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Lie with Me

by Tamara Faith Berger

Fiction shot through with graphic sexual language, no matter how literary the author’s intentions, runs the risk of being pigeonholed by an either/or question: Is it art or is it porn? An affirmative nod to the latter category will probably alienate the more literary crowd the book is intended for. Tamara Faith Berger’s Lie with Me is that rare bird, a novel that aims at combining the trappings of literary fiction with the hardcore vocabulary of the Penthouse letters page.
Readers will be alerted that Berger has her sights set higher than the naughty-stewardess school of narrative by the lengthy opening quotation from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, in which Juno and Jupiter argue over which sex feels more pleasure while making love. Berger dramatizes this question by fragmenting the novel into a series of first-person narratives spoken by a woman and her unnamed male partners.
These are damaged people, and she wisely avoids filling them in with too many details, focussing instead on their immediate sexual desires. Because of this intense focus on gratification, the multiple male narrators tend to blur together, making them feel like bit actors in a porn film. Berger does capture the calculating sexuality of the male gaze, however, using it to dramatically contrast the female narrator’s more complex desires.
It is in the passages narrated from the female point of view that Lie with Me achieves a level of poetic achievement. The narrator sees the sex act as a form of violent disintegration, a means of stripping away the material body to get at the emotional enigma at the core of desire. In the most successful passages, the language creates an ecstatic blur that mimics the narrator’s dissolving consciousness and rush toward insight. Like so much pornographic and romantic art, though, Berger often resorts to setting up polarized gender roles and variations on the master/slave relationship to explore human sexuality. Such musings are probably best saved for the paperback rack at the local Adults Only store.