This is the best story I’ve read so far in the collection, and it’s no surprise because Sherwood Anderson is a genius. A titan of American literature, he captures the feeling of Americanness like nobody else.
In the story, a man trapped in a sexless marriage with an infantilized frigid woman is obsessing over a single time in the past when he had good sex. Nothing much happens in the story. It doesn’t narrate events but transmits the descent into obsessive madness of a sexually frustrated man.
Prudery and miserable, sexless marriages are a subject that’s ever-present in Sherwood Anderson’s work. I don’t know anybody who captures better than he does the supremely American drama of trying to reason away physiology and always failing at the task.
Today, we deprive ourselves of sex in a much more literal way than in Anderson’s times. Anybody can have as much sexual intercourse of any sort as they can get but accepting human physiology is still taboo to the point where we can’t even say the word “woman” anymore. (See my earlier post with a quote from “Lancet.”) As we boringly and repetitively celebrate the variety of sexual acts and partners we can enjoy, we fail to notice that we are even more pathetic than Anderson’s character. Nobody is forced into loveless marriages anymore but we are being obligated to deny reality, reason, and truth to service the sexual hangups of a handful of entitled guys.
Anderson’s character would have been shunned by his professional and social circle if he’d ditched the frigid rich girl and chosen the sexy cashier instead. And today he’d get shunned by his professional and social circle if he said “women don’t have penises.” How is that any better?