Sex scenes are notoriously difficult to write. Britain’s annual Literary Review Bad Sex award, designed to “draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel,” has helped drive this point home. (Past nominees and winners include John Updike, André Brink and Tom Wolfe, and the prize gets almost as much press coverage there as the National Book Award does here.) But sex is, after all, sex – a subject potentially endless in its capacity to titillate and surprise. Other topics veer much more naturally toward the banal in fiction, and religion, a subject arguably as important in today’s America as any other, is chief among them.
Darcey Steinke, best known for 1992’s harrowing, tumultuous “Suicide Blonde,” considers the intersection between sex and Christianity in “Milk,” a slim, unusual, alternately fascinating and frustrating book that focuses on three characters whose most depraved impulses are inextricably linked to their communion with the divine.
(For another perspective, please see Rachel Aviv’s enthusiastic take.)