My rating: 2 of 5 stars
In Letters to My Son: A Father's Wisdom on Manhood, Life, and Love, Kent Nerburn speaks of the old adage, “we humans are destined to live with our feet on the earth and our heads in the heavens, and we can never be at peace because we are pulled both ways” (page 146).
Then in a beautiful and poignant passage, Nerburn explains to his son how our sexuality must be both of the earth and of the heavens.
Richard Rhodes is one of my favorite authors. At the time Making Love was published I was attempting to write a book somewhat inspired by John Jerome's Stone Work: Reflections on Serious Play and Other Aspects of Country Life. I had wanted to capture on the written page some of the beauty and wonder of my musings during my exercise walks in the woods, they seemed to me to be ramblings of great profound philosophical truths. Ha! In one chapter, I felt a deep need to share with the world the beauty of the intimate encounters with my wife, which then and still now are to me sacraments of Divine love. Vast and complete failure! My chapter came off like some third rate erotic novel written by a kid in junior high school. The rest of the book was just as sorry and I wisely never attempted to publish it. I believe the book was vain attempt to capture my life as it slipped away like fine sand through my fingers, inspired no doubt by mid life crisis and the initial cold breeze of the recognition of my own mortality. Anyhow, I lived these wonderful and loving experiences with my wife and failed miserably trying to capture them in writing.
So here I was, some guy that worked in a factory, trying to depart a sense of beauty and mystery of love between a woman and man and getting lost in a tawdry mess of vague descriptions of methods to connect plumbing. So when I saw Richard Rhodes' Making Love I thought, "hallelujah, I will learn from a master" (not realizing yet what a turd the rest of my book was as well). Well Rhodes wrote in exacting X-rated detail the precise methods of connecting the plumbing.
The man can write no doubt, he is one of my favorite authors, and he left nothing to the imagination in Making Love. I am no prude or stranger to sexually explicit writing, and yet I was not only disappointed with this book, I was devastated by it. While Rhodes more than adequately described the "feet on the earth" aspect of sexuality in sweaty detail, he seemed to miss altogether the "heads in heavens" aspect. He left nothing to the imagination except perhaps any sense of higher purpose or spirituality, which seemed to be completely absent from his experience. I felt like a voyeur reading it. I remember of setting the book down and thinking this book was not about making love, it was about f***ing. Not only was I dismayed by his description, it seemed to cheapen and defile mine. If making love is this tawdry experience for the great Richard Rhodes, how can my experience be anything more than the musings of a romantic fool looking at a base and ignoble act of biological necessity through rose colored glasses? So instead of getting a hint or hopefully a lesson on how to write about sexuality to capture both its earthiness and its Holiness, I was led to believe that not only are such writings impossible but that I should regard the experience itself with some suspicion.
Fortunately, this suspicion was not allowed to fester into a full drawn conclusion. I discussed the book with my wife and told her that I found myself questioning the validity of our own experience, which of course was silly...but we are talking Richard Rhodes here. Rather than using words to fight words, my wife used the ancient wisdom of women to more than adequately demonstrate that, yes, making love is indeed of the earth, but it is also heaven on earth, that neither I or Richard Rhodes could capture with mere words.
I am no longer in mid life crisis, but on the threshold of old age. Making love with my wife has become a bit more physically challenging with bad backs and arthritic hips and knees and yet it has become a far richer and deeply rewarding experience than what we had in our 20s or even our 40s. There is no longer this terrifying requirement that every thing must go off with the precision of a NASA launch as in our 20s. Performance anxieties are a young people's sport. We now have time and freedom, unlike our 40s, to pursue an entire afternoon in bed lying in a relaxed sweet embrace drifting off for a nap only to wake up for round two.
It occurs to me now that the phrase making love has two components...the earthly action in the word "making", and the heavenly spiritual state found in the word "love". In my 20s the "making" was more important than the "love". In my 40s the "making" and the "love" were perhaps an equality, but now in my 60s the "love" is far more important than the "making". Oh everything follows the same basic script, but the action is far from pile driving and the embrace is far more loving.
Perhaps, I should give Making Love another reading. Perhaps I would see something in it now that I missed earlier. I am sure that I would no longer get a sense of tawdry ribaldry from it. Sex has moved out of the arena of the filth for me. It can beautiful, or it can be mundane, or it can be ugly. It is humanity's search to find the Divine through the body. If it is anything less than sublime, it is not the sex that is at fault, sex is after all only sex. It is the profane gods that we pursue that have failed us. I think to re-read Making Love, now would no longer engender a sense of voyeurism, but rather a deep feeling of pity for the lost Divine.
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EDIT 7/24/13: For a far better and more intelligent review that better reflects my feelings about this book, read this excellent review at Goodreads:
Books At Amazon:
Amazon.com, Making Love, Richard Rhodes
Amazon.com, Letters To My Son, Kent Nerburn
Amazon.com, Stone Work, John Jerome