An interview with author Jesse Kornbluth.
Jesse Kornbluth was one of the original contributors to The Good Men Project Anthology. Perhaps, not surprisingly, his contribution to that book was about sex also. Since then, Jesse has contributed to The Good Men Project website a vast array of content, shared from his own site at HeadButler.com—interviews, book reviews, music reviews, analysis, the occasional political rant—anything that is part of the arts & entertainment and pop cultural conversation. We love his view on the world, the way themes overlap and go deeper, we love his voice.
The Good Men Project publisher talked to Jesse Kornbluth about his new novel, Married Sex. An excerpt from the novel can be found here.
1) Each chapter was so tight, so short. Like…tapas. Full of great ingredients…details, dialogue, insights, humor…but just enough to whet my appetite for the next chapter. It’s the type of book you could read in just about single sitting and feel perfectly satiated at the end. Did that take a lot of disciplined editing to get it there? Were there storylines or characters you discarded in order to keep it simple and pure?
Jesse: This question made me smile, because the novel used to be too short to offer to publishers, who need a book to have X pages so they can charge Y dollars. I added 4,000 words, and it’s still 7,000 words shorter than “The Great Gatsby.”
I don’t think “Married Sex” is short — I think most novels are too long. Today’s readers don’t need elaborate descriptions of Manhattan; they’ve seen movies and photographs. And they don’t need the overwritten prose that critics call “beautifully crafted.” What today’s readers need is time. I had one story to tell, and I told it: two months in a marriage. Nothing added, nothing removed. Two to three hours, and you’re done. And then, I hope, you text a friend: “You gotta read this.”
2) I was expecting a book about sex, given the title, and got a book about love. And ok, lots of sex too. But the book is really about the complexity of the human spirit and the way relationships can be both extraordinary and complex. Is that how you view sex? That is…does the best sex bring those complexities to the bedroom?
The idea that powers the book is from “Because the Night,” a song by Patti Smith and Bruce Springsteen: “Love is an angel disguised as lust.” Because isn’t that how most relationships start? We think: “He/she is hot.” And then, later, we discover he/she is more than hot.
Debra Winger once said, “Nothing is hotter than to be naked wearing a wedding ring.” In a long-term relationship — it doesn’t have to be a marriage — I think that’s what you discover. The sex deepens. It becomes more than a draining of libido. It’s a spiritual connection, a merger of souls, the closest we come to the infinite. My characters believe that. Me too.
3) I’ve heard this novel described (by you, for one) as being “about a threesome”. And yet…that doesn’t do it justice. That very phrase might turn people away who think threesome = kinky. But the book itself is so down to earth, the characters so…ordinary. The way it unfolds is so believable. Which brings up 2 questions a) why are threesomes seen as taboo? and b) do you think maybe they are really not all that taboo and more and more people are actually trying them, but we just don’t hear about them during dinner conversation?
I’ve said that sex must be very important, because no one talks about it. I don’t know if threesomes are more common now; I do know they’re a hot topic in media this year, in part because threesomes are a good subject for easy moralizing — just like infidelity, which, as we know, is widely condemned and even more widely committed.
4) The chapter we are excerpting here on The Good Men Project, is the “defining moment” of the novel, the part that gives the entire story its structure. It’s a great premise—and a great soundbite, “It’s not cheating if your wife is there.” I can see the line on the movie poster. And actually, as I understand—the movie is already in development, with director Griffin Dunne (“Practical Magic”, “After Hours”) and producer Nick Wechsler (“Magic Mike”, “Sex, Lies and Videotape” and “The Road”). Do you think that the simplicity of the premise helped sell it as a movie? And are you nervous about seeing it become a film?
It is the line on the movie poster, at least in the poster in my imagination. You need to know that I’ve sold a dozen screenplays and taught screenwriting at New York University for a decade. I wrote the story as a novel so a) I’d ideally get paid twice and b) I’d have more readers than the two dozen movie executives and agents who ordinarily read screenplays. In consultation with my director and our producers, I wrote the screenplay for “Married Sex.” It’s the same story — but about 60% of it is different. Nervous? Only that the movie might not happen.
5) You are the only fully realized male character in the book. The few men who are mentioned are done so only in passing and usually take the form of “the cheating husband”. And at one point your wife utters these words to the protagonist: “Men,” she repeated. “Men freak you out.” What are some reasons why that might be?
You talkin’ to me? Why is this “you” you ask about? The book is narrated by David Greenfield, the husband in the novel. I’m not David, though there are some similarities. Including that I do prefer to socialize and work with women. You would too if your Cub Scout troop took out BB guns and told you to run and if a Mafia guy you were writing a book with put a gun to your head.
6) Do you think that men are socialized not to be intimate with other men? That there’s such an undercurrent of homophobia that it actually prevents deep relationships? One of the things I’ve seen at The Good Men Project is that men are socialized to be competitive—they need to assume the role of financial provider as part of their identity. And in order to be a successful financial provider, they need to compete for jobs, money, power, success. And it’s hard to be competitive with someone you are intimate with. So men tend not to be intimate with other men.
I live in New York, so I don’t see much homophobia. I do see a Darwinian struggle for survival, which is, in our culture, defined by money. This breeds terrible anxiety. Failure not only means a financial hit, it can send you careening out of the middle class. In my city, a sex scandal is nothing. An indictment is anecdotal. But losing your money? Brrrr. No wonder men are emotionally buttoned-up.
7) One of the benefits of gay marriage is that it allows us to explore sexuality in ways they couldn’t when same sex relationships were closeted. In some ways, it is what the opponents of gay marriage feared most. Are you looking forward to a time when sexuality is more openly fluid?
Most of my male friends are gay, but I’m weak on this subject. I have no idea what my friends think or do in bed.
8) Do you think that David, the protagonist of your book, stopped having fantasies of threesomes after everything was over?
No idea. When the book ends, I walked away, draining by the experience of imagining the characters and the story and then writing the book. I’m hoping the book is successful. But I hope success doesn’t call for a sequel.
Jesse Kornbluth is the founder of HeadButler.com, a cultural concierge site. He has served as editorial director of AOL, cofounded Bookreporter.com, and has been a contributing editor to Vanity Fair and New York. The author of four nonfiction books, including Highly Confident: The Crime and Punishment of Michael Milken, he has written screenplays for Paul Newman, Robert De Niro, ABC, PBS, and Warner Bros.
Married Sex is Kornbluth’s first novel. He lives in Manhattan with his family.
Photo credits: [main] jronaldlee / flickr, [Jesse Kornbluth] courtesy of author