Exhibitionist Novel Outstrips Convention
Book Review of Lights On, Clothes Off by Stuart Schwartz
By Rebecca Jane
Lights On — Clothes Off: Confessions of an Unabashed Exhibitionist by Stuart Schwartz will expand your sensitivity related to exhibitionism. The book is narrated by Eddie Saul who tells his story of being a proud homosexual who likes nothing more than a crowd gawking at his naked body. The book follows Eddie in his ability to feed this desire. Eddie is lovable and relatable, and his joy for what he does drives the plot forward. In fact, his enthusiasm is infectious. It’s enthusiasm that leads Eddie to opportunities, financial gain, and interesting relationships.
The book demonstrates a fresh writer’s voice that is able to make nudist sensibilities accessible and even endearing. Eddie becomes a friend, confiding in the reader. Voice is often one of those aloof skills of writing a novel that is difficult for a writer to master. It’s not easy for a writer to present a story with an original voice. But the voice is refreshing because Eddie tells familiar stories—such as a gay man coming out of the closet—in a conversational and relaxed way. This sense of feeling relaxed extends to receiving the wisdom of gay identity and desire. So often, stories about homosexuality and desire feature sadness, cruelty, heartbreak, and frustration. But this isn’t the case with Eddie. His story is uplifting and entertaining. He displays his joy as readily as he displays his genitalia.
This means readers never really know if Eddie has any internal conflicts. Anything that might be a potential setback for the protagonist is dealt with in a quick sentence. For instance, we learn that Eddie does not want his parents to know about the secret life he leads, but the reader is never filled in as to why not or what is at stake if his parents find out. His parents handled his sexuality with ease and tenderness. What would it take for his parents to be equally accepting of their son’s exhibitionism? This and other potential conflicts are resolved in ways that make Eddie’s life seem too easy. Readers may finish this book wondering about all the challenges Eddie is not telling us about. Perhaps there will be a sequel told from another perspective.
While it’s light on dramatic tension, this novel does give a strong sense of what it’s like to pose nude for a Life Drawing class where the instructor encourages “tactile learning.” As this method of learning is no longer part of art programs, Eddie’s experience is so precious because it is so ephemeral. It’s reassuring to know a reader can open a novel and participate in a culture that is rare, a hidden gem.
Lights On, Clothes Off is a light-hearted reading experience that stimulates curiosity, appreciates kinky desire, and perhaps even helps a reader relate to his or her own nudity with fresh enthusiasm. I highly recommend this character-driven jubilee that celebrates the simple joy of being seen.