Sex, Lies, and Sleeping Aids: 'Scary Old Sex'

On the whole, Heyman definitely has a sharp, witty take on heterosexual relations and is attuned to the comedy inherent in the act itself.

Scary Old Sex

Publisher: Bloomsbury
Length: 240 pages
Author: Arlene Heyman
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2016-03

Scary Old Sex is an unfortunate title to be saddled with for a book of realist short stories about heterosexual relationships and desire, death, illness, and aging. To me, it conjured up a vision of a summer blockbuster by Judd Apatow (starring Adam Sandler), featuring one terrible gag after another involving elderly people trying to have sex in toilets and a nonstop volley of poop and shit jokes.

As it turns out, Arlene Heyman is not too far from Apatovian territory. It's to be expected, perhaps, that a 70-something psychoanalyst would be far from priggish regarding matters of sex and shit. These stories are redolent with the odours of elderly people’s weakening bowels and the recurring visions of their loosening skin. Pubic hair is not as lush as it once was; for example, Marianne in the collection’s first story, “The Loves of Her Life”, wonders: “Where was that thick bush of yesteryear?” It was a joy -- a small one, yes, but nevertheless a real one -- to read about a heterosexual woman missing the lushness of the her bush in its prime instead of agonising over how to prune it in order to appear fuckable to yet another disinterested millennial male with an insistent hard-on.

These are not shy, retiring wallflowers, these women who populate these stories. Neither are they particularly sad, grumpy, or disillusioned. It’s refreshing to be in a fictional world where older women are not only having sex, but ripe with desire for it; ripe with desire for the muck and the mess and the ugliness of it, still burning with longing for their aging husbands, like the character in the final story: “It’s been weeks, probably more than two, since she’s felt his balls, held that saggy bag of fruit in her hand, taken him in her mouth. She feels that dull ache again, low down in her.” The curiosity of the reader is perhaps piqued in relation to just how long Heyman can sustain a reader’s interest based on this aspect of novelty alone; the answer is: not long.

From start to finish, we are mostly in the land of still-desirable, attractive straight women. They are fine-boned and slender (still), and they exude an air of chic grace and understated glamour. Perhaps the plainest character of them all, Marilyn in “At the Happy Isles”, is 68 and alone after her lover’s death -- she’s the one character who isn’t noticeably having a lot of sex, but is instead cleaning up her 90-plus mother’s shit in the toilet, and sneaking in sips of alcohol throughout lunch at the assisted-living facility where her mother lives. “At age sixty-eight, shouldn’t she already know she can do what she damn pleases?” she wonders, and Heyman’s bittersweet story, full of female body horror of the mature kind, suggests that growing older doesn’t really solve any of the existential questions.

Many of these stories are laugh out loud funny, but Heyman’s writing is so doggedly realistic and attentive to the smallest of details in a way that renders these lives banal and ordinary. Because of this, around the middle of the book, the style begins to wear off into a buzz of tedium.

In the story “Dancing”, there were poignant descriptions of a wife caring for her husband through the last, brutal days of his cancer, and these moments were interspersed with the events of September 11, 2001 in New York. The death of a certain privileged and largely comfortable white New York way of life is unsuccessfully juxtaposed with the death of the husband, and this symbolism feels awkward, even opportunistic, despite the tenderness with which Heyman sketches out their relationship.

Their teenage son’s casual rage at seeing the plane hit the towers, for example, is weird, knowing that as he is experiencing it, it’s unlikely that he will be parsing the events in a logical sequence in order to understand the intent behind the actions of the people who crashed the plane into the buildings. Still, in the flat, affectless tone that Heyman chose to depict the interiority of the teenage boy, he tells us that he feels “frightened and enraged”, and a moment of casual racism involving the term “sand niggers” is simply presented as it is, among American high school students, without any sort of countervailing point of view within the narrative. Instead, the story of collective grief is then individualised and made private within the realm of the bourgeois nuclear family, and the initial racism of the high school students is left to uncomfortably stand for something, as though Muslims will have no choice but to carry the burden of blame since white people -- the people Heyman writes about -- are suffering.

In a similar way, the wife in the final story, “Nothing Human”, is on a tour of Europe with her husband. Being Jewish, she has plenty of questions about how history played out in the German towns they visit, but she finds her tour guides evasive. Her thoughts about the Jewish question in Europe are also interiorised, leading to no specific intellectual or moral arguments within the story. Her thoughts wander in this way: “Maybe it is an out-of-date concern, unfashionable, shows her age, like wearing one of those fox pelts around your neck with feet attached and full face teeth ...”

As she thinks about her stepson, who reminds her that other atrocities have taken place, as well, she lapses into another thought: “She did not do the math to show that all the other genocides put together ... No, she refused to enter the genocide contest”. This refusal to enter the genocide contest is not so much the problem, one senses, than a particularly insular American viewpoint that privileges the commemoration and honour of one genocide as the most serious one of all. Abruptly, the character is back to wondering about her relationship with her husband. This, along with the 9/11 story, also brings up political ideas only to subsume them to the individual’s private sexual neuroses.

In the story “Artifact”, second-generation feminist principles surrounding the white female character’s struggles in her profession provides the ideological framework for the character’s dissatisfaction with her career prospects; she finds it impossible to advance in her department even after a favoured African graduate student returns home and is found hanged, after “a coup occurred in a small central African country she had never heard of”. At no point does it bother the character, Lottie, who is focused and devoted to her job, that she has reached such an advanced level of expertise in her field that whole African countries are beneath her notice; it only matters that even African men get more opportunities in America than white American women! Or so that’s the fleeting impression one is left with after that fleeting reference to dead Africans due to political instability in one of the many African countries that no serious, career-climbing American woman has to think about much.

The most autobiographical of all the stories, “In Love With Murray”, features a younger woman with a much older man and is dedicated to Bernard Malamud, with whom Heyman had an affair with in the '60s when she was 19 and he 47. It’s a sweet, moving, captivating story of love and devotion across the generations, and the costs the younger woman has to bear as muse and (struggling) artist to his well-known, successful career. It’s quite possibly my favourite story in this collection.

On the whole, Heyman definitely has a sharp, witty take on heterosexual relations and is attuned to the comedy inherent in the act itself. It’s necessary that the sexuality of older women is given due and loving attention (even if it is solely heterosexual in this case, and involves mainly still-attractive women who consider their looks a personal point of pride).

Still, there are only so many stories about this topic that one can take before hoping for something with a little more substance to hold onto, so to speak, than a character’s quips about her aging husband’s body. Heyman’s commitment to realism within the short story form combined with the spatial focus on New York and the often insular American point of view of her characters renders the second half of the book largely uninteresting, tepid, and flat. A title like this for a book will either intrigue a reader or turn her off. Too bad the stories don’t really live up to the promise of either attraction or repulsion; these are polished, well-written and stylistically demure and well-behaved stories, and one can only consider them groundbreaking if people still find it shocking that, yes, older people have sex too.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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