The Dirty One
Disgusting, Beautiful, Immoral
by Guy New York
I´ve read a considerable number of the erotic writing by Guy New York over the years, from short stories to his novellas (to read my review last year of The Yes Rule, please go here). But this is the first time I got to dive into one of his two full-length novels, Disgusting, Beautiful, Immoral, which he describes on his website as "the dirty one" (his first, The Island on the Edge of Normal, is apparently "the sweeter one").
Written over the course of two weeks, Disgusting, Beautiful, Immoral reads like a kind of filthy fever dream. Readers familiar with Guy New York´s work will recognize the kinds of characters, themes, and sex that permeates his erotic art. When writing in a short form, sex is immediate, urgent, and dirty, such as the "quickies" he publishes by subscription on Substack; as well as frequently dark and pushing to the edge of what is considered acceptable (in addition to The Yes Rule, a good example is his brilliant "The Ortolan Hunters"). Short and sweet (or dirty, as the case may be) is all fine and good, but GNY excels when he has a longer form to work within. I mean, a novel is about ten times longer than one of his short stories; what an obscene gift!
In a way, Disgusting, Beautiful, Immoral is a historical piece. Set in 1999 in a pre-social media downtown Manhattan that no longer exists, the action unfolds over the final six months before the new millennium. Anxiety over the impending catastrophes which will result from Y2K hover over the consciences of the novel´s characters, who are directionless, restless, and inarticulate. These young men and women seek some kind of connection or release, and frequently find both in lots of booze, and lots of sex. And I mean, a lot of sex.
In the opening chapter, we meet Thomas, a recent college graduate who is driving cross-country from Indiana to New York City. His car is cluttered with his belongings, while his head is cluttered with wanting to leave behind some guilt and shame over his last intimate relationship, the specifics of which will unfold later on in the book. He parks in front of a building in Greenwich Village and buzzes the apartment of his friend Jane. A few glasses of wine and half dozen cigarettes later, they are in bed, their sex filthy, hot, and desperate. Even within their FWB relationship, the sole boundary Jane enforces seems to be "no anal sex." Afterwards, sweaty and smoking more, the two lounge on the bed of her studio, attempting to learn more about his next steps. Thomas doesn´t have a real plan: he drove back to the city without a job or even a place to live. Jane invites him to come back later, after she comes home from a date with her boyfriend.
Restless and wanting to kill time, Thomas goes to a bar in the East Village, where he runs into old friends (Doc Holliday´s and the Blue & Gold make frequent appearances in the book). Invited to a party at a nearby apartment, he first encounters Kelly, a petite woman in her early twenties who looks like she´s in her teens; she works at a karaoke bar, never wears underwear, and within minutes of meeting Thomas wants him to talk dirty to her about his college relationship, which involved bondage and role-playing non-consensual sex.
Disgusting, Beautiful, Immoral descends deeper into the darker sides of desire from there, over the course of more than 300 pages. Each chapter contains at least one sex scene, and some may be discomforting for readers not already interested in Guy New York´s work. Thomas and Kelly soon role-play a Daddy/Babygirl fantasy, have sex in public places, and explore group play with their friends at a party. Some of their recurring sexual activity involves Maddie, the younger sister of another friend of Thomas´, visiting New York to look at universities and determined to use her barely-eighteen charm to essentially lose her virginity to him and his girlfriend Kelly. The other is Brent, one of Thomas´ oldest friends, who starts to feel tender feelings of affection towards him, after experiencing a spontaneous threesome with Kelly. The dynamics of this relationship are fascinating and complicated, as well as some of the most engaging for me. As a bisexual man, I particularly appreciated how Thomas´ relationship with Kelly and Brent transforms in these later chapters.
Unlike a lot of other contemporary erotic fiction, Guy New York´s characters fumble their way in and out of bed. They remind me of the fictional worlds of Less Than Zero or Bright Lights, Big City, but with way more sex: the prose is minimal and direct, with dialogue that sounds believable for how it skates along the surface, putting up a facade of being content when beneath there is a constant pulse of low-grade despair. There´s an emotional clumsiness to how these characters stumble through their lives which makes them more believable than most of the folks populating erotic fiction: many of these men and women are wracked with guilt, doubt, and self-loathing. Sometimes Thomas and others get close to the root causes of why they feel so lost and directionless, but generally, they remain inarticulate, alone, confused. It´s as if none of them can quite figure out or put it into words, what the problem is. For them, their solution and their means of connecting are worked it out through booze, drugs, and sex. The people populating Disgusting, Beautiful, Immoral form a kind of hyper-eroticized Lost Generation, but far darker, more bleak.
In his best erotic work, Guy New York pushes his readers to the edge. His themes and situations tend to be rougher, messier, than other writers that may approach the same topics or themes. For example, when Disgusting, Beautiful, Immoral explores ENM and polyamory, these chapters are not meant to be prescriptive for readers interested in exploring this kind of kink with their partner. Thomas, Brent, and Kelly fight, have poor communication, are contradictory, and are often unclear about what they want. Like his other characters, Guy New York refuses to have them already have all the answers in advance, to tie everything up into a neat little bow. Instead, he is aiming for a realism which is dirtier, harsher, more complicated. Which, for me, is far more interesting and believable, as well as sexy as fuck.
The novel is not for everyone, but then again, neither is Guy New York´s work as a whole. But for those of us interested in long-form erotic fiction which is a little edgier, a little more rough, Disgusting, Beautiful, Immoral more than lives up to the promise contained in its title.