gone fishing at a stream called Ole Bottomless, and the descriptive detail of this is so sparkling I was thinking of how this would be a great exemplar to encourage descriptive writing at Key Stage 3! I understand it could still be used in isolation, but knowing the full context it would seem wrong. And it reminds me of that ‘mistake’ written about here!

This will seem somewhat bathetic, but in reading the start to this chapter about fishing, I was also reminded of myself fishing as a kid at a stream near my house in Norfolk, Nebraska. I used to hang a line over the bank to catch what in the book are called ‘crawdad tails’ [and that sounds likely, if not by that name] for bait, and also being told by a man who would also occasionally fish there that if I threw sweet corn on the surface of the water, and waited just a little, then placed my line there, I’d be more likely to catch the catfish [or bullfish?] attracted to this, and he was right. So I won’t print any of the erotic detail, but will just provide this sample of the more innocuous fishing tease [and Latha is, by the way, telling her ‘as if’ reminiscence to the youthful narrator Bug who is therefore ‘retelling’ it]:

It could have been a Sunday morning in late June or early July, when most god-fearing people were at church and you, Bug, could not have feared God more if he had appeared in a burning bush before you and called you dirty names. It could have been you rose just before dawn and quickly tended your chores then dug a bucket of redworms out of the compost pile and pulled your cane pole out from under the porch and took off, up the creek. It could have been Banty Creek that you chose, because there were a couple of deep holes in deep-forested timber up below the south side of Dinsmore Mountain

You could have taken your time getting there, because you liked to stop and identify the wildflowers. You could have known them all by name: Beebalm, Mallow, Lady Slipper, Bouncing Bet, Fleabane, Loose Strife, Bluecurls, Lobelia, Dayflower, Mullein, Saxifrage, Bedstraw – you might have known a hundred other names. You could never have picked one.

And finally, that last part of the second paragraph reminds me, in a less luxurious way, of a conversation with a good friend the other day where I described the Sheep’s Parsley growing in the lanes and he corrected me by calling it Cow’s Parsley. Turns out his is a northern name, mine from Suffolk, though I later learned one of my daughter’s also called it Cow’s Parsley, having learnt this at her Devon school. My friend later emailed me that it was also called Queen Ann’s Lace. Not as linguistically rich perhaps as in Arkansas, where Lightning Bug is set, but rich enough.

And all evoked by one surprise chapter. It is a bottomless prompt, and I should read more.

1 thought on “Ole Bottomless and ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and Recollecting

  1. Love the picture of you and your ‘erotic literature’ on the beach…There are a few seaside postcard references I can think of to go with this post! Joking apart, though, Lightning Bug sounds like it’s worth a read. I am a big fan of American Literature soay give it a go.

    Liked by 1 person

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