"Lust" by Susan Minot

09Feb05

This story was a nice change from the other short stories that I’ve been reading. Instead of a more traditional, linear narrative style, Minot uses a series of vignettes. This minimalistic style seems to strengthen the narrator’s voice. The secondary characters hardly even become secondary. The narrator names some of the boys with whom she had sexual encounters, but oftentimes the reader doesn’t know which boy is making the advances that the narrator is recounting. The vignettes also seem appropriate for the subject matter. Like the narrator describes, lust overcomes her and then leaves her as suddenly as the vignette ends.

In this story Minot creates an interesting discussion of the imbalance of power between males and females in regards to sex. Boys’ sexual desire completely dominates the narrator:

“Come here,” he says on the porch.
I go over to the hammock and he takes my wrist with two fingers.
“What?”
He kisses my palm then directs my hand to his fly.
….
So I’d go because I couldn’t think of something to say back that wouldn’t be obvious, and if you go out with them, you sort of have to do something.
….
You wait till they come to you. With half fright, half swagger, they stand one step down. They dare to touch the button on your coat then lose their nerve and quickly drop their hand so you— you’d do anything for them. You touch their cheek.
….
It starts this way:
You stare into their eyes. They flash like all the stars are out. They look at you seriously, their eyes at a low burn and their hands no matter what starting off shy and with such a gentle touch that they only thing you can do is take that tenderness and let yourself be swept away. When, with one attentive finger they tuck the hair behind your ear, you—
You do everything they want.

And girls are compelled by other girls as well as boys to acquiesce to that desire:

I thought the worst thing anyone could call you was a cock-teaser. So, if you flirted, you had to be prepared to go through with it.

Minot uses this odd intermingling of first and second person. Sometimes she speaks very specifically of her own experiences, using “I,” and other times she seems to be speaking for women in general and uses “you,” which suggests a sense of disconnection from her own experiences. (Some of the vignettes told in first person will often drift into more of a third person perspective, insinuating a feeling of disconnection: “…then came back to me, a body waiting on the rug.”) And at yet other times she uses a first person “we” to speak of herself as a member of womankind, which suggests she owns those experiences. But she still has sentences like, “It’s different for girls.” She seems to expect her audience to be female, but will remind herself at times that males may be reading too and need more explanation.

(I feel like I should apologize for using “boy” and “girl” in this post. I’m using the language that Minot uses, and her characters are supposed to be in high school, but I still feel weird.)

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