The central characters in Susan Minot's Rapture, Benjamin Young and his lover Kay Bailey, are engaged in the act of fellatio throughout the course of this intelligently paced novel. Centrifugal and centripetal forces are at work (and play) between the minds and erogenous zones of these lovers, and the narrative dialogue that ensues creates a comforting distance between partners and readers.
Consider the opening of Rapture, which establishes the note of passivity during passion: "He lay back like the ambushed dead, arms flung down at his sides, legs splayed out and feet sticking up, naked. He lay in the familiar bed against the familiar pillows he'd not seen in over a year." The third-person pronoun distances the reader (and protagonist) in this intimate situation, which could almost be that of a patient undergoing surgery. The cool parallelisms and sabbatical leave from the sexual setting add to the neutrality of Rapture. Minot constantly reminds us of the proximity of sex and death, traditional literary bedmates. "Eyes closed, face slack, he might have been dead save for the figure also naked embracing his lower body and swiveling her head in a sensual way."
While attention seems to be focused on Kay's pleasuring of Benjamin, we instead follow the characters' wandering thoughts in a Proustian remembrance of the past, including Benjamin's fiancTe Vanessa. In the midst of rising passion, a distancing aside or simile pulls Kay back from the brink: "For an instant she felt the absurdity of sex like a wink from a wise man standing in the corner." Voyeurism is mixed with irony to temper any ardor and keep the narrative on an intelligent plain or battlefield. "Then she saw herself and him as two soldiers, survivors on a battlefield, too exhausted even to moan, united by the fact that they'd both gone through the barrage and both were miraculously still breathing."
Breathing lessons form part of the dialogue between lovers and readers amidst a backdrop of external sights and sounds. Emotional and narrative systole and diastole reflect the metamorphoses of genitalia: "Sometimes being far from the person's face, she got a sort of alienated feeling. But at other times, like now, she felt minutely close to him, close to a crucial part of him."
As we approach the climax or anti-climax of the novel, we move through the American landscape from Grand Central Station to the Grand Canyon. The worship of Priapus accompanies an effort at transcendence: "It was coming together now and that's all that she could count onà. And at the moment she was feeling what surely must be the best feeling there was. Rapture. She was creeping slowly to the center of herself. He was the bridge she took to get there."
In the midst of fulfillment an empty feeling takes over both lovers, but the final section introduces the note and notion of the Sublime. Benjamin remembers a trip to the Grand Canyon. He descends into the canyon: "It was like God was down there," but soon the landscape seems empty. The novel concludes with this sad rapture, where even the most heightened experiences have their letdowns. Minot knows the ins and outs, ups and downs of rapturous rituals. ̣