The initial story in Susan Minot’s 1989 collection Lust and Other Stories, this short tale sets the stage in both theme and subject for the stories that will follow. The 12 stories portray different types of estrangement in heterosexual relationships: shifts in passion and fidelity, the longing for and frustration of true intimacy. Lust rather than love seems to be the chief (or only) possible link, tenuous though it is, between men and women.
“Lust” exemplifies this bleak theme. The story catalogs an unnamed young girl’s sexual experiences in a series of isolated scenes, all told in first-person point of view from the perspective of the girl involved. Each experience is related in a short paragraph, separated by a blank line from the next; there is no transition between events. The cumulative effect of this barrage of brief paragraphs is to reinforce the fragmented nature of the girl’s sexual encounters; each is short, without any intersection with other areas of her life. A subtle shift in perspective traces her metamorphosis from innocence to cynicism. In her initial encounters, her love interest “had a halo from the campus light behind him. I flipped,” but only a few paragraphs later she has become “a body waiting on the rug.” In spite of her sometimes gentle lovemaking, tender moments where her lover “rocked her like a seashell,” she eventually feels “diluted, like watered-down stew,” filled with “an overwhelming sadness.” Minot’s language is invariably frank and direct, and the story is filled with striking images and details that depict the scenes as well as the isolation of the characters in them.