Rapture, Susan Minot's new 116-page novel, is sweet, sad, touchingóand slightly hot. Almost European, in fact. This moderate love story between a man and a woman in their thirties is framed by a blow job. During this blow job we learn the history of the couple's relationshipótold by both of them in short spurts of thought and feelingó"moments." They're a bit like what Wordsworth referred to as "spots of time." Many of the spots tell us about the woman's relationship to the penisóshe thinks a lot about the man's dick and blow jobs in general. Though what's in her mouth is always "him" (which sounds untrue and even sentimental).
They meet on a film shoot in Mexico. Kay is a production designer on Benjamin's film, and the two have chemistry, but she quickly learns that he's engaged, although he doesn't seem like the engaged type. And she's right; he is a filmmaker, and we all know filmmakers are willing to raid their mothers' retirement funds to get cash for postproduction. So, of course, Benjamin's "engaged." His fiancée, Vanessa, is helping him with money and connections, and he's not going to beóby his own accountó"an asshole" and leave her now. Still, he does make some lame attempts to go and failsóthus losing Kay (then Vanessa) and ultimately any shred of human dignity. He's going down fast, though Kay is going down on him throughout the book, and she comes spiritually (hence the "Rapture") just before he shoots a paltry wad of jism ("She tasted him pale, gray, pooling in her mouth")óand that's the plot. I don't say that to be belittling. A 116-page book doesn't really need a plot. It needs a kind of feeling that we can track through several dozen scenelets, which Minot supplies exquisitely. I feel she is deeply pissed:
The last night in Mexico . . . they walked solemnly close to each other down the hallway to his door. Inside, a muffled phone was ringing. He slipped the white card into the key slot and the door clicked open to blackness and a loud ringing. He winced, half facing her. "Go on," she said. He checked her face to see if she meant it, and went forward hunched into the gloom. She waited at the doorway. He glanced back over his shoulder, a pale mournful face giving her one last look out of the shadows, then he picked up the receiver. "Honey!" he said. He threw back his head and jauntily shot out his leg, locking the knee. His posture lifted up. His voice was breezy and happy and genuine. Kay's blood ran cold.
Minot punishes Benjamin the same way male authors (Dreiser, Flaubert) have always treated wayward and ambitious females. He was a prick, he did it to himself, but along the way we notice that Vanessa's got the money, Kay has her high ground, and Benjamin's got his dick, his confusing talent, and insufficient rapaciousness to have it all. Of course such a weakling should rot in Minot's subtle hell. The jolts of thwarted love have been driving literature for hundreds of years:
For a moment the rushing stopped like an engine switched off and her languorous feeling was suspended. She was momentarily stranded, staring at the soft bulging veins an inch from her face. It often happened at some point during sex: the oddness of what she was doing, in this case, swallowing a man's private parts, pumping him up and down. He wasn't making a sound or a movement. For an instant she felt the absurdity of sex like a wink.