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[whitespace] Bed, Bath and Beyond: Stories that lead to sticky conclusions.

Bit of a Come-on

Hitting the sheets with a safe new anthology

By Dara Colwell

A conversation about condoms invariably arouses dozens of anecdotes: fumbling in the dark through cluttered dresser drawers, counting loose change and walking under the bright fluorescent lights of the neighborhood drugstore, finding a roommate's used rubber stuck next to a piece of gum in the wastebasket. It also leads to related subjects like sex, life, relationships, AIDS; it conjures up images, textures, a surreal array of colors and even odder flavors. An unsung hero of safe sexual pleasure, condoms are rarely referred to in literature--save for the, ahem, "dirty parts" of books. Until now.

Getting It On, edited by Mitch Roberson and Julia Dubner, is an anthology of short stories, poetry and novel excerpts culled from those shadowy parts, all focusing on the theme of the condom. The anthology features John Irving, T.C. Boyle, Anne Rice and Martin Amis, as well as many lesser-known authors. With divergent styles that reflect humor, self-destruction, irony and sadness, the stories reveal attitudes toward latex and sexuality--and the innocent ignorance so commonly associated with the flimsy sheaths.

Awkward groping and the concentrated effort of young lovers is on display in an excerpt from Martin Amis's The Rachel Papers. The male protagonist considers each maneuver as he strategically inches into Rachel's pants. When she reveals that she's not on the pill, the two begrudgingly get dressed and head off to buy condoms, detailing their sexual history to each other en route. Upon their return, the protagonist continues his efforts in the bedroom, trying hard to ignore the pungent odor of his socks.

We see the often secluded world of the Orthodox Jew in Nathan Englander's For the Relief of Unbearable Urges. Here, Dov Binyamin's advances are repeatedly refused by his wife, and his heightening frustration leads him to his Rebbe for advice. The Rebbe gives him permission to see a prostitute, and Dov nervously steals away to Tel Aviv. When he refuses to wear a condom in the transaction, he contracts a venereal disease, something he cannot confide to his wife. The implicit irony is tragic as Dov hides in the bathroom, consumed by the feverish burning of his piss as his wife calls out for him.

The most entertainingly dark story is "Modern Love," penned by T.C. Boyle. A sardonic take on society's obsession with safe sex, the story revolves around an infatuated protagonist whose lover has a morbid fascination with germs and contagion. When his lover gives him a transparent full-length body condom, he is shocked and offended. We cringe as he eventually agrees to zip himself in and (almost) enjoy the experience.

Getting It On is as much about sex as it is about the caution and absurdity that accompanies it. As its authors say, it speaks to getting on with life and relationships in the face of all the risks, both emotional and physical, that sexuality involves. It's a light-hearted collection that will make readers laugh and wince with recognition, while it stimulates thoughts about safe sex at a time when AIDS is no longer headline news. And that is perhaps the book's best purpose--to re-engage interest in condoms and their use.

'Getting It On: A Condom Reader,' edited by Mitch Roberson and Julie Dubner. SOHO Press, $15, 240 pages.

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From the April 17, 2000 issue of the Metropolitan.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.

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