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Arts Post
Posted at 09:06 AM ET, 08/11/2012

Language that lifts and separates


John Irving's most recent novel, "In One Person." (Courtesy of Knopf)
I’ve been thinking about women’s breasts lately. This is a professional reflection.

A few months ago, I was reviewing John Irving’s “In One Person,” which opens with the narrator’s hilarious fixation on a librarian’s bosom. As I noted in my review, I haven’t read anything quite so obsessed with a breast since Philip Roth’s narrator became one.

Then last week we were editing a review of a pair of new books about Marilyn Monroe. Our reviewer, Mindy Aloff, wrote, “They were beautiful, and, although nowhere near as large as, say, Marie Wilson’s, they did something unusual: The muscles beneath them gave them an upward tilt that seemed almost anti-gravitational.”

Given our recently tightened taste standards at The Post, we wondered if such a description could squeeze by the copy desk. (It did.)

Then, this weekend, I ran across a busty line in an upcoming novel by Jonathan Evison called “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving.” While watching the Weather Channel, his narrator remarks on the physiology of the meteorologist: “Her pendulous breasts are packed into her blazer like a pair of baby pandas.”

I’ve seen a baby panda at the National Zoo, but this is not a simile that helps me much. Still, it took me back more than a decade to my time as the book critic for the Christian Science Monitor. In a review of Garrison Keillor’s “Lake Wobegon Summer 1956,” I quoted the young narrator saying, “Her breasts are like two friendly otters.”

It was the only time in my seven years at the Monitor that the Christian Science Church, which owns the paper, objected to anything I wrote. The chairman of the board sent a short note down from his office on the top floor of the administration building. He told my editor that he did not want to see the phrase “breasts like friendly otters” again in the pages of the Christian Science Monitor.

And he never did. Cross my heart.

Charles is The Post’s fiction editor. You can follow him on Twitter @RonCharles

By  |  09:06 AM ET, 08/11/2012

Tags:  books

 
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