I've come to the conclusion, after considerable deliberation, that Lofting is intended as an elaborate joke. The fictitious Alma Marceau (Lofting was actually written by a man), widely traveled in "the Paleo- and Neotropics", author of a PhD dissertation entitled "On the Genealogy of Morels", has penned a self-consciously literate, extravagantly smutty novel that pretends to be serious erotica. In reality, the author winks at the reader on nearly every page. How many more mindless sex acts, how many more pints of semen spattered across our heroine's anatomy, how many more obscure nouns and overblown metaphors will it take, dear reader, before you realize that I'm poking fun at the whole concept of literary erotica (and possibly, at you, esteemed reader, as well)?
Lofting begins well. Claire, a brilliant, articulate New York psychotherapist, engages in witty and erudite cyberchat with the equally glib and mentally adroit Andres (a married man who lives in Denver). Gradually their double-entendres metamorphose into cybersex and then phone sex. Claire discovers an unsuspected submissiveness lurking in her psyche. She also begins to fall in love with Andres, who predicts that she will soon encounter a real world lover who will more completely satisfy her needs.
The early chapters of Lofting are probably as overwritten as the later ones, but I didn't notice. The intellectual, sexual and emotional connections between Claire and Andres were sufficiently genuine to invite my identification. When Claire meets Nick, however, the man who will become her new master and mentor (and who, tellingly, originally enters her life as a prospective patient), I abruptly lost interest. Nick is virile and handsome, but he is also dishonest, manipulative and shallow. He lacks both the sympathy and the cleverness I found in Andres.
Nick engages Claire in a variety of extreme and occasionally repulsive sexual scenarios: masturbating her to orgasm in the reptile house of the Staten Island Zoo while she watches a python consuming a dead rabbit; taking her from behind in a deserted corner of Macy's house wares department; handing her over to be used and abused by friends and associates, male and female. These scenes are not even slightly arousing (in my opinion), mostly because, despite Ms. Marceau's purple depictions of Claire's eventual orgasms, Claire really doesn't seem to be enjoying herself. Nick and his cohorts are genuinely cruel and depressingly selfish in their assaults on Claire's body. Their primary concern seems to be self-gratification, even though Nick claims to be orchestrating these activities for Claire's benefit.
Lofting perverts the D/s dynamic. There's hardly any real communication between Nick and Claire, and little if any trust. At times, Claire fears that Nick really has lost touch with her completely, and this fear seems justified. Nick (and Ms. Marceau) clearly have not studied SM 101. Some of the bondage scenes struck me as distinctly unsafe. Meanwhile, the book focuses on the physical activities and accoutrements of BDSM, completely ignoring the psychological and emotional interactions that are the essence of power exchange.
I should mention that although the sex in this novel is frequent, graphic, and attempts to present itself as incredibly perverse and decadent, it has little claim to originality. With the exception of the snake interlude (which in retrospect I believe was intended as an overly-clever Freudian allusion), there is nothing in Lofting that I haven't encountered in a dozen other dirty books. The final chapters unfold at the stereotypic remote mansion where the entire cast of characters (including, implausibly, Andres) converge to perpetrate one indecency after another on our poor heroine. (Yawn.)
I also felt that despite being recounted by Claire in the first person, Lofting's sexual descriptions have a distinctly male focus. There is, for instance, a preoccupation with the color, copiousness and consistency of semen that seems incongruous in a female narrator.
M.J. Rose, in her 2002 review of Lofting, claims that the book is "written in polished, evocative prose" and praises its "legitimate literary qualities." I have enormous respect for Ms. Rose's own subtle and sensual writing; thus I was a bit surprised by this evaluation. It's true that Ms. Marceau's vocabulary is astonishing, and that she peppers her dialogue with literary references and sly puns. However, the pages of Lofting are rife with bizarre metaphors and gratuitous polysyllabisms that are sometimes painful to read.
It's a bad sign in a dirty book when you notice the figures of speech.
Consider the following passage:
"I was close to coming, my speech halting and clipped. At the penultimate moment, Nick's hands found my nipples and twisted them savagely - exquisitely apposite torture that served only to precipitate the crisis. But fearing the cruel mercy of a silent, glassy descent, I begged Nick to fuck me full force. He answered my call with an allegro of half-thrusts: like a pestle striking a mortar, his cock pounded my vagina with short, percussive blows until, tumbled across the collapsing face of the swell, I lost muscular control, fell twisting and writhing onto my belly, and finally came to rest, splayed out like storm-cast wrack on the draggled beach of the bed sheets."
Or, another sample:
"Nick was splendid at the end, his face frozen in rapture, his muscles rigid, his cock hard and red as an ingot spewed hot from the blast furnace. His penis recoiled violently as he climaxed three long strokes, casting turbid aspersions of semen in broad, flossy arcs upon my belly, breasts and throat. Drenched in his warm emission and my own copious juices, I lay back in bed and stretched my sore limbs before curling with satisfaction into a fetal crescent."
"Turbid aspersions of semen?" I just cannot believe that prose this purple could be accidental. I continue to suspect that Lofting was deliberately constructed to parody literary erotica by combining near-ridiculous hyper-intellectualism with crude carnality. The result is a strange hybrid that in my opinion offers little literary merit (except as a clever parody) and less eroticism. As she continues her researches into "fungal systematics", Ms. Marceau must smile to herself when she reads the puzzled but effusive reviews she has received from readers who have taken Lofting seriously.