Ice and Fire, Andrea DworkinCoitus as punishment for the happiness of being together.” – Kafka…
I gave up other lovers. I wanted solitude. It took a few years to get faithful. Coitus was the punishment for a breach of faith.
I came back to New York City, the Lower East Side. I lived alone, poor, writing. I was raped once. It punished me for the happiness of being myself.
I am alone, in solitude. I can almost run my fingers though it. It takes on the rhythmic brilliance of any passion. It is like holy music, a Te Deum. Coitus is the punishment for not daring to be happy.
I learn the texture of minutes, how hours weave themselves through the tangled mind: I am silent. Coitus is the punishment for running from time: hating quiet: fearing life.
I betray solitude. I get drunk, pick up a cab driver. Coitus is the punishment.

The protagonist is a young woman, anonymous, college educated, an aspiring writer – who is living the kind of existence you or I sitting here at our computers could not even begin to imagine.

She lives in absolute poverty, surviving on drugs and alcohol because they are cheaper than food, having sex to get drugs, alcohol, food, coffee, cigarettes, money, anything, trying to make and sell a film with her artist friend and secret lover, known only as N. They live in daily fear, insecurity, with such protection as may be available coming primarily from each other or from men who will insist on submission to violent, sadistic sex acts in return.

Despite this, she fiercely maintains her independence from men, refuses to be pimped, sharing her life instead with N, looking out for each other. When N falls ill, the protagonist has little choice but to find her a place to stay and then try to make it on her own. She ends up married, to a man who started out as someone seemingly gentle and repressed but who she unthinkingly teaches to be a sadistic brute. She escapes yet again, and returns to New York to live once again in poverty. Only this time she claws together her resources to make it as a feminist writer of fierce integrity. As she discovers, fierce integrity does not pay very well in this world.

This was totally gripping, totally terrifying, totally real. Gritty and nasty, but real, and awe-inspiring. It is the kind of book that could make you believe.

It may also be the kind of book that the bloody-awful Trainspotting aspired to be, yet dismally failed. Trainspotting was worse because despite the disgusting realities and insecurity of living with drug addiction that may or may not have been accurately portrayed in that novel, it never really made you think that you were getting to the heart of anything. With Ice and Fire, you really are getting to the heart of it. You are seeing a real human being – not a pathetic, disgusting, stupid, or otherwise repulsive one, a degraded person. Just someone real, living that degraded life, surviving, acknowledging each day what she has to do to survive.