While I try to read a lot, I rarely review novels. I don't have the time, what with trying to find time to write and edit my own. I especially try not to commit to reviewing a novel when I've met and liked the author because there is always that chance that I just won't like it. I can say with complete honesty and relief that it is truly a pleasure when a book delights me enough that I can feel good about breaking that rule. Sex and Death in the American Novel by Sarah Martinez isn't my typical fare. I'm a fantasy and science fiction geek. Reading something in literary erotica was a bit of a dive off the deep end for me. I truly expected not to like it and I was very pleasantly proven wrong.
The protagonist in the novel, Vivianna, is a woman who, on the outside, seems to know who she is. She's an erotic fiction author. Her relationship with her mother and brother are convoluted, tense, loving, and relatively typical of many family relationships on the surface, with a clear bit of unsettle history around her deceased, Pulitzer Prize winning father. Viv has some good friends, a successful career, and she's confident about her body and her sexuality in ways that most of us can admire.
On a high level, the story is a romantic, sensual and erotic tale that never slips into the common pitfall of becoming crass and vulgar, but on a deeper level, this is the story of a woman who lives her life crushed in the shadow of a father who, while dead, still rules over her and her family. It's a moving and beautiful tale of one woman's struggle to overcome the destructive need to prove herself to a man who is long gone and the devastating effect that same need has wrought upon her mother and brother. This is her journey to discover that, only by accepting and loving yourself for who you are, can you truly come to accept and love the people around you.
At least that is what this tale was for me. Your mileage may vary. Regardless, Sex and Death in the American Novel is a novel I strongly recommend.