Run Catch Kiss

The Forward

July 2, 1999

“The Racy Writings of a Single Girl Living in the City”

by Lori Leibovich

“Run Catch Kiss,” Amy Sohn’s autobiographical debut novel, overflows with explicit sex scenes, raunchy language and twisted, unhealthy relationships. It’s not the first time she has let it all hang out. For the past three years, Ms. Sohn has penned the risqué column “female Trouble” for The New York Press. The book’s protagonist, Ariel Steiner, is also a columnist for a weekly newspaper who chronicles her sexual dalliances in unwavering detail.

“What I’m trying to do in my writing is provide a soapbox for a non-self-hating Jewish woman,” said Ms. Sohn, who was president of her Reform synagogue youth group and spoke of anti-Semitism during her valedictory speech at Brown University.

Judaism looms large in both her column and in “Run Catch Kiss” (Simon & Schuster). But is Ms. Sohn consciously trying to dispel stereotypes of frigid Jewish princesses, or is she simply titillating readers with her provocative prose?

“My vulva throbbed with glee,” Ariel says to herself upon meeting an attractive Jewish guy. “He was not only a Yid, but an Ivy Leaguer. I could already see the New York Times wedding announcement.” Ariel sprinkles her conversation with Yiddish phrases, refers to her days of early sexual cavorting at overnight camps and youth group events, revels in her sultry Jewish looks and discusses dating Jewish versus non-Jewish men.

The question is, where does Ariel Steiner end and Amy Sohn begin?

Like Ariel Steiner, Ms. Sohn, 25, is articulate, witty and an adept self-promoter. Like her character, Ms. Sohn dresses in vintage clothes and has dark good looks and a deep, scratchy voice. In an interview, Ms. Sohn stated without prompting that she never set out to write something that would sell, but was simply writing what she knew. “The biggest issues in my life are, how am I going to meet someone, how am I going to fall in love, why is every guy I go out with a loser?” she said over dinner at a dark East Village restaurant where she is a regular.

Perhaps her bad luck has something to do with Ms. Sohn/Steiner’s habit of falling into bed too easily with every guy she meets – at least on the page.

“I resent being called a sex columnist,” Ms. Sohn said defensively, even though the vast majority of her writing is about sex. “I don’t feel like I’m writing about sex as much as I’m repeating the thoughts of a romantically inclined person.”

What’s debatable is whether most people consider one-night stands and shameless come-ons romantic, though one particularly sweet scene in the book includes a kiss in front of the Streit’s matzo factory.

It’s al part of Ariel’s quest for a nice – but sexy – Jewish boy. “Since the age of fifteen, I have not been able to spend more than ten minutes with a guy I’m attracted to without wondering if he’s Jewish,” she muses. “As soon as I find out he is, I start fantasizing about our future together…us getting married under a huppah.” Yet Ariel does not discriminate when it comes to casual sex. “It’s not like I won’t get naked with a goy, I totally will,” she continues. “It’s just that deep down I don’t ever feel he could have Future Potential.”

Ms. Sohn struggles with the same questions. Currently she isn’t dating a “tribesman,” as she refers to Jews in her column. She wouldn’t talk much about her relationship, though she admitted her boyfriend has “a very Christian name.” Smiling, she revealed that the moment she knew she was falling for him was when he used the word “noodge.”

“My opinions about this are changing,” she said carefully, referring to intermarriage and inter-dating. “It’s more about how a person makes you feel than what your parents are thinking when you walk down the aisle.”

Ms. Sohn says her parents are remarkably calm about the fact that she takes thousands of readers into her bedroom every week and waxes on about her orgasms and her oral-sex prowess, among may other intimate details. But they face a unique dilemma. They are supportive of her work, but they can’t get as enthused as if, say, she was writing a column about politics. “They still gush at parties, and talk about what’s in store for my novel,” Ms. Sohn said. “But when people make cracks about the subject of my column, what are they supposed to say?”

“The typical Jewish parent invests an extraordinary amount in their child’s accomplishments,” she said. “But if on any level those accomplishments are attained through tawdry means, they cannot feel the same pride.” Her career has not always been easy for her younger brother, either, whose friends have teased him about his sister’s salacious work.

In her graduation speech at Brown, Ms. Sohn, a third-generation graduate of the college, read from the file of her grandmother, who had attended the university in the late 1920s. “Miss Sohn has some Jewish traits of personality that are not attractive,” wrote one of her professors. “She is inclined to push….In the right place she will do excellent work but she should not be recommended for a position where a Jewess would not be acceptable.” [In case you're wondering how my grandmother and I could have the same last name, the answer is that my paternal grandmother and grandfather were first cousins. Maybe that's why my family's so loopy.]

Seventy years later, the younger Ms. Sohn is exploiting these “Jewish traits” by seizing upon liberties that have been afforded women since her grandmother’s time: the right to be assertive and sexually frank; in short the right not to be a “lady.”

Even with all of her chutzpah, and her self-created image as a tart and a tease, Ms. Sohn seems eager to distance herself from what she calls her “persona.” “The woman in my column is much hornier and bold than I am in real life,” she said. Ms. Sohn, who spent the evening discussing herself and her work in confident tones, suddenly seemed slightly unassured. “Did you like my book?” she asked eagerly. As she turned to leave, she called out, “I hope you write something good.”