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All hail the Bad Sex Awards, the world's best literary prize
Get ready to suck some Brie
Congratulations?
Congratulations? (Facebook/Manil Suri)
I

t's an honor shared by Norman Mailer and John Updike, as well as Philip Roth, Stephen King, and Tom Wolfe. It's not the Pulitzer Prize or the National Book Award. It's the Literary Review's Bad Sex Award.

Since 1993, the British publication has been bestowing the title "to draw attention to the crude, badly written, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual descriptions in the modern novel, and to discourage it." The award tends to go after awkward and/or hilarious sex scenes that make you cringe so badly it takes you out of the novel.

In addition to the nominees mentioned above, other illustrious authors on the shortlist for the Bad Sex Award include former Prime Minister Tony Blair, who revealed a little too much in his memoir A Journey about how his wife, Cherie, comforted him the night of Labour leader John Smith's death:

That night she cradled me in her arms and soothed me; told me what I needed to be told; strengthened me. I needed that love Cherie gave me, selfishly. I devoured it to give me strength. I was an animal following my instinct.

TMI, Mr. Prime Minister. TMI.

Last night, the winner of the Bad Sex Award went to Manil Suri for a scene in his novel, The City of Devi, involving Sarita, her husband Karun, and a young gay Muslim man named Jaz.

The hut vanishes, and with it the sea and the sands — only Karun's body, locked with mine, remains. We streak like superheroes past suns and solar systems, we dive through shoals of quarks and atomic nuclei. In celebration of our breakthrough fourth star, statisticians the world over rejoice.

For a reader as scientifically challenged as I am, the references to "quarks" and "atomic nuclei" do nothing for me. I am not sure what a "breakthrough fourth star" is supposed to indicate, and I am definitely confused (and a little creeped out) that statisticians are rejoicing — let alone know — that this sex act has occurred.

But if you read through some of the other nominees for the Bad Sex Award, Suri is by no means a clear winner. Here are excerpts:

Jonathan Grimod's The Last Banquet

I found the Brie and broke off a fragment, sucking her nipple through it.

This food-meets-sex scene is almost as uncomfortable as the Jason Biggs-meets-pie scene in American Pie. Also Brie does not seem like the most conducive cheese for this — perhaps Swiss would be better?

Matthew Reynold's The World Was All Before Them

She stirred and her breath became a moan as endorphinergic and morphinergic mechanisms spluttered into life.

Like the scene in The City of Devi, this is pretty confusing for someone who doesn't know the significance of simultaneous "endorphinergic" and "morphinergic" actions. A quick Google search of both those terms lead almost entirely to pages in German on medical abnormalities. Sexy.

William Nicholson's Motherland

'So are we going to do it, Lawrence?'

'Yes,' he whispers. 'Yes.'

'Doesn't the Catholic Church say it's wrong?'

'Yes,' he says.

'God won't punish you,' she says, 'if you love me.'

'I love you, Nell. I love you. I love you.'

I have no idea if the rest of Motherland is this cheesy; in fact, it probably isn't based on the great review it got in The Guardian. But "I love you" during the build-up to fornication may be the biggest cliché, and as a result this one went straight into Cheez Whiz town.

Woody Guthrie's House of Earth

And inside the door of her womb she felt her inner organs and tissues, all her muscles and glands, felt them roll, squeeze, squeeze, and roll, and felt that every inch of her whole being stretched, reached, felt out, felt in, felt all around the shape of his penis.

Amanda Hess at Slate writes of this scene, "If the womb does have a door, it just slammed shut." But I actually think Guthrie, who was posthumously nominated, deserves at least some credit for eschewing tired clichés and bizarrely scientific metaphors.

Susan Choi's My Education

She made me come so many times that afternoon that had I been somewhat older, I might have dropped dead. Had I been a doll, she might have twisted off each of my limbs, and sucked the knobs until they glistened, and drilled her tongue into each of the holes.

This is hot, but it is overtaken by some seriously creepy aspects.

Rupert Thomson's Secrecy

I closed my eyes as well and moved inside her, imagining the ribbed flesh, the supple rings of muscle. Mauve and yellow flowers filled the blank screen of my eyelids, the petals loosening and drifting downwards on to smooth grey stone.

Unfortunately, no one does vaginas as flowers as well as Georgia O'Keefe does, so Thomson was fighting a losing battle from the start. Also, the idea of parts of a woman's genitalia loosening during sex is more than a little disturbing to a female reader.

Eric Reinhardt's The Victoria System

"'Look,' she was saying, 'look at my breasts. I want to show them to you. I hope you like them. They're for you. I'm giving them to you.' And her chest appeared before my eyes like a slow-motion shot of a natural phenomenon in a television documentary."

This scene is the least deserving to be in the Bad Sex Awards category. It's actually borderline endearing because most of us can empathize with an overly formal and awkward romantic encounter. But there is something a little Stepford Wives-ish about how robotically eager the woman is for the dude to like her breasts. Still, I do appreciate how the man's sense of awe is conveyed as if he were watching another species.

Emily Shire is chief researcher for The Week magazine. She has written about pop culture, religion, and women and gender issues at publications including Slate, The Forward, and Jewcy.

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