Monday, April 2, 2012

Gross Things in Books

The other day I went to the doctor for something that was going on on one of my toes. I thought it was some wart or fungal thing, as the toe is swollen and red. So off comes my shoe and sock and the doc leaned down to have a look and touch it, and I froze in horror. "You might want to put on a glove!" I said. Almost as an afterthought--or to placate me--he put one on. He was seriously going to touch that toe with God knows what leprosy or other horror of a mutant fungal swamp parasite affliction with a bare finger! I couldn't believe it.

So he said, "Looks like an ingrown toenail." And takes off the gloves, types some notes up, and then--then!--touches the toe again, without the glove! I mean!! I stared at him, thankful I never wanted to be a doctor. Can you imagine the level of disgusting things you must bend over and look at, and touch? My little red ingrown toenail, which may or may not actually be an ingrown toenail, and in fact may very well be the starting point of an international plague, was hardly the grossest thing to come in his office I'm sure. But honestly.

Naturally, it got me thinking. We never read these disgusting details in books. If my doctor's office visit were in a book, it would have been all: "'Hi Sierra, let's have a looky-loo at that toe, my my my looks like an ingrown toenail,' said the brave doctor, using his thumb and forefinger to turn the toe this way and that to have a good look. Then he stood up, typed some notes, drank a glass of water, scratched his chin, wiped at his eye with his finger, and shook my hand goodbye."

No, no, no.

Look, no one wants to write about gross details, and probably no one wants to read them. No where was this more clear than when I was recently reading Roni Loren's debut novel, Crash Into You. Roni writes erotic fiction and I confess I've only read two other books in that genre (incidentally, both recommendations from her). But one thing that strikes me about the steamy sex scenes, including the ones in Roni's book, is that the ladies are a) never dirty or smelly (or if they are, the guys don't mind it), and b) never on their periods. If they are, I guess the story takes a break. It must be a veritable sex-fest when the heroine isn't menstruating.

(Important disclaimer before we go on. I am not asking for menstruation sex scenes. Repeat: not. Just saying, though, that it never comes up.)

It's kind of like when I read Twilight and Edward was constantly slavering over Bella and going "Arrgh I can smell your blood from ten miles away!" and every time he said that, I thought, mein Gott! What happens when Bella's on her period? How can Edward stand it? Pretty much she'll have to go far, far away from him for a good week out of every month! How's he going to protect her from the aggro angry vampires when she's on her period?

Exactly. Another mystery never solved.

You ever run across any gross details in books? Tell me! I'll get them on my reading list. :)


Kathryn said...

I've thought the same thing before about doctors and have come to the conclusion that most of them are probably desensitized to everything we normal folks would call "ew." I'm glad I'm not a doctor.

Teri Anne Stanley said...

Yeah. I think about that stuff, too. Romance has very convenient timing.

Steven J. Wangsness said...

There's a particularly gross -- and to my mind completely unneceesry -- episode of coprophilia in Gravity's Rainbow that, alas, I did not see coming and thus, to my ever-lasting regret, read.

Malin said...

I think the book was called "Elixir" (or was it the Relic novel?) - either way, there's a scene in the jungle and the feet are described as being so wet all the time that the skin goes white and peels off. GROSS.

Btw, one of the CSI shows has a murder suspect blaming the blood in his bed on having slept with the girl while she was on her period. And in Janet Evanovich, both Morelli and Ranger tries to score with Stephanie while she refuses because she's on her period. Does the fact that I remember these things make me a little creepy?

Xan said...

Lol! Brilliant post. I was wondering the same thing with the Twilight books. Anne Rice tackles this topic with surprisingly/alarmingly gory details in her Vampire Chronicles, never shying away from what others might consider gross.

I'm all for detail and realism in books, but I think the ick-factor shouldn't be gratuitous.

Diane Henders said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks about these things! In my books, people occasionally need to pee. Sometimes they belch and fart, and when they don't get a chance to shower for a few days, they develop body odour. What a surprise.

How sexy is it to jump a guy who's been living out of a car without a chance to shower for a few days? Eh... not so much...

Sierra Godfrey said...

Kathryn, I agree-they must be desensitized! They do have to study corpses in med school anyway. Reason #167 why I couldn't be a doctor.

Teri Anne, convenient indeed :)

Steven, well now you've intrigued me. I'm never reading Gravity's Rainbow so will you email me and tell me? :) It is as bad as Filth by Irvine Welsh, a book that I wish I had never read (from cover to cover mind you) but in some ways am glad I did (not sure what those ways are)?

Malin, woah! I love it. Thanks for the examples.

Xan, thank you! I don't remember the bits in the Anne Rice books. I don't remember them being overly gross. What were they?

Diane, I counted on YOU thinking of these things! Your guy in a car example is disgusting and you would NEVER find my characters in such a state and then expecting to get lovin'. NEVER. The closest I came was the guy arrives at the girl's house and he's looking ragged and hadn't showered in a day, but they took a shower first. Maybe I should make them not shower.

Roni Loren said...

LOL, never in my life did I think I'd be mentioned in a post about ingrown toenails and periods. :)

I think it's true in most books that we gloss over those things. I mean, who wants to read about someone pooping? Periods fall under that category too. I'll just choose to believe my heroine's are on that pill that you don't get a period but every 6 months, lol.

Meghan Ward said...

The most disturbing graphic details I've come across in a book were in American Psycho. Hated that book. Don't think I read the whole thing - just parts because I was writing a paper about it. This stuff was slice-breasts-off-ladies gross, though, not ingrown toenail gross. HATED it.

Sierra Gardner said...

I'm always curious where to draw the line between reality and the ick factor. The two books that came to mind when I thought about having realistic (if not super gross) details were The Almost Moon by Alice Sebold and Get Well Soon by Julie Halpern. They are really different books but both had female characters with - you know - normal reactions.

On the other hand, some things I just don't want to see or read. Sometimes those mental images just won't go away...

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