Are New Englanders Afraid of Sex?

The famed novelist explains why even considering the act strikes many with a sense of anxiety and impending doom.
  • Transcript


Question: Is there a certain thrill or enjoyment in writing about sex?

John Irving: Well, not when you consider in my stories how many terrible repercussions there are from the sexual moment. There seems to be some puritanical, ancestral thing, some New England thing, maybe I got it from Hawthorne, that sexual pleasure is sort of disproportionately rewarded with some kind of calamity. But it's always a part of my purpose as a storyteller to first create characters that the reader will be anxious for. You can't be anxious for a character if you don't care about the character, if you don't in some way like, respect, or even love the character, or at least have affection for the character. And then once I've established those characters, in whom the reader, I hope has some emotional investment, then it's perversely my job to make as many terrible things happen to those people we like as I can imagine.

Six or seven books ago, I might have told you that maybe I write so much about the things I fear as a way of hoping that if I write about these things, if I realize them in fiction, that they actually will never come true and they will never happen to me. But if that were the case, it clearly doesn't work, because I'm continuing to write about the same thing.

Recorded on: October 30, 2009