Review by Woodrow Phoenix
Sophia Foster-Dimino’s first book is a tremendously subtle and nuanced work that starts off like a cryptic crossword with coded words and images that that have to be cracked, and then becomes devastatingly straightforward. The title seems confusing and misleading at first, a deliberate fake-out, because although there are bodies engaged in a variety of physical activities there is very little explicit or erotic, almost nothing titillating in Sex Fantasy. The first and second of ten chapters are simply drawings of people listing their capabilities. “I have perfect omelette technique,” says a woman flipping a frying pan. “I’m pretty good at this,” says a woman who slams her opponent’s hand to the table in an arm-wrestling match. The third chapter introduces ambiguity and stress. “I’m sure,” says someone pulling a lever on a big machine. But she isn’t: “I think.” A woman weeps so much that her face is a illegible mess of tears. “I hit a wall”, she says. A woman sweeps up a pile of broken shards. “I wasn’t thinking,” she says.
Sophia Foster-Dimino’s beautifully spare drawings are frequently arranged in isometric projection giving them a detached, cerebral feeling. Gradually you realise what’s being diagrammed here is how we inhabit our bodies, how we make ourselves competent and ready to interact successfully, how we understand our own desires and retain or hand power over them to others. The fantasy in Sex Fantasy is a dream of completeness. The fourth chapter makes this clear as a sarcastic enunciation of a woman’s failings and insecurities reduces her to a bawling mess: “your lover is a deep dark well and you’re nothing but a bucket. not even a cool bucket. A lacklustre ordinary bucket – that feels heavy but holds so little”… but who is talking?
The compelling, febrile atmosphere of these situations that keep flipping takes a less fevered turn in the last third of the book with an almost banal slice of autobiography in chapter seven. The eighth chapter brings the strangeness back in hilarious yet still desperate fashion, but the last two chapters become more conventional, which lessens the playful, bracing electric charge of curiosity running through these stories. Still, by the time you actually witness a couple having sex in the last chapter, Sex Fantasy has done its work and the physical act has been drained of significance, no more meaningful than their positions around the table at dinner.
Sex Fantasy feels like a textbook on human relationships written by a kindly alien observer. The questions that have bothered you since your first kiss are all here, but there are few obvious answers to be divined like the I Ching from these abstracted but precisely defined situations. This small, square book has one picture on every page making it something you can read very quickly, but there is a lot to think about in these intimately disturbing playlets that you can keep returning to again and again.