On the Rag with Lolita by Mathew Klickstein, Author of Rag Doll
When I originally came up with the idea of writing my first erotic novel, I immediately thought of Lolita. Not necessarily because I may or may not be emotionally disturbed – though I knew my protagonist would be in some way – but because I’ve always admired Nabokov’s magical way of having produced material that was so scandalous (particularly for the time in which his masterpiece was disseminated) and yet so immemorial.
I’ve always had a similar adoration for Tropic of Cancer, the work of Robert Crumb, and Pasolini’s immortal Salo (of which IMDB’s “parent’s guide” is one of the most hilarious pieces of writing I’ve ever read).
Since film school (where my first screenplay, Porn from the Soul, involved the world’s greatest pornography filmmaker…who happened to never have sex before), I’d wondered if I could produce such an artistic entity. Something that would delight, offend, seduce, mystify, and ultimately provoke. Something that could be equal parts lusty, lurid, lyrical, and luminous.
For some time, I’d planned on doing something that was going to be titled The Retard, about a burnt-out Bret Easton Ellis type character who, in order to try to regain his notoriety in the entertainment world, decides to bring a cataleptic vegetable of a young waif with him to various “famous” dinner and party events, merely to get his face in the papers again.
He would end up, of course, falling in love with the girl (à la those cliché She’s All That type films).
Suddenly, his cruel/selfish social experiment would backfire on him, and he would be engaged in a tantalizing love affair with a young girl who can’t even move, talk, or blink.
The character would need to defend his actions to the press, and an entirely existential exegesis on modern love and breaking taboos in contemporary society would align throughout the rest of the novel with the graphic, sexual intimacy of his affair in entirely new and particularly ribald ways readers probably still haven’t seen before.
Well, I knew that to do a book like that “correctly,” I would have to be at the top of my game, rather like the film/book on Jesus I hope to write one day. You can’t get away with writing something like that – even (perhaps more so) in the allegedly uninhibited realm of erotica – unless it’s really fucking good. And I just didn’t think I was up for that brand of perfection yet.
But, I knew I wanted to write something for the genre (I’m very impatient), and thus I took this raffish concept and twisted it a bit into something with a bit more precedence. Seven Year Itch meets Lolita. OK. There we go…
I began scribbling in my pocket journal and concurrently ended up blogging about the Telluride Film Festival for the daily newspaper in Boulder.
While re-reading Lolita and reading Nabokov’s profoundly bowdlerized script for Kubrick’s adaptation, I kept happening upon Telluridians who couldn’t help but tell me, “You know Nabokov wrote Lolita while he was here, don’t you?” I didn’t, but everyone kept letting me know, pointing out the various spots where he finished the thing.
Weirdly coincidental? Providence? Serendipity? I’d like to think so. Particularly as the original title of Rag Doll was to be Nymphet, though I never liked it much because a friend of mine (more of a mentor, really) had suggested that for once I try not to make any pop culture references when writing my new literary machination, and I wanted to do all I could to ascribe to this philosophy.
The most ironic thing of all was that while I was enjoying myself in the bucolic haven of Telluride and taking in a few of the films amidst the initial stages of developing Rag Doll, I ended up heading back down from the mountaintop on a gondola and saw that a decidedly intoxicating young blonde was awaiting a gondola as well.
I was grossly tempted by the angelic swain – oh, and Telluride during the late summer makes for some of the most splendid lighting one could hope for, adding to my Jewish guilt about the girl – and did all I could to look away from her, especially as she was barely wearing any clothes (or makeup, for that matter). Her delightfully honey-baked legs would end up haunting me for the gondola ride down the mountain, as she did indeed end up in the same gondola as I…and began talking to me as though I were a real person (legs naively spread out across the bench to her left as she faced me doing all I could to look down at my shoes).
Turns out she was an art student, of all things, and a prodigy-professional at that. I didn’t end up asking her age, but she was definitely too young to consider sexually. Nevertheless, our fifteen minutes down the mountain in which we discussed art and commerce in America today stuck with me throughout the duration of my time in town.
There was never a shred of this experience in my novel (even the ambiguously young prostitute at the end of the book is based instead on an actual bartender I know in Boulder who is most assuredly not underage even though she assuredly looks it), but I couldn’t help but feel that as Lolita had been enveloping me throughout my time at Telluride, this was the scene’s most here-and-now/in-my-face/life-imitates-art coda.
I don’t know if what I produced with Rag Doll will have the same staying power as Lolita, though I do believe that as a lurid, underground samizdat, it could definitely succeed in some of that regard. I don’t know if its craft is comparable to that book or to a film that showed at Telluride, by another coincidence: Steve McQueen’s Shame, which might be one of the finest films of the decade and also – by a strange possible coincidence – would go on to gain the kind of Lolita-esque cachet of being an award-winning film with an NC-17 rating (the film followed me around the entire festival, as well, and though I didn’t have the time to see it, its plot seemed, again, eerily familiar to Rag Doll; when I would see it a few months later, it would be one of the only movies I’ve ever watched that caused me to break out into tears… twice).
But, I do hope people will at least give it a looksy. Especially Sasha Grey, Slavoj Zizek, Lars von Trier, and Fiona Apple. Now how’s that for pop culture references, fucker?!
One transformative evening, sociopathic loner Oliver Maxwell discovers an unconscious street-girl lying in an alleyway. Inspired by his amorphous sense of right and wrong, he decides to take the sleeping rag-doll back to his apartment where he intends to nurse her back to life. Overcome with an insubordinate erection, Oliver must do everything he can to distract himself from taking advantage of the helpless girl. This overwhelming lust leads Oliver on increasingly depraved erotic adventures with numerous women, each one more perverse than he. Will the sender of the cryptic text messages (I know what ur doing) or his nosy neighbor lead to his ultimate undoing?
Includes: masturbation to cartoon characters, depictions of German pornography, a sleeping beauty who is not Snow White and a very Grumpy (disturbed) sociopath, a filthy and sticky MFF threesome, an oral-sex-loving Osh-Kosh B’Gosh-wearing hippy-chick (who smells of piquant celery soda and dirt), an interlude with a drunk girl who has Polio, gum-drop-nipple burlesque dancers on drugs, gleeful golden showers, erotic asphyxiation in a wintery cold lake, wabi sabi, a very nosy neighbor…and much more.
*WARNING* This content will offend and horrify most sane readers with its gripping, well-written, and boundary-pushing depictions of sociopathic sexuality and depraved activities. Read at your own risk.
Mathew Klickstein is the writer of Sony Pictures’ Against the Dark starring Steven Seagal; co-creator of National Lampoon’s Collegetown, USA; and Editor-In-Chief emeritus of Entertainment Today, Southern California’s oldest free-weekly paper. He has contributed articles and short stories to numerous publications throughout the country, and has seen two of his novellas published: Daisy Goes to the Moon and Back to Hollywood, as well as My Dog Forgot How to Read, his talking eBook for children. His rockumentary Act Your Age: The Kids of Widney High Story – chronicling the world-famous “disabled rock band” from East LA – continues to screen throughout the nation and in the United Kingdom.