‘Politics’ Brazen But Good

by Mindy Borie
Columnist

Much like with food, I like to mix it up when it comes to my reading. This keeps things interesting. It stands to reason, then, that in my quest to try new things I every so often come across something truly bizarre. Adam Thirlwell’s debut novel “Politics” is one such book.

The front cover of the book proclaims it to be about “sexual etiquette, the Queen Mother, premature ejaculation, the moral life of Milan Kundera, threesomes, the fetishes of dictators, blow jobs, (François) Truffaut’s “Jules et Jim,” breakups, Mandelstam’s infidelity, selfishness, Bollywood, shopping and pink fluffy handcuffs.”
I am the kind of person who is just curious or attention-deficit enough to find that description unbearably intriguing, and I was a goner from the time I saw it. In case you want a more complete summary, though, I will provide one.

The principal characters are Moshe, an actor, and his girlfriend Nana. The book details their meeting and courtship in a nonchronological fashion. It includes many more stories about them and their acquaintances, as well; in addition to frequent interruptions in the voice of the author, Nana’s father (“Papa”) and Moshe’s friend Anjali feature prominently. Anjali, in fact, becomes a part of the love story of Moshe and Nana when they become a ménage à trois.

The characters are very believable, with normal human insecurities and their share of awkward moments (which, as you can imagine, only gets worse once a third lover is introduce). This tender awkwardness lends them a certain sweetness and is what makes them most likeable and worthy of our attention. We want them to love each other properly, because we love them.

Smart, funny, touching, racy and at times nastily honest, “Politics” is a bold read. There is certainly a lot to love if you appreciate sophisticated humor and are not easily frustrated by a nonlinear story. It is, as the back of the book reads, “a love story with digressions.” Boy, are there ever digressions.

I very much enjoyed these digressions, especially the times when Adam Thirlwell inserted himself into the novel. It may seem intrusive or weird (which I suppose it is), but I thought it made him seem like a friendly presence. His critiques of his own characters’ moods and behaviors are charming and hysterical if you go in for metafiction at all.

But the thing most likely to put readers off this book is not the digressions — though I suspect Thirlwell will lose a few of you that way — but rather the explicit sex scenes. This is a book unafraid to describe sex practices both usual and unusual, successful and unsuccessful, in great detail. If anatomical terms and descriptions of orgasms make you uncomfortable, this book is not for you. Even if you consider yourself perfectly at ease with frank discussion of sex, I feel confident in saying that at some point this book will shock you.

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