9 1/2 Weeks: The Book

"The first time we were in bed together he held my hands pinned down above my head. I liked it. I liked him. He was moody in a way that struck me as romantic; he was funny, bright, interesting to talk to; and he gave me pleasure."
Elizabeth McNeill

Written under a pseudonym, 9 1/2 Weeks is more than just an erotic novel about domination/submission- it is also the true night by night diary of a woman's nine and a half week encounter with a man she barely knew. More than just an account of sex, it is a compelling documentary of obsession, surrender, and the boundaries of eroticism. It is an oddyssey of the sexual mind.

I discovered this book by chance, a dusty first edition for the lovely price of three dollars. I had heard vaguely of the movie of the same name, and was surprised to find it was a book; the theme had always interested me and I found that I was initially doubtful of the story's truth. Yet every word, every thought, every account written by this woman is so convincingly alive that fiction or no, this work sparks with realism. The prose is short, but the ideas linger in your mind, the kind that change your perception of the world .

The story begins with Elizabeth detailing their chance meeting- she fingering a coveted lace shawl on "the loveliest of Sunday afternoons" downtown. Her future lover (who remains unnamed throughout the narrative) pursues her. He is mysterious, dark, and sexy, and such is the start of their relationship.

Elizabeth soon finds that her choice of romantic entanglement is, quite frankly, an odd one, albeit a erotic and imaginative find. He lives in a "monk's gymnasium" of an apartment and is extremely anal-retentive about scheduling-"He plays tennis on Tuesdays from 12:30 to 2:30, on Thursdays from 12:15 to 2, on Sundays from 3 to 5, year round, I will come to understand". This scheduling soon crosses over into their new erotic life. Every night he alone bathes, feeds, dresses her, and reads to her, a vivid contrast from her daily life as an 80's power executive in corporate New York. He also spanks her, slaps her, ties her up, blindfolds her- and in a series of increasingly daring sexual escapades, dresses her as a man, forces her to steal, makes her fellate him in the middle of dinner.

Gradually, both Elizabeth and her lover become obsessed with this game, for it is one. She soon realizes after a most unfortunate lunch meeting that her work life and her life with him comprise two separate spheres of her existence entirely. And as the sexual games gradually become more risque, Elizabeth begins to question the true sexual politics of their relationship. Is his arousal inherent in the acts she performs, or in the humiliation in the midst of arousal that she experiences doing them? Is her submission an act of mutual consent or the result of his subtle manipulations? On one occassion she refuses to masturbate in front of him, and he has no qualms about packing her things in the space of five minutes, of escorting her out of his apartment and out of his life. Elizabeth begins to wonder how much he truly cares about her, not just her submission.

Ultimately, this is what ends the relationship. After a particularly humiliating experience in the Chelsea Hotel involving a cheesy, sleazy New York prostitute, she wakes up the next day and begins to cry-and cry, and cry. At 6 pm after the aforementioned nine and a half weeks, her lover escorts her to a hospital, and they never see each other again.

"I slept with another man and discovered, my hands lying awkwardly on the sheet at either side of me, that I had forgotten what to do with them. I'm responsible and an adult again, full time. What remains is that my sensation thermostat has been thrown out of whack: it's been years and sometimes I wonder whether my body will ever again register above lukewarm."

This book truly is a classic. I recommend it to anyone interested in sex beyond a vanilla scope.

9 1/2 Weeks is also a good-but-not-quite-measuring-up-to-the-book movie starring Kim Basinger and Mickey Rourke. Although it departs from the original text quite a bit, there are new scenes that make this movie a separate classic- most notably the food scene in front of the refrigerator, and Kim Basinger's striptease. This movie gives aphrodisiacs their well-deserved fifteen minutes of erotic fame.

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