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"Obsession uses vocabulary and describes activities of a sort that readers of The New York Times are usually shielded from," Charles McGrath blushed in a story from today's Grey Lady, before going on to enumerate the risqué "activities" in question, including "scenes involving dildos, whips, silken cords and golden nipple clamps, not to mention an ebony, smooth-backed Mason Pearson hairbrush purchased at Harrods." What was the occasion for offending the sensibilities of the most cosmopolitan readership this side of the Atlantic? Gloria Vanderbilt, of course. If a regular author were to write "erotica" involving "mint, cayenne pepper and a fresh garden carrot... deployed... in ways never envisioned by The Joy of Cooking," the Times might turn up it's nose. But when the 85-year old blue blood who birthed Anderson Cooper decides to write a novel involving "a five-story Brooklyn sex mansion where most of the orgies take place," it's suddenly interested. Fair enough!

Obsession: An Erotic Tale, about a widow who discovers her husband's extremely kinky love letters, sounds like nothing so much as a hoot. The book suggests you might help yourself find love "by scrubbing your torso with sea salt, bringing the skin to a glow before applying scented gardenia oil and a smidgen of honey aphrodisiac, so that you ‘can let loose shaking onto the breasts a goodly amount of chocolate sprinkles, which will adhere prettily." You don't say? McGrath also dryly notes it contains a unicorn, "though, blessedly, it remains a bystander."

Vanderbilt, who has been married four times and had affairs with Howard Hughes, Gene Kelly, Marlon Brando and Frank Sinatra, is totally unembarrassed about the work, which comes emblazoned with a blurb from Joyce Carol Oates. She was only worried what her children might think of it, and Cooper, for his part says, "the six most surprising words a mother can say to her son are: 'Honey, I'm writing an erotic novel.' But actually she's pretty unique, and there's not much she does that's surprising anymore. At 85, whatever she wants to write is fine with me." Us, too.

At 85, a Brahmin in Blue Jeans Writes of Sex, Masks and Veggies [NYT]