Gael Greene has made a career out of flaunting sensuality. As restaurant reviewer for New York magazine, she puts her libido out there for all the world to see; not since Albert Finney and Joyce Redman sat down to dine in "Tom Jones" has the consumption of food been treated with such ostentatious eroticism--though in the movie it was done with humor, a quality most conspicuously lacking in Greene's writing. To read a Greene review of a restaurant, especially if it's a restaurant she adores, is to be subjected to a public display of appetites that are not limited to the dining table.
Ditto for her novels, of which "Doctor Love" is the second. Like its predecessor, "Blue Skies, No Candy," it is a dirty book, and proud to be one. That it has nothing in the way of wit or style, and precious little plot or characterization, probably is going to be beside the point for the many readers who are expected to make it a best-seller. You want thrills? Gael Greene will give you thrills. Cheap thrills.
Greene is not, of course, a novelist, save in the sense that Tom Tryon and Steve Allen and Christina Crawford are novelists: She is a celebrity, in her case a very minor one, who writes books that for lack of a more accurate term are called "novels," presumably because they have characters and settings and prose. They exist because she wrote them, not because they have any intrinsic merit or interest. She writes lusty, sexy restaurant reviews, so she's bound to write lusty, sexy novels. Right?
Wrong. "Doctor Love" is approximately as sexy as "No Bad Dogs: The Woodhouse Way." Less so, perhaps, since good dogs presumably have good sex lives. Barney Kincaid, M.D., "Doctor Love," does not. Oh, he has women, all right--heavens to Betsy, does he ever have women!--but he doesn't have love. He is 42 years old and he's just been scared within an inch of his life by a whanging, banging pain in his chest, and all of a sudden he realizes that life isn't just . . . well, this is a family newspaper.
Which means, among other things, that extended quotation from "Doctor Love" is quite out of the question. Barney Kincaid can only go a page or two, in his quest to revisit and reconquer all the women in his past before he succumbs to his inescapable mortality, without giving his libido a workout. When he does, we get all the details--all the details. If you think John Updike is clinical and monotonous in matters sexual, take a look at what Gael Greene can do; but be prepared to nod off.
That's the thing about dirty books: They're boring. Anyone who owns a set of private parts knows that they are not really all that interesting, but the writer of dirty novels does not understand this. The writer of dirty books describes private parts with a fineness of detail more suitable to an auto-repair manual or a guide to investing in pork bellies. No sense of pleasure or joy is conveyed; the novelist is just too busy identifying the parts and moving them about this way and that. The effect--instant stupefaction--is precisely the opposite of what was intended. Unless, that is, boredom is your bag and flat, cliche'd prose your elixir:
" 'You don't have to love me. All I want is sex.' With that line, he was hooked. She had sounded like a hit-and-run philanderer's dream. Caroline was Barney's first experience with serious (well, really, playful) kinkiness. In an amateur, that was. Odd, wasn't it, how he got caught up from time to time with women whose taste for the bizarre matched his own, how his appetite inspired them to new heights of decadence--make that lows--till finally, of course, he had to leave them. Fleeing just in the nick of time, sanity barely intact. He was a doctor, after all, a married man, a father . . . Mama's crazed, naughty little boy."
Add to that paragraph a few ripe, juicy, succulent, scrumptuous nouns, adjectives and verbs--verbs, especially--and you have quintessential Gael Greene. What's objectionable about her work is not that she writes so obsessively about sex, but that she does it so badly. In "Doctor Love," she is guilty of malpractice. Not to mention terminal tackiness.