Last night I devoured David Carkeet's Campus Sexpot
, a narrow-gauge work of autobiography with a donnée to die for: when the author was fifteen, a former teacher at his high school published a potboiler with the identical title. This caused a scandal among the citizenry of sleepy Sonoroa, California, many of whom recognized thinly-disguised versions of themselves among the dramatis personae. It also jump-started Carkeet's education as a sexual being (although he bowed to his mother's wishes by tossing the book in the incinerator) and a writer (ditto). He makes no great claims for the literary merits of this rather quaint specimen of early-Sixties porn: quite the opposite. Yet it still does play a talismanic role for him:
I confess that the good parts work a certain magic on me, but only in a roundabout way, through a historical path where I become a young teenager and understand sex as I understood it at that age. When I read the book now, its verbal avoidance of body parts with which I am actually familiar returns them to a thrilling condition of mystery. I don't have to make an effort to enter this frame of mind. Instead, the words in Campus Sexpot that lead up to a saucy scene fire ancient neurons, and before I know it, I am transported into a state of salacious ignorance.
This isn't really a book about sex, of course. In a sense, it's about the slow, steady, mortifying accumulation of worldliness. (Perhaps it should have been called Speak, Puberty
.) But Carkeet has also produced a comical hologram of small-town life, where the atmosphere of relative innocence is presided over by the local magistrate, who happens to be Carkeet's father. His verdict on his adult son? "You're a good boy," he tells him on the final page, and the good boy has written a very