American novelist Christopher Bollen has been awarded this year’s “Bad Sex in Fiction” award, in recognition of a sex scene from his novel The Destroyers that read in part: “The skin along her arms and shoulders are different shades of tan like water stains in a bathtub.”
The following sentence is a little spicy for NPR, but suffice to say that the narrator compares his own anatomy to a “billiard rack.”
Those ill-advised analogies earned Bollen the dubious honor of being granted the Bad Sex in Fiction award by the Literary Review. The prize was announced on Thursday; Bollard “was unable to attend the ceremony,” the Literary Review writes.
Bollen beat out stiff competition for this year’s prize. Laurent Binet described a graphic action taken by a “mouth-machine”; Venetia Welby used the phrase “diabolical torso”; Wilbur Smith used blurred watercolors as a metaphor for sexual congress.
But Bollen’s beachside scene won out. The London-based Literary Review told The Guardian: “The judges felt that there are parts in the book where Bollen goes overboard in his attempts to describe the familiar in new terms, leading occasionally to confusion. In the line quoted … they were left unsure as to how many testicles the character in question has.”
The prize is a compliment, in a way — truly. It’s only given to an”outstandingly bad” sex scene “in an otherwise good novel.” Books that are meant to be primarily erotic or pornographic aren’t considered.
And Bollen is hardly alone. Previous winners of the award, now in its 25th year, include such notaries as Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe and John Updike (who received a special “lifetime achievement award”).
For the record: Bollen’s 2015 novel Orient was one of NPR’s recommended books of 2015. Critic Bethanne Patrick called the book “rich and suspenseful.”