Nic Kelman takes a bite of forbidden fruit in his novel girls, as three male characters blindly pursue sexual relations with young women trembling on the edge of womanhood and the fleeting moments of absolute physical perfection. Glibly the men hold forth on the nature of obsession, their attitudes about ongoing age-appropriate relationships and the influence of Greek philosophy on the evolution of social mores as related to borderline sexual behavior.
In this stream-of-conscious foray into the world of carnal knowledge, the financially secure and jaded male is the beneficiary of opportunistic sex unavailable at other levels of society. In each man’s life, joy has been replaced by a pervasive boredom, and each struggles to endure, like Macbeth, the “charmed life.” The hedonistic preoccupation with orgasmic saturation is almost a burden, similar to the agony of indecision suffered by Humbert Humbert in Nabokov’s Lolita.
This novel is actually a profound social commentary on the loose moral constructs that govern the actions of such men, protected by enormous fortunes and insulated from the law. They enjoy de facto permission to indulge any desire, any fantasy, with little or no fear of consequence. For this elite class, the next level of decadence is pervasive and inevitable.
At the heart of this discourse is the moral dilemma of these men: the need for justification in the seduction of a child/woman, who may either perform wanton acts through sexual innocence or burst into tears at an imagined slight, clutching a stuffed teddy bear to a still-developing chest. Kelman posits that men resent the way the playing field has been made unequal, as women demand, “We’re just as strong as you, so stop punching so…hard.” Therein is the conundrum, “even though you may not be as strong as us, you can make us weak”. Such musings preoccupy each character as they sample younger and younger Lolitas, drawn to ever-riskier trysts.
girls is no cheap Kathryn Harrison (The Kiss) knockoff. Kelman’s incisive perspective is about dissolution. His characters never yield to the febrile angst of Humbert Humbert, of necessity marrying the old to access the young. These men are self-observant, self-assessing and even dispassionate. Neither is Kelman’s novel trivial. His earnest moral argument is worthy of consideration; each man maintains a sense of propriety while incrementally self-destructing. This is an esoteric journey through the looking glass of male fantasy, where around each corner a nubile female awaits, her sham-innocence the embodiment of the Holy Grail.
Kelman addresses womanizing and misogyny, but he does so gracefully, without manipulation or the tawdry eyewink of the truly jaded soul. This author’s most extraordinary feat, however, is the absence of condescension toward females. Nor does he leave the reader tainted by shame. There is no voyeuristic opportunism, just a peek inside three men’s personal hearts-of-darkness. It is the author’s skill that renders the experience both insightful and educational, a funhouse of human sexuality well worth the price of the ticket.