Parisian novelist and filmmaker Virginie Despentes's controversial porn-punk film Baise-Moi (2000), in which two women go on a rampage after being gang-raped, scandalized audiences and was banned in France and Canada, probably more for its real sex scenes than its staged violence. In her concise, funny, and razor-sharp new manifesto, King Kong Theory, Despentes describes the real-life situation that inspired the film and resuscitates feminism with cutting critiques of "hooker chic," totalitarian motherhood, and the marginalization of pornography and prostitution. She also delivers a fresh and clever reading of King Kong, casting the creature as a polymorphous natural force rather than the usual colonized subject or male libido gone wild. 

Much of King Kong Theory discusses the toxic, oppressive relationship between heterosexual men and women, and the way in which women internalize their oppression. How do you think gay men and lesbians figure into this structure?

The toxic and oppressive relationship between heterosexual men and women is not, I hope, central in the book. . . . I tried to focus more on our own respect for gender duties. I'm surprised men barely question masculinity. I'm amazed, for example, that no male Hollywood actor complains that he has to carry guns or play soldiers, rapists, serial killers, stupid macho men. . . . Are they not fed up? Don't men want to show their legs in miniskirts and on high heels? Don't they want to dance like creatures on MTV? Don't they want to use the anus they've been gifted with for better sexual intercourse? Are they that happy to die for countries that won't give a goddamn fuck for them once they're back home? Most of them don't even enjoy the privilege of their gender. . . .

In this narrow frame, of course, gay men are the few. The elite. Trying something different. And lesbians, also, are the elite of womanhood. Obviously. Because who wants to have to deal on an intimate level with regular straight men? It can only be interesting if they might help you with money or your career. Otherwise, how depressing. Then, of course, gays and lesbians are still human. . . . We all live in the same shitty world. I guess only really hard drugs or death can be radical exits.

Your reading of Peter Jackson's film King Kong is quite unexpected. What made you see this latest version as a feminist fable? 

Because I was working on the book when King Kong was released in France. . . . It struck me that any article I read about the movie would start from the point of King Kong being a male character, when nothing in the picture itself says so. It could be an asexual creature. And it could be female. Kong makes no particular reference to masculinity except that the creature is strong and the blonde is weak. 

What effect do you think pornography has on desire? Does it make us believe that all of our sexual fantasies can come true?

Pornography feeds desire, helps the imagination, and lowers anxiety. The advertising we endure daily is more likely to make us believe that all our fantasies can come true. Pornography, I believe, does not: It's a message you can hardly confuse with reality. It's inconvenient that pornography has been kept in an economic ghetto, so we can hardly see quality porn. We could so much enjoy a huge-budget sodomic orgy filmed by Hollywood. Violence is good on the big screen, but nothing is better than sex. 

'King Kong Theory' is out in April (though available in some stores now). The Feminist Press, 144 pp., $15.95

Spring Books Picks

American Taliban
By Pearl Abraham, April

A spiritual quest goes terribly wrong for an earnest young American boy who has a great deal in common with John Walker Lindh, the Washington D.C.­–born seeker and Al Qaeda trainee captured during the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. Abraham's breathless, exhilarating style matches the timely subject matter as she grapples with the question of how a search for truth might lead a normal American kid into the jaws of the sworn enemies of his homeland. Random House, 256 pp., $25

Beatrice and Virgil
By Yann Martel, April

Canadian author Martel's second book, the Booker Prize­–winning Life of Pi, got so much positive attention that the author's follow-up focuses not on zoo animals in lifeboats but on a newly famous author, Henry. When Henry receives a copy of a Flaubert story and a play from a namesake fan in the mail, he embarks on a spiritual journey of a different type, populated not with tigers but acerbic, controlling editors. Which demographic, one wonders, has the sharper fangs? Spiegel & Grau, 224 pp., $24

Foxy
By Pam Grier, with Andrea Cagan, April

In 1973, Blacula bit her neck and made her a blaxploitation legend. Then she whipped razors out of her 'fro to use as weapons in Coffy, and gunned down and castrated honky bad guys in Foxy Brown. She was the first black woman on the cover of Ms. magazine, and the cousin of football great Rosey Grier. After Tarantino revived her for Jackie Brown, she became a regular on The L Word, but her greatest achievement was shedding the trashy trappings of her early grindhouse career and earning a heap of NAACP Image Award nominations. How'd that happen? Her autobiography isn't likely to be deep, but couldn't be less than fast, furious, and hard-hitting. Springboard Press, 280 pp., $24.99

Nox
By Anne Carson, April

Anne Carson's unusual new release mass-produces a replica of the fold-out art book the Canadian poet made in order to commemorate the death of her brother. Despite the collection's personal focus, Carson still expresses her propensity for weaving classical themes into her work, basing this series on the Roman poet Catullus's elegy to his brother's cremains. New Directions, 192 pp., $29.95

Parrot & Olivier in America
By Peter Carey, April

Carey, long fascinated with etching the lives of misfits and frauds in spirited prose, has practically hogged the Booker Prize, winning twice in the same decade for Oscar and Lucinda and True History of the Kelly Gang. For P & O, he sets Olivier, his parody of Alexis de Tocqueville, on a snobby trek through early America, accompanied by a manservant named Parrot, alternating between their contradictory perspectives in another astonishing feat of literary ventriloquism. Knopf, 400 pp., $26.95

A Great Unrecorded History
By Wendy Moffat, May

The Secret Livesof Somerset Maugham
By Selina Hastings, May

Some English professor ought to teach a course called "Gay Literature" and include only canonical writers: Proust, Henry James, Thomas Mann, the Greeks. Prominent on that syllabus would be E.M. Forster and W. Somerset Maugham, and once Moffat's and Hastings's new biographies arrive, we will have the goods on these closeted scribes and their vastly different approaches to coming out posthumously. Forster wrote the gay book Maurice, and though he stipulated that it be published after his death, he deliberately preserved archival material that would later out him, predicting that homosexuality would one day gain acceptance. The more paranoid Maugham destroyed his personal papers and asked friends to burn his letters. "Ironically," writes Hastings, "Maugham's request . . . ensured not only that they were kept but that most were sold for very large sums to American universities." Hastings takes advantage of the Maugham estate's newfound glasnost to report not only on the author's personal life, but his involvement in British espionage. Moffat meticulously turns primary sources into a novelistic account of Forster's untold story. Moffat: FSG, 416 pp., $32.50; Hastings: Random House, 640 pp., $35

What Becomes
By A.L. Kennedy, April

After Day, Kennedy's bleak, prizewinning novel, the acclaimed chronicler of dysfunctional relationships serves up a story collection of lively yet heartbreaking and introspective pieces with sharp, minimal focus. One concerns a dad as he leaves his kids, another's about a cranky shopkeeper, a third follows a new widow's big adjustments. Short and bittersweet. Knopf, 224 pp., $24.95 

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