X-Rated: A Novel of Manners
thesisposted on 24.10.2013, 00:00 by Cynthia Cravens
X-Rated: A Novel of Manners is a social novel set in 2005 depicting the antagonism between an aging father and his ambitious daughter. Their reunion after a ten-year estrangement takes place on an affluent island off the coast of New England, in a community embroiled in a subtle class struggle between the “haves” and the “have-mores.” While the “X-rated” in the title refers to the major themes of the debate around pornography which structure the father-daughter narrative, the “manners” indicates that the primary concern of this novel is the dynamic between family and society. As a retired X-rated filmmaker, seventy-year old Seth Scott struggles to restore the cultural relevance he earned thirty years ago as the premiere auteur of the Golden Age of Porn. He nostalgizes the “art form” that he and a handful of other male directors inducted in the Seventies and sets out to write a memoir in defense of the aesthetics of porn to remind America of the revolution he instigated. Unfortunately, as his literary agent informs him, he is no longer the icon he once was—not only has pornography changed, but the topicality of it as a memoir is outdated. For this, what he believes will be his final masterpiece, he needs to regain the public’s interest. The unexpected arrival of his daughter Colette interrupts his plans, however. Unbeknownst to Seth, Colette has returned in an effort to instigate her own revolution as a pornographic filmmaker—in Eastern Europe. Knowing that a “have-more” has built a house next door to her father’s, she intends to solicit financial backing to launch her project. Complicating this matter is Colette’s inability to determine what her own vision looks like—what her directorial “gaze” is as both a woman and a distinct entity from her father. The novel alternates between Seth, Colette and other major characters through the limited third person perspective. Subplots including a sixteen-year-old’s brash coming-of-age and an eager reporter’s determination to expose the class warfare brewing under the surface flesh out the primary storyline and explain the social backdrop. Ultimately, as a novel of manners, this story portrays the clash between tradition and modernization in a variety of ways: socially—between old money and new money; artistically—between the Golden Age of film and the mass production of it; culturally—between a young girl’s coming of age and an old man’s loss of virility; and familially—between a father jumpstarting his waning legacy and a daughter initiating her own.