Beth Ann Bauman writes about women and girls with humor, grace, insight, and unflinching honesty. Her three books mostly take place at the Jersey shore, where we meet a diverse cast of compelling female characters. Beth’s latest novel, Jersey Angel, is about 17-year-old Angel Cassonetti, who is so spot-on that it’s hard to believe she doesn’t really exist. Jersey Angel received high praise from the New York Times, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and other publications. Here are six sex questions for the irrepressible Beth Ann Bauman….
In Jersey Angel, 17-year-old Angel Cassonetti openly seeks out sex for the simple pleasure and joy of it. What has the reader/reviewer response been to Angel’s very frank relationship with her sexuality?
Oh, man. Many teen readers are scandalized by Angel. They think the book is raunchy. They hate the explicit sex and hate the word dick, apparently. The fact that Angel likes it rough makes them want to gag. What a ho, they say, what a skank. Really, I think? But it makes sense, I suppose. The book is primarily young adult, and there’s no precedent for a character like Angel. Promiscuous girls, girls who are unapologetically sexual, girls who have sex outside of romantic relationships, are almost always bad seeds in YA, so these younger readers are miffed about my character. Girls like Angel are supposed to be mean and stupid, but she’s neither, and some readers will begrudgingly acknowledge that. I’m glad to introduce a new kind of girl to the too-often-predictable YA landscape, even as it’s meant a rocky start for the book. Older readers, college aged and up, appreciate the book’s nuance, but many in the target audience just hate her. Angel is threatening.
Well, I loved her. And my sixteen-year old daughter loved the book and loved Angel, too!
Angel’s mother also maintains a very real relationship with sex. She goes off to have sex with her lover and doesn’t conceal this act from her kids. Do you think parents should be more open about their sex lives with their kids—would it make navigating sex and sexuality easier for adolescents if they saw how their parents managed it? (I suppose that question wrongly implies that parents, or adults, know how to manage it!)
Ha, right. Well, the thing is, most kids don’t want to know a dang thing about Mom and Dad’s sex lives. It’s just—Ew. Sure, they know Mom and Dad do it, but evidence to that fact is icky. I think you handle this notion beautifully and hilariously in The Summer of Naked Sex Parties, where Jamie is horrified by her hippie parents’ nakedness and sexual shenanigans.
And yet, girls need a truer connection to their sexuality. Boys can easily embrace their horniness. Our culture supports that, but girls are not taught that horniness is healthy and natural. Isn’t it a little shocking that a girl’s horniness is viewed as unseemly? Her libido is acceptable within the context of love and romance, but outside of this it’s plain threatening. Girls learn early on to keep it under wraps, because promiscuity is easily conflated with ho-dom. Girls are given many mixed messages about how to be, what to do, what not to do, which makes sexuality hard to navigate. Girls are taught to be furtive.
What do you think makes a good sex partner at any age?
Laughter and kindness and good hands. And for me, boyishness, meaning an open heart and adventurousness. It’s easy to become a bit bruised and wary as we age—life presses on all of us—but enthusiasm is the ultimate aphrodisiac.
Much of Jersey Angel takes place in summer and at the beach. Does weather and geography inspire or repress sex and sexuality?
Summer is sensual and, to me, the beach in particular—sun on bare skin, cool sea water, tasting salt on your lips. Mostly, though, I like the setting for itself, not for its sexual possibilities. While sex on the beach sounds all romantic and sexy, there’s sand to consider. Sand in your butt crack—not so hot.
How important do you think sex and sexuality is to character? Could you, or would you, ever write a character who didn’t at least think about sex?
We have a bone-deep basic need for one another, so it’s hard for me to imagine a character who at least doesn’t think about it.
Who do you think are the sexiest characters in fiction? Any you’d like to do it with?
I wish I could come up with a contemporary sexy male character, but my memory’s eluding me. Funny enough, I think someone wrote an article on the dearth of desirable males in recent fiction. I wonder if that’s true. In any case, I’ll have to dip into the past.
I wish these were more original but here goes: Mr. Darcy, for sure, and maybe Heathcliff.
Also, George Emerson in A Room with a View. He’s from the wrong side of the tracks, and the underdog always has my vote. He’s sure of what he wants, and in a memorable moment boldly plants a kiss on startled Lucy Honeychurch in a lilac field. Boldness is a definite turn on.
Rhett Butler. I love this good-hearted scoundrel for his smooth, honest wit. The man knows exactly who he is, doesn’t pretend otherwise, and is a romantic underneath it all. I can’t help but picture Clark Gable, and truth be told the shellacked hair and mustache kind of ruin the vision. Still, I’d like for him to throw me down on a couch.