BEF 2011/27 – Sex for Fridge [Georgia]

08/07/2011

In all ages of man there have been women who treated their bodies as currency, and men of all ages have been only too willing to treat the vagina as a purse of bottomless bounty.  Social standing, personal favours, pay rises, material goods – there’s nothing that can’t be purchased with a wink, a flash of skin, and a taste of sin.  Albert Karbelashvili has a fridge to sell, and Zhuzhuna’s in the market for one.  Zhuzhuna is a woman of easy morals à la those described above.  Normally, trading sex for gain works because the buyer is so sexually attractive that the value of her money is superseded by the promise of her body, or the seller is so desperately lonely that his desire to have sex trumps all sense.  Neither of these scenarios apply in ‘Sex for Fridge,’ a story of just such a transaction, a disappointing comedy of uneven results.

If some women who offer their bodies as tender are bullion and jewels, Zhuzhuna is a tough old sack of dirty coins.

Albert didn’t like the sight of naked Zhuzhuna.  When dressed, she had seemed tall, plump, somehow appetizing.  When she removed her clothes, she just sagged.  He also caught sight of a big sanitary pad when she undressed.  Yes, this woman was large and very unhealthy…there was a strong smell of feet.

After they have done their business, in one of the funnier moments of the piece, Zhuzhuna “stroke[s] his head, not caressing him so much as consoling him.”  As well she should, for their romp was an awful, onanistic ordeal, an amorous wrestling in which Albert was at every moment dominated by Zhuzhuna.

Zhuzhuna kissed Albert vigorously.  There was no emotion in her kissing – she was simply wiping his face with her wet lips while brushing his hand against her body as if reapplying soap after rinsing.  Thus did Albert reach what would have to be defined, in medical terms, as orgasm.

Author Zurab Lezhava makes all the right moves, and a few mistakes besides.  He handles a weak physical comedy, particularly in the contrasting conflicting physiques of Albert and Zhuzhuna, the one with “frankfurter-like fingers, large feet, skinny legs,” and the other a “tall, hefty, red-cheeked woman with a big head.”  The image we have of the pair naked in bed together is grotesque and pathetic enough to be comical, but revealing that Zhuzhuna is menstruating submerges the comedy of their intimacy beneath a swell of revulsion.  Furthermore, Zhuzhuna’s manipulation of Albert into sleeping with her as payment for the fridge should have been the spring on which the comedy relied.  Lezhava is careful in maintaining an ironic distance between the reader and Albert – Albert believes it is he himself who suggest that they sleep together – but Albert’s motivation is not convincingly real.  Rather than rely on her looks (she is often likened to a horse) Zhuzhuna takes a moral approach and convinces him that her scoundrel of a husband needs to be punished for his gambling and philandering.  Albert’s suggestion results in the disaster described above.  That the lash reserved for the husband flogs instead the lover is a source of comedy, yes, but it doesn’t vindicate Lezhava’s failure to lay the groundwork to make Albert’s choice appear as one guided by his own morality.  The adoption of his plan is too sudden to look like anything but the clumsy and sudden appearance of the author.  And so the spring is never compressed, and when released the joke falls flat.

‘Sex for Fridge’ desperately wants to be funnier than it actually is.  To be sure, it provides some laughs, but not enough to fill its sails with wind and it coasts along on too even a keel, making not splash nor ripple on the smooth waters of mediocrity.

‘Sex for Fridge’ is translated from Georgian by Victoria Field and Natalia Bukia Peters.

This is a review of a story from Best European Fiction 2011, an anthology edited by Aleksandar Hemon and published by Dalkey Archive Press.  There will appear on this website each Friday just such a review until the entire book is done.

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