Warning: contains MF and MM sex scenes
Steeped in denial and laced with prescription medications to combat nerves, young pop-song composer, Adrian, has belatedly signed on for a summer escape from New York City to Daufuskie Island, an isolated largely absentee millionaires’ retreat near South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island.
Summering with Adrian, in tension that builds rather than dissipates, are his older wife, Helena, a novelist; her elder half brother, Damien, a randy painter seeking to mimic the styles of Rousseau and Gauguin on the steamy South Carolina island; Damien’s promiscuous international model younger wife, Tish; and the piggish but powerful book agent to them all, Benjamin Wrangel. Floating around the edges of this volatile core group are Wrangel’s sexy and willing Thai houseboy, Krit, as well as a sensual Adonis native hunk, Vandi; an uninhibited Tahitian-looking model for Damien from the local Gullah community, and an enterprising tourist boat captain.
The retreat isn’t going well in terms of helping Adrian to come to grips with his desires and the blockage in his composing muse. And it all begins to boil over when Helena reveals that the novel she’s working on is one exploring relationships—the separation of what she says are the two largest, distinct groups of relationships, those that are primarily sexual and those that are affection relationships. She claims that only a few merge satisfactorily into a combination of two, and that a person is in danger of two such relationships arising and competing at the same time.
Will the revelations that arise from Helena’s theories and the steamy couplings he stumbles on—and participates in—early in the summer clarify or deepen Adrian’s unacknowledged issue?
“Everything is perfect now that Adrian has his Petrof here and set up,” Helena spoke up. “Is it in proper tune, darling?” She leaned the bulk of her chest over the coffee table, showing far more cleavage than I’m sure she would have intended with fewer drinks in her, flicked the ashes from her cigarette into a tray, and picked up her martini.
“Yes, thank god, dear. . . .”
“Good. I know it’s your lucky piano, your muse. I know you’ll knock out glorious tunes by the dozens. You’ll see that I was right to insist that you have your piano and no other.”
I felt myself flare up. She’d always thought of my work as effortlessly “knocking out tunes by the dozens,” as if doing so were a piece of cake in contrast to knocking out novels with long paragraphs and five-syllable words by the dozens was. I knew I wouldn’t be “knocking out” tunes here. I had the piano, but I didn’t have Charlie, my collaborator, my lyricist. I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to knock out a tune again, whether here or in New York.
But Helena was sailing on. “And you, D. Does the art studio suit?”
“It would if I planned on spending any time in it, H,” Damien answered, the siblings so familiar with each other that they each were reduced to single letters in speaking directly to each other. “I’m delighted with the island. I think I’ll go native with my painting here—out in the open, in the lush jungle.”
“Yes, this is rather a sexy island, and the jungle certainly is lush,” Tish piped up with a giggle and a grin. Her face immediately fell, though, as if she were a child in a room of adults who had deigned to speak without permission. She gave me a panicked look, but there wasn’t a thing I could do for her—short of telling her husband he need take into account that she’d just been fucking in the ferns with a hunky native—and she lowered her gaze to the hand she had on mine.
Damien inclined his head forward, gave her a withering look out of the top if his eye sockets, and continued his dissertation. “I’ll call this my Rousseau and Gauguin period, perhaps—if I can chose between their styles. I’ll have to experiment. It will be so much fun. I agree, this idea of yours quite likely is a winner, Adrian.”
He had turned to me. He, like Wrangel, was suggesting that this summer was my idea.
I opened my mouth to speak, to question and contradict, but Wrangel mercifully filled the sliver of a void in sound.
“I hope you have started your new novel, Helena,” he said, turning to my wife. “We’re a bit off schedule, you know.”
That was it, I realized. That was the catalyst that had brought us together here. Wrangel was a book agent. Each of us was working on a book for him . . . . Wrangel had gathered us all here in isolation to crack the whip over us. . . .
“Yes, I’m toying with the concept of relationship,” Helena said, taking another drag of her cigarette and her martini, in turn. . . . I’m going to separate and distinguish in a pure form sexual relationship and affection relationship. I won’t moralize between them, but I will show how basically it’s one or the other except in the rare instance where they intersect and merge.”
“And you will show this in a novel? With tension and resolution? I’m not quite sure—”
“Yes, the tension will be that my protagonist will have more than one intersection of the two. She will hedonistically enjoy sexual relationships and she will easily slip into relationships of affection, but rather than the optimum one relationship that is satisfying on both the sexual and affection relationship levels, she will be forced to suffer two simultaneously of equal dual strength. . . . One of the relationships will be with a man and the other with another woman.”
“Ah, yes, I see,” Wrangel said. “Quite possibly excellent, yes. And the resolution?”
“Oh, in the end she will realize that one of the relationships was of a fourth kind altogether—a completely sterile one.”
“And which one would that—?”
“I haven’t quite decided yet,” Helena quickly answered, anticipating the question. She was speaking to Wrangel, but her eyes were boring into me.