The Mirror In The Well

BOOK REVIEW by Willard Manus

Lots of women have written about sex in a frank way--Anais Nin and Anne Carson, for example--but none so graphically as Michele Aharonian Marcom in her new novel, THE MIRROR IN THE WELL (Dalkey Archive Press). Marcom's unnamed heroine is a married woman with children who enters into an affair with an equally anonymous man whose ferocious sexual appetite changes her life, both in good and bad ways.

The man introduces her (at age 38) to oral sex. The pleasure transforms her, fills her (for the first time) with sexual satisfaction, then rapture and obsession. She risks everything to be with him, sometimes hating herself (and him) for her recklessness and abandon. But the sex is fantastic and she can't give it up, not even when her husband discovers the affair and threatens to dump her.

Although Marcom's sex scenes are raw and explicit, her book is no mere exercise in pornography. The author is too much of a poet and stylist for that, one who uses language in unique, mysterious ways, switching both male and female viewpoints throughout, often in the same sentence or paragraph. She also weaves her own authorial voice into the narrative, with original and striking results. Here is a sample of a typical Marcom paragraph:

"How can a book such as this one end? Will the girl and her lover marry and fight until they have died? Will the girl beg her husband to re-marry her and save her, finally, from the banshee which eats her stomach, throat and spine? Will the girl find other lovers, more men, and then later tell a story about this time when pain and the wounds of the lover, the husband, the cunt itself is a wound, delimited of all the days? The girl looks up from where she stands, she is still in the scene with her lover on the streets of her city, it is night and she cries in the street and in vain and he stands three paces away from her and he doesn't comfort her and she wonders how she has come to this moment, how their lovemaking on the floor of his workroom, those glorious eternal days, led them to this nightime almost two years later, and how to make sense of it, make sense of her life and give it meaning; how to pull out of the labyrinth into the labyrinth, make the girl into the queen and the lover into her king and their children are by their side and he has not killed her on the morn and she has seduced him with her stories and the dervishes and the djinn and the sailors have returned home to the beginning of the nights tonight."