The #4 bestseller of 1960 is yet another confirmation that the 60s was THE decade when sex took its place of prominence in fiction. Now it is a commonplace, almost required or expected in contemporary fiction, but by the end of the 1950s most of the big censorship cases against sexually explicit novels had been defeated and the Pandora's Box of literature was forever opened.
Too bad then that The Chapman Report is also an example of the worst trashy bestseller writing; so bad it made me laugh. But Wallace made his point: when you get women talking about their sex lives, anything can happen.
A team of sex researchers are finishing their rounds of surveys in a Los Angeles suburb. The location is fictional but resembles a mix of the Santa Monica/Brentwood/Bel Air neighborhoods. The women are married, widowed, or divorced. They are also well-off and many have small children. Additionally, each female character is a type: nympho, intellectual, frigid, Daddy's girl, adulteress, and driven career woman. The lives of each of these women blow up once they begin to participate in the interviews.
Wallace has a second point to make: a soulless, scientific, numerical approach to female sexual practices leaves out the emotional life of these women. It was after this book that Erica Jong and others came along in the 1970s to reveal the female side of the story.
Wallace, a prolific journalist and screenwriter, clearly did his research. The major sex researchers of the day and their conflicts with each other are mentioned, including Alfred Kinsey. Wallace claimed that his researcher is not based on Kinsey or any of the others. Having read T C Boyle's The Inner Circle, a novel based on the life of Kinsey, I beg to differ.
In the end, despite the laughable prose, this melodramatic and juicy story was a titillating read. Apparently the American reading public of 1960 also found it to be so.