There are moments — often unremarkable, everyday moments — when the entire history between two people, former lovers, returns in an instant: the rush of the unexpected first kiss, the flood of want that follows, and the inevitable hurt that lingers once it has soured. In Susan Minot’s erotic and evocative novella Rapture, that moment is a blowjob.
The story takes place over one afternoon, in a bed, during the course of this single sexual act. Kay and Benjamin exchange no words, but by cutting back and forth between their wandering interior monologues, Minot explores their back story and the circuitous route their affair has traveled — from a film location in Mexico, back home to New York, and around the watchful eyes of Benjamin‘s fiancee, Vanessa. Minot, who wrote the screenplay for Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty, draws Rapture out at an almost cinematic pace; throughout, her clean and spare prose is peppered with rich detail and dialogue so true in terms of rhythm and emotional awkwardness it‘s uncomfortable to read at times. Bumping into one another outside a movie theater after they’d broken up:
‘So you’ve been good?‘ he said.
’I have, yah.‘
’Good. That‘s good. Me, too. I’ve been pretty good.‘
’Good,‘ she said.
’A little crazy maybe. But good.‘
‘Can be. Unless it’s too crazy.‘
As in her acclaimed Evening, Minot‘s focus moves beyond sex and passion, love and loss; she jumps around in time to explore the fluid, deceptive nature of memory, the precariousness of sexual fantasy and, through Kay’s and Benjamin‘s very different interpretations of what went wrong and where they are headed, the malleability of perception. The book is quick but precise; brief but meaningful.
That said, Minot originally intended Rapture as a short story, and it probably would have been better left that way. At 10 pages, a blowjob might be, well, rapturous, but at 115 pages, it’s a gimmick; and it undercuts the internal credibility of the story, prompting the question: Is this still going on?! Nevertheless, Rapture is an intriguing read, and Minot succeeds in eliciting at least some of her intended depth. As Kay submits, completely, to Benjamin and her own physical longings, he sinks deeper and deeper into self-loathing, leading the reader to the same uncomfortable realization: No matter how physically or emotionally connected — even engaged in the most intimate of acts — we are all, ultimately, alone.