Jonathan Franzen: dirty magazines vs books

Jonathan Franzen The Discomfort Zone

Curiously shame-free, by contrast, were the hours I spent studying dirty magazines. I mostly did this after school with my friend Weidman, who had located some Playboys in his parents’ bedroom, but one day in junior high, while I was poking around at a construction site, I acquired a magazine of my own. Its name was Rogue, and its previous owners had torn out most of the pictures. The one remaining photo feature depicted a “lesbian eating orgy” consisting of bananas, chocolate cake, great volumes of whipped cream, and four dismal, lank-haired girls striking poses of such patent fakeness that even I, at thirteen, in Webster Groves, understood that “lesbian eating orgy” wasn’t a concept I would ever find useful.

But pictures, even the good shots in Weidman’s magazines, were a little too much for me anyway. What I loved in my Rogue were the stories. There was an artistic one, with outstanding dialogue, about a liberated girl named Little Charlie who tries to persuade a friend, Chris, to surrender his virginity to her; in one fascinating exchange, Chris declares (sarcastically?) that he is saving himself for his mother, and Little Charlie chides him: “Chris, that’s sick.” Another story, called “Rape – In Reverse,” featured two female hitchhikers, a handgun, a devoted family man, a motel room, and a wealth of unforgettablephrases, including “‘Let’s get him onto the bed,’” “slurping madly,” and “’Still want to be faithful to wifey?’ she jeered.” My favorite story was a classic about an airline stewardess, Miss Trudy Lazlo, who leans over a first-class passenger named Dwight and affords him “a generous view of her creamy white jugs,” which he correctly takes to be an invitation to meet her in first-class bathroom and have sex in various positions that I had trouble picturing exactly; in a surprise twist, the story ends with the jet’s pilot pointing to a curtained recess “with a small mattress, at the back of the cockpit,” where Trudy wearily lies down to service him, too. I still wasn’t even hormonally capable of release from the excitement of all this, but the filthiness of Rogue, its absolute incompatibility with my parents, who considered me their clean little boy, made me more intensely happy than any book I ever read.

Jonathan Franzen, The Discomfort Zone, London 2007, p. 120-121. 

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