SPOILERS!!LEAVE!!SPOILERS!!YOU SHOULDN'T BE HERE ANYWAY!!SPOILERS!!SPOILERS!!LEAVE!!
The strangest dream he had was that someone was arguing in another room . . . He caught the words "eligible" and "perfect" over and over again, and then the words "ritual" and "frightened" seemed to follow. . . He heard animals snarling and tussling, and the dream turned into a nightmare about heavy beasts tearing him down from the wall and sinking their teeth into his arm.
"Lorie," he croaked.
"I'm here, Gene," she said quietly. "Don't worry. You've just had a nightmare, that's all."
You probably wanna be a little discreet when reading this book in public. I mean, see the cover on the right? Yeah, well, not quite as bad as when Mickey Spillane
—or his handlers —put an actual photograph of his wife, Sherri, completely nude and suggestive on the cover of his novel The Erection Set in 1972. However, eroticism and its myriad legs is certainly no stranger to author Graham Masterton.(1) The Sphinx is not especially erotic —unless you have a fixation for big breasts on tall girls and a determined imagination —it just handles the subject rather impassively, even though the protagonist is bone-'n'-bonkers the instant he meets the book's enchantress.
And Lorie Semple
—when first spied by minor, wanna-be politician Gene Keiller at an engagement party for the Secretary of State's daughter —certainly has that peacock's strut for getting attention.
"Her face was classically beautiful . . . a wide and sensual mouth . . . green eyes . . . choker of emeralds . . . evening dress of flesh-colored silk . . . her breasts were enormous and she obviously wasn't wearing a bra . . . and she was wearing some strong, musky perfume that seemed to fill the air around her like a haze."
Meeting her, Gene can't believe his luck. The tally for his perfect woman starts ticking off in his head: Twenty-years old; "The most eye-stopping figure since Dolly Parton"(p.7); Daughter of French diplomat; Doesn't drink; Doesn't smoke; Is single and a virgin. Lorie gives him plenty of fishing line while playing Reach/Withdraw, even going so far as to bite his tongue when he tries to force-French kiss her. And
—to completely overwhelm the grand, female tools of mystique and allure —Lorie drops she belongs to an obscure race dating back to the times of Ramesses III from 1200BC. Driving her home, Gene wrangles a brunch date out of her before parting, then tries to creepy-crawl her house unsuccessfully. What's he think? Breaking and entering —maybe even a berserker raping —is gonna endear him? He goes home to a warm shower. "He soaped himself, and in soaping himself, he suddenly realized just how much Lorie Semple turned him on"(p.26). These first impression moves show this guy's more malleable than a can of Silly Putty.
There are erotic innuendos like the one above throughout The Sphinx. They can be seen as the regiment of courtship, which is key to conducting any romance toward understanding and acceptance of one's different behaviors. This blending for mutuality is essential for a trip to the alter. Gene is cocky, arrogant, sexist. He was "brought up to appreciate American girls on a strictly Playboy level"(p.89). After they are married and Gene finds out what's under Lorie's dress, she fires back at him directly for "blundering into my life without a thought for what I was or anything else"(p.88).
The truth is not love; Lorie has deliberately tantalized Gene at a man's most vulnerable spot
: sexual frustration fantasized into runaway delusion. This is obvious when confronted with what she asks him to accept: No sex before or even after marriage; she jumps from a two-story window and, unharmed, runs off on hands and knees; she's caught in the kitchen eating raw hamburger; she has 3 sets of mammary glands like "a Dalmatian bitch"(p.88), and, from navel to mid-thigh, she's covered in "abundant curls of tawny pubic hair"(p.84).
Gene's still as stiff as a saguaro, but he's a fixer. He suggests plastic surgery then beguiles himself further:
Lorie looked radiant as she sipped her wine, and she smiled across the table at him with such love that he found himself drawn back to her irresistibly. Whatever she was, whatever her origins were, she was unquestionably the most beautiful girl he had ever met, and perhaps that was all that mattered.
Even after he sees his bride's transformative face and "leonine snarl"(p.104) as she leaps out of bed and off the windowsill for another human bloodfeast, he rationalizes she recognized her new husband and will "leave him safe"(p.105). Granted, he's got the biggest, bluest balls of any victim hero in modern literature. True, his blood flows from the upper head to the lower one. And, yep, Gene Keiller is a chauvinist idiot who believes all that matters "is outward appearances"(p.123). But, holey-moley Batman, at this point in the tale can anyone be so naïve? Gene is so unaware of other people's feelings he calls his ex-girlfriend who is still blatantly carrying the torch for him and drops this story in her lap! And asks her for research on the Ubasti tribe of which Lorie holds allegiance to. Then, still pedaling this outrageous phenomenon, he seeks a shrink and gets this typically-absurd, Dr. Phil celebrity advice: "If she starts acting ferocious, tell her you disapprove"(p.116).
The only other characters of note are the butler/chauffeur Mathieu
—a mute made when he got his tongue chewed off,(2) sound familiar? —and Mrs. Semple, Lorie's mother, who is chiefly an older reflection and keeper of the family's liturgy. Both are in on the daughter's deceit of Gene not because it is fated, but that it's normal behavior. No need for an accounting of this ancient ritual; suffice it to say it's a great climax to experience a so-called human women giving it up to an 800-pound, super serious male lion.
One of the disconcerting yet enjoyable take-aways from The Sphinx is the undermined reversal of protagonist and antagonist. The PofV is third person, but emphasizing Gene's view of things. Lorie is assumed right out of the gate as the femme fatale
—the voluptuous allurist —tacitly engaged in bending her chosen male. Now Gene's a career-driven, ego-steered and shallow politico. Plus he's just plain too self-deluded to really applaud. And Lorie, under her fanciful dissimilation, is all steel-eyed about survival. She'll do what needs to be done, along with her mother. They are at the top of a food chain of predators unknown to current zoologists. And, they are the only known survivors of their species. In this sense, their actions are admirable, even heroic. Opinion-wise, the major disservice of this novel is that it leaves Gene physically unscathed and alert to the Semples' malfeasances, whereas in the prevailing climate of this modern, MIC-leaning(3) government, any bigoted politician should be ripped to shreds by an alpha animal that's quickly losing its hunting grounds and facing extinction(4) because of human encroachment. But, on the other hand, is there anyone here that's likeable enough to get away with outright, multiple killings?
Author Masterton is a very winky writer, but his cheeky tongue is used sparingly, professionally. He delivers an absorbing page-turner, with only a couple of shaky segues.(5) He loads up with huge foreshadowings
—look at the lead quote, for example —but hangs onto the mysteriousness of his big bang finale. And the read is marvelously ambiguous enough to make "the two loves in the one love"(p.142) seem possible.
Here, Kitty, Kitty.
1) see my introduction to another of his novels, A Terrible Beauty
2) Lorie's lying explanation: "He worked for the French secret service in Algeria, and the rebels tugged out all his fingernails and cut out his tongue"(p.11).
4) Of the big cats, lions are in better shape than tigers.
5) Time transitions that end scenes but take bumpy notice of themselves on page 55 & 73.
text only © copyright 03/04/2017 by Larry Crawford