Author Lillian Fishman Shares An Excerpt From Her Debut Novel Exploring Sexual Desire
A provocative exploration of sex and sexuality, Lillian Fishman’s Acts Of Service has been described as “bold and unflinchingly sexy” (Vogue), “radical, daring and bracing” (Sheila Heti), and a book that “doesn’t kiss you first, but gets right to it” (Raven Leilani). When Service95 caught up with Fishman, while she agreed the novel was largely “about a woman who gets involved in a secret three-way affair”, fundamentally, however, she explained the book is “really about the nature of desire and sexuality now. It’s about trying to understand why we want what we want, reconciling what we want with what we think we should want and how those desires are shaped by our social worlds.” Here is an exclusive extract from the opening chapter...
I had hundreds of nudes stored in my phone, but I’d never sent them to anyone. The shots themselves were fairly standard: my faceless body floating in bedrooms and bathrooms, in mirrors. Whenever I took one I fell in love with it for a moment. Standing there, naked and hunched over my little screen, I felt overwhelmed with the urge to show someone this new iteration of my body. But each photo seemed more private and impossible than the last.
You could see in them something beyond desire, harder and more humiliating. While I was brushing my teeth or stepping out of the shower I would see my own body and find myself overwhelmed with a sense of urgency and disuse. My body was crying out that I was not fulfilling my purpose. I was meant to have sex – probably with some wild number of people. Maybe it was more savage than that, that I was meant not to fuck but to get fucked. The purpose of my life at large remained mysterious, but I had come around to the idea that my purpose as a body was simple.
I was too fearful of the world to go out and get fucked, too plagued by hang-ups, memories of shitty girlfriends, fears of violence. Instead I took photos. In the photos my body looked stunning, unblemished, often arched as though trying to escape the top of the frame. I was like a spinster full of anxieties and repressions, charged with chaperoning a young girl who could not fathom the injustice of the arrangement. One night when I was feeling exceptionally beautiful and isolated I decided to start sharing the nudes online. I used a website that anonymised usernames and disguised IP addresses, and I put up three photos with no accompanying text.
I was on my girlfriend’s toilet, the next morning, when Olivia messaged me. My post had accumulated more responses than I could possibly read. Perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that none of the lewdness, the appreciation, not even the occasional brutality of these comments satisfied me. The anonymity of the photos felt cowardly, the distance of the viewers so great as to make their sentiments meaningless. The only part that thrilled me was repeatedly refreshing the page to see the photos reconstitute themselves again and again, not in a private folder on my phone but in a shared white room accessible from all corners of the world.
I was guilty of some trespass against my girlfriend, Romi – that was clear from the fact that I was refreshing the page while hiding in her bathroom.
Romi’s drugstore-brand cleanser was perched on the sink. Her clean hospital scrubs hung on the back of the door like a poor drawing of a person. But, I reasoned, looking down at my phone, the photos had nothing to do with her. It was only my body that appeared in them, and my body didn’t belong to her.
Acts Of Service by Lillian Fishman is published by Europa Editions UK
Lillian Fishman received her Master of Fine Arts from New York University, where she was a Jill Davis Fellow. Acts Of Service is her first novel