THE INSIDERS, with its Ken-and-Barbie names and its absence of any of the usual elements of ficition (characterization, setting, motives, morality, style, plot, even the weather is hardly there) is not a novel at all, but something new: explicit pornography for women.
It's all here: the insatiability of the women (nothing turns them off except for one carefully manufactured incident), the tirelessness of the men, the moral inanity, the absolute lack of consequences (there is only one reference to contraception, and the characters emerge unscathed from physical ordeals that would send real people to the hospital), the escalation as the book progresses from homosexuality to dirty words to violence, the vagueness about people's ages (with the exception of one 17-year-old, and nobody is, God forbid, $ old ), and drifting around in all this the wrecked fragments of a conventional romance.
The phenomenon is new. Unfortunately you won't find evidence here that it's any kind of improvement. Not only is the book much less coherent than the older romances, but the extra-erotic props are of the most depressing sort. There is the standard female masochism (and the truth of masochism is hatred), the men's whining emotional dependency on the women, the women's appalling economic dependency on the men (all their jobs are a reward for putting out), the tremendous importance of looks, the women's jealous hatred of one another, and their pathetic inability to help one another or themselves. All of this is seen as the precondition of having sex at all.
More heartbreaking (because more human) are the book's spasmodic suggestions of its real-life model: the smalltown early high school crowd that has allowances, dates a lot, goes to school but doesn't work, has vaguely glamorous ideas of what television personalities do in big cities (which they'll do too when they grow up) and fantasizes like mad about sex. (The sex in The Insiders is unreal, from the prevalence of the missionary position to the absence of semen afterwards.) This eerily naive porn fantasy sometimes reverts directly to its real-life source; thus the heroine (inexplicably about to marry the man who led a gang-rape of her) muses "Such an unusual feeling, to have a guy of her own" and the cruel, wealthy hero-villain (the 10,000th reincarnation of Lord Byron) in a moment of deep despondency exclaims "What the heck." Elsewhere the text breathlessly informs us, "Stella wondered if Eve knew that she was the one who'd confided to David that Marti had once made love to Eve." There are times when Rosemary Rogers' latest resembles a 13-year-old's secret diary: "Gosh, I like George so much, but I like Bill too, and Howard's got the cutest eyes, but Joe is so romantic, and when Hank kissed me last night my stomach felt all fluttery. So which of them do I like?"
It may be some sort of social advance that women are allowed to buy and read explicit pornography, but the new stuff seems even more miserable than the old unexplicit romance. It's certainly less humane and infinitely worse written, in a style so dead that the author can say (without, apparently, hearing herself) thinkgs like "He'd [her father had] raised Cain when Eve had announced, after the years of parochial school that she was going to college." According to the book's inside cover, five more Rogers books are in print, containing (presumably) the same goodies: lots of orgasms, lots of money, dazzling beauty, glamor jobs which require no work, and even (on the last page) true love -- all within characterological constraints which make the attainment of any one of these totally impossible.
The Insiders glosses over its massive contradictions with magic words: thrust, violent, bitch, s --, love, cruel, come. But in real life hatred and pain are not magically transformable into love and pleasure. At one point in the book a vicious, crazy teenager (her "craziness" lies in wanting violent sex more than anything, just like the good heroine) is auctioned off at a swinging party; later we find out that her buyer is really a psychiatrist specializing in disturbed adolescents and that her seller knew this. In the real world, or a real novel, the second event would undercut the first or vice versa, but in Rogers' production the discovery makes it possible to enjoy the shock and the cozy safety without the consequences of either; nothing in The Insiders connects with anything else. As the heroine remarks about one of her more exploitative partners, "So what if he had his little quirks and perversions... after all, who didn't have hangups?"
In a world where perversions are horribly thrilling (because they are perversions) but also safe and trivial (because they are only quirks), it's possible to have your cake and eat it, too. In real life or real fiction it's not possible to leave home, like R. D. Laing's little boy, by running round and round the block because you're not allowed to cross the street. But tiis is exactly what The Insiders does. This world of Peter, David, Mark, Eve, Marti, Mim, Lisa, Rick, Brant, Francie, Kevin, and Gloria is no breakthrough but only the last, the smallest, and the saddest of prisons for "girls" (as the heroine and her friends call themselves) despite the lady on the cover with the tangerine-colored stomach.
One must, after all, cross that street.