Unlike many of Brodkey’s short stories collected in Stories in an Almost Classical Mode, “Innocence” was not first published in The New Yorker. Instead, it appeared in New American Review, presumably because of The New Yorker’s reluctance to publish the common four-letter word that is used for copulation. “Innocence” is a story of young lust—as opposed to young love—in which the protagonist, a Harvard undergraduate, achieves what he feared was the unachievable: a sexual encounter with a very popular and beautiful Radcliffe undergraduate, Orra Perkins.
Orra is not inexperienced; she has been intimate with seven or eight men before she meets the narrator. She has never achieved an orgasm with them because, according to her, she is too sexual to have orgasms. She is not overly distressed by this omission and strenuously discourages the narrator from trying to give her the orgasm that he so much wants her to experience. His motive is twofold: He thinks that he will own Orra if he achieves his end, and he also thinks that his own sexual pleasure with her will be enhanced if she can respond more fully to his penetrations.
This story, generally considered to be among Brodkey’s best, is some thirty pages long, of which two-thirds is devoted to presenting a highly detailed account of how Orra is brought to the pinnacle of passion. Before the story ends, Orra not only has her orgasm but, thinking...
(The entire section is 595 words.)