Twenty-year-old Kay Slater, a tall and athletic former model, is spending the summer in Laguna Beach. Her shrewish mother Lucy, who runs an apartment house there, still feels entitled to intervene in Kay’s life. Back in Los Angeles, Kay’s forty-something husband Doug, a real estate executive prone to violent rages of jealousy and bouts of brutal sex, worries about her faithfulness. When he discovers a sluttish crayon portrait of Kay, he fears she may be having an affair with the artist, Kenny Collins. As it happens, Kenny is trying to work out his relationship with gay roommate George Anderson. Doug’s serious rival is actually Marsha Graham, an avowed lesbian, who is the only real friend Kay has had for years.
Sinful Desires kicked off the series of Bedside Books. These novels, and others today categorized as “sleaze,” focused on the fringes of conventional sexual behavior. But anyone who picked up this book fifty years ago hoping to find some titillation was probably disappointed. Stonebraker isn’t attempting to provide sexual excitement here. Her goal is didactic. She’s trying to explain the origins of homosexuality in terms that will give her intended audience pause for thought. She spins a story based on current psychoanalytic theory. All the characters who are coping with homosexual feelings (Kay, Marsha, Kenny and George) had childhood experiences, recurrent or traumatic, that set their sexual orientations askew. None was born gay, and none is comfortable with the idea of being gay. Stonebraker remains sympathetic to them (but not to Lucy and Doug) even as she concocts not quite satisfactory solutions to their problems. Modern readers with an interest in Gender Studies might find the book of value.