In this provocative and haunting collection of short stories edited by Sarah Hall and Peter Hobbs — two masters of the form — a diverse group of contemporary writers probes the nature and connection between two of the most powerful, exhilarating, and terrifying forces that define and shape the human experience. Read the introduction, below, from Sex and Death, publishing on September 3rd, 2016, and available to order a week early at houseofanansi.com on August 27th:
What civil lives we lead. So mannered, so controlled. Everything tidy and safe, everything put in its place. How hard we try not to be frightened, not to let the mind and body misbehave, not to come undone. Look at us in our ties and our stockings, taking vitamins and buying prophylactics, arranging mortgages and emptying the bins, ameliorating, ordering. We’ve almost convinced ourselves.
But underneath, closer than we dare to think, is the reddish nature of humanity, the strong meat of our anatomy. The force that drives us on, generation after generation, the gust behind us we don’t want to feel but is always felt, moves us towards the edge. How we come in, and how we go out, sex and death: these are the governing drives, our two greatest themes. The humid embrace and the cold sweat. The weight of a coffin on the shoulder, the illicit kiss or la petite mort; the sting of intimately split flesh and the wonder of holding a tiny howling genetic machine in our arms. These are the moments we are left staring into the void, realising, rejoicing, or fucking it all up.
With its concentrated dosage, its os into the soul, and its existential insolvency, the short story form is the perfect vehicle for our ecstasies and agonies, for reminding us of what we already know but can’t quite reconcile – the cognitive dissonance of living and dying, the attempts at loving in between. By nature, the short story has immense power, as does the human imperative. That the two should meet seems inexorable, like gorgeous and terrible suitors, Eros and Thanatos in coitus behind closed doors.
Here, then, are twenty splendid adult versions of the truth, or the lie, however we might regard it, newly composed by some of the finest writers across the globe. Here are twenty stripped visions of the meaning of us, if we have any meaning at all. There is no hush-hush come-come, no literary analgesic or barrier salve for our most profound experiences. They move, elate, excruciate, and they arrive at the most unexpected times. In each story, there is no consolation or answer to be found, other than looking into the bare mirror of ourselves, the phenomenology of our shared and varied fates, the beauty of simply saying, ah, yes, here we are, or there we were.
Sarah Hall and Peter Hobbs
“What else is there?” — Alice Munro, on why so much of her work deals with the twin themes of sex and death.
The drive for life — for survival and reproduction — and the drive for death — for violence and self-destruction — are the two dominant, instinctive urges of human behaviour. These conflicting compulsions, characterized by Freud as Eros and Thanatos, are also the central themes of great literature. In Sex and Death, some of today’s most compelling writers from around the globe — Kevin Barry, Lynn Coady, Robert Drewe, Ceridwen Dovey, Damon Galgut, Petina Gappah, Sarah Hall, Peter Hobbs, Yiyun Li, Alexander MacLeod, Ben Marcus, Jon McGregor, Guadalupe Nettel, Courttia Newland, Taiye Selassie, Ali Smith, Wells Tower, Alan Warner, Claire Vaye Watkins, Clare Wigfall — explore these challenging themes with honesty, psychological acuity, brutality, tenderness, and empathy, in stories that are illuminating, disquieting, funny, and utterly dazzling.