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Female Trouble

[whitespace] xxx Amy Sohn turns her sexually explicit column into a novel

By Michael Learmonth



IN THE INTEREST of full disclosure, let me first say that I was a big fan of Amy Sohn long before she published her first novel, Run Catch Kiss. She's the best columnist on the masthead of the New York Press, a free weekly devoted almost exclusively to sassy, attitudinal columns.

Sohn's beat is her sex life, the most intimate details of which she reveals to thousands of New Yorkers every other week in "Female Trouble." But this isn't some sterile soap-opera version. For her column, it would seem, there is no detail too embarrassing to omit. I'm thinking here of the time she wrote a column about the flatulence that nearly asphyxiated a new relationship.

Most of her columns matter-of-factly recount sexual arousal ("My vaginal canal immediately got 50 feet longer") or contain one of Sohn's many versions of the money shot ("I began to feel like my cunt wanted to sneeze.")

For those of us following Sohn's sex life in "Female Trouble," her new book, Run Catch Kiss, provides more of the same. It reads at the same racy pace of her columns as it gives us a fictional behind-the-scenes look at the life of a young sex columnist. Though billed as "a gratifying novel," the story borrows deeply from Sohn's life. The protagonist, Ariel Steiner, grew up Jewish in Brooklyn, went to Brown, graduated and came back to New York hoping to become the literati's next ingenue--all things Sohn did.

The book begins soon after Steiner graduates and moves back in with her parents in Brooklyn Heights. She visits a talent agent hoping to audition for "ingenue" roles. The agent tells Steiner she'll have to lose 15 pounds, but in the meantime, "I'll submit you for fat-character roles."

Crushed, Steiner gets a temp job and waits for the calls to start coming in. They never quite do. She tries her hand at writing a script and unwittingly finds her calling. Her first piece, "Vanya in My Vulva," made it into the final script of a theater production, Lolita: Rock On.

Meanwhile, Steiner dates one guy who's too smack-addled to keep a boner and another who sends her packing when she won't let him ejaculate on her $75 blouse. Frustrated, she plunks down in front of her computer and imagines a perfect boyfriend, one without "complex needs, concerns, neuroses and complaints." She sends the result, a piece called "Blow-Up Boyfriend," to a fictional paper called City Week, and soon a new career has begun.

IN FICTION, as in real life, Sohn/Steiner is a gifted titillator. Steiner charms the mostly male editors at City Week as I'm sure Sohn did at the Press. Just where fiction departs from reality, I guess, is part of the allure Sohn was going for with Run Catch Kiss.

But regardless of where Steiner's fictional story departs from Sohn's, the character that emerges is endearing and quite different from the stuttering blather of Ally McBeal, another ingenue she's been compared to.

Steiner forages hungrily in the bars of the East Village to find a relationship that will provide what at times seems no more complex than the comfort she got from her father when, as a girl, she fell off her bike and bashed her chin. Her prose conveys the honesty of a soul laid bare that makes watching her romantic foibles unfold more than a voyeuristic experience. We identify with Steiner, or with some aspect of the self-absorbed trolls she digs up, and hope she finds what she's looking for.

Some of Sohn's columns, which once appeared as nonfiction in the pages of the Press, emerge in expanded form as the exploits of her alter ego in the book. In simultaneously looking for love and for column material, the "fictional" Steiner also changes names, and sometimes embellishes the truth. In Run Catch Kiss, this practice ultimately leads to the end of her newspaper career. I had to wonder if Sohn is sorting out a very real fear that she might suffer the same fate.

But apparently this is at least one point where the life of Steiner departs from that of Sohn. I hadn't seen a copy of the New York Press for a number of months, so I called the managing editor, Lisa Kearns, to see if Sohn was still writing her column for the paper. She is, Kearns said; in fact she should be working on one right now.


Run Catch Kiss
By Amy Sohn
Simon & Schuster; 356 pages; $23 cloth

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From the August 5-11, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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