Disrobing Suspense: Conclusions

This last post presents some concluding remarks culled from follow-up exchanges with the writers I’ve profiled here, followed by an example of my own work. Again, many thanks to fellow writers Grace Crowley, Tom Pine, and Cor van de Sande, whose imaginative works and friendly correspondence are sources of inspiration to me. Special thanks to Cor, who has been translating these posts into French and posting them on Naturistes du Québec!

The biggest guideline seems to be the recognition of literature as a temporal art, or at least an art much more temporal than spatial. By this I mean that authors should not attempt to approximate the visual arts, in which the nudity of a character would always be apparent. An always-apparent nudity in literature cannot be achieved by desperately inserting the words “naked,” “nude,” etc. at every moment. Once nudity is established for the character, scene, or setting, the writer must trust the reader to remember and construct the visuals to her or his own degree of interest and content.

Tom Pine says, “I agree with both authors’ comments about mentioning nakedness too much. I try hard to avoid that, only putting it in (when it’s not in a naturist context) to make sure the reader knows the character’s clothed state, or to describe the character’s reaction to being naked.” 

Here is a real-life example along these lines from Cor van de Sande: “Once a character has disrobed there is no further call to mention that the character is nude. Think about your own context: you are at the pool of your favorite naturist resort. You see a beautiful woman approach. She is right in front of you and she wants to talk. What do you talk about… her breasts [her state of nudity]? Of course not! You talk about her eight-year-old daughter who has just won the county ballet championship. The same applies to a naturist story.” 

Similarly, the narrative needs to contain more interest than merely moments of disrobing, of course. Stephen Crowley sums it up: “It’s more important to focus on the characters and their other issues and problems rather than only whether they are going to get nude or not.”

Here is a final example for this series on “disrobing suspense” from my novel Co-ed Naked Philosophy. Tabitha Lasseter-Peebles, philosophy department chair, resists her colleagues’ interest in social nudism even though she recognizes the resulting enrollment benefit and general interest in philosophy. (I posted on this blog a previous section of the novel in which she is featured interviewing a saucy Santa cyclist.) In the section below, she has been invited to a gathering of friends without being informed of the dress code. I’m sure that not everyone would agree with where I’ve specified the characters’ garb or lack or it in this passage, but to my mind the instances are justified in context.

Christopher turned to the door to see Karl, dressed, leading Tabitha Lasseter-Peebles from the house out onto the terraza. Just as she was crossing the doorframe she looked into the garden and stopped. She cut a commanding figure in one of her customary power outfits, but the purposeful stride of what would have been a grand entrance became merely the involuntary force of gravity as her foot fell with a leaden inertia antithetical to the high-heeled shoe that arched it.
Angela surmised the circumstances and whispered in Christopher’s ear: “Poor Tabitha has just stepped into a trap.”
“Please, Tabitha, have a seat here on the terraza and I’ll bring you something to drink,” said Karl, hopping back inside while averting his gaze from Tabitha’s frown of betrayal and disbelief. In a chair near the door, she sat as if turned to stone by the gaze of so many Greek statues, as if infused by the essence of marble that flowed out from them and into her suddenly heavy body, burdening her with their shocked immobility and consequently leaving the gods free to embody movement once again. And move they did. She observed them running and swimming and eating and walking, nude, joyful. She stayed still, too defeated to even ponder the incongruity of her shrouded presence among these beings of light.
James Pradier (1790-1852), Les Trois Graces
She saw but did not see, recognized but did not recognize, her colleagues and students and Florence. How could she resist Florence, whom she knew from so many GCU meetings and fundraisers? She flinched when the door opened suddenly and Karl reappeared, nude now as well, with a fresh margarita for her. Something happened – did he miss the step? did the door hit his bare foot? – and Tabitha’s statue spell shattered as an icy wash splashed across her lavender blazer and ivory blouse and raised her instantly to her feet, arms extended, gasping. Her ears registered the sudden, complete silence, and then Karl’s apology. Her eyes, arrested, absorbed again the gaze of the immobilized gods, and then the figure of Florence approaching her, leading her gently into the house.
Tabitha let her slack body be pulled, tripping along the carpeted hallway, to the master bedroom, where Florence propped her up against the bedpost. Tabitha could only look pleadingly at her friend and mentor, and Florence realized that Tabitha’s resistance to being nude had dissipated, but that her pride was injured. Florence found a towel and patted Tabitha’s chest, beginning to disrobe her, finally provoking her to speak.
“This is it, isn’t it? You tricked me by not telling me the nature of this gathering. Karl, I’m not sure, but maybe he spilled the drink on purpose. And Christopher, and Angela, and now you! I put up with so much demand from you people! Don’t you see I think of my body as a gift? For my husband mostly, for me as well, and when I dress every day I’m wrapping myself up for presentation to everyone I see. I don’t know why I should give myself away to…me, how I really look, with nothing left to the imagination—look at me! give myself away so…cheaply…like this.”
Completely exposed, Tabitha’s skin still held taut from the frozen splash, and from the soft currents borne of the overhead fan spiriting away the tequila from her compact nipples.
Florence studied the face of the philosophy department chair as if reading her life story: the crow’s-feet and laugh lines of Tabitha’s active social life, offset by a deep, vertical crease between her eyebrows from too much squinting or too much scolding. Her earlobes had begun to sag a bit. Her strict exercise and diet regimen, burning every stray calorie, had fed the flames of her glowing cheeks, sparkling eyes and combustible figure. Her auburn bob with reddish highlights illuminated the room around her like an exclamation torch. Any gray hair had been meticulously dyed and any facial hair strenuously eradicated.
Florence grasped the younger woman’s limp hands. “Don’t be stingy. Let yourself down, Tabitha! If you give yourself, as you put it, it has to be because you do so freely. You’re right that I tricked you. I can’t speak for Karl and the flying margarita, but we definitely both thought you just needed a little nudging. I’ve known you long enough to know that this will be good for you.”
“What? Running around naked at a party with colleagues and students?” Tabitha folded her arms across her breasts. “It could ruin my career.”
“I’m surprised at you! Do you really think so? You’re established, Tabitha! If there’s anyone’s career to be ruined, it’s Christopher’s, and he’s brave enough to risk it, because in fact, this just might help his career. And yours!”
“How long have you been in cahoots with him, anyway?”
“Anyone who reads the paper knows who he is. I invited him here, with Angela, some weeks ago to discuss their initiatives. I think they’re onto something, Tabitha, and this is the time to be brave about it. We all have bodies, you know. Don’t fear your own.”
Tabitha sighed and turned to look at herself in Florence’s vanity. “These stretch marks…”
“What?! Don’t talk to me about stretch marks, you think I don’t have any? I’ve had stretch marks since before you were born. You know, Tabitha, in some ways I feel like a mother to you. I even have at least a small say in your career as well as Christopher’s, and as I told him before, I’ll do what I can to protect him, and Angela, and you, all of you. But, even if you’re right, that your career is ruined, then I say to hell with it. To hell with all of it! If we cannot, as a people, as a society, recognize ourselves in our bodies, and acknowledge the damage we do by cloaking our humanity, then to hell with everything is what I say, Dr. Tabitha Lasseter-Peebles.”
The left side of Tabitha’s mouth rose uncontrollably, and she began to giggle, studying herself in the vanity while on the receiving end of a harangue similar to ones she herself had delivered to Christopher.
“Don’t even get me started. And don’t you laugh at me, I could really open your eyes about some things…”
“Oh, they’re open alright. More than you know. I’ve opened up. I…” Dr. Lasseter-Peebles looked at Florence, and gave. She gave in, she gave out, she gave all of Jaime Castellón Reyes’s prepositions at once, though she chose only one with which to finish her thought for Florence, passing her arm through hers and leading her back out onto the terraza: “I give up.”

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