"Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather, and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know." - John Keats

"You're not allowed to say anything about books because they're books and books are, you know, God." - Nick Hornby

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Review #30: Whip Smart: The True Story of a Secret Life, by Melissa Febos

I picked this up after seeing Alisonrt25's CBR review the other day. I've been drawn to memoirs lately. I'm fascinated by people's lives, their inner secrets, the dark corners of their worlds. Maybe I'm secretly a voyeur. Or maybe I'm just nosy.

Whip Smart is Melissa Febos' account of her time as a dominatrix in a dungeon in New York. She spends her days dressed in leather and latex, whipping stockbrokers and berating attorneys, and her nights looking for her next fix. In between, she attends college at The New School, hides her track marks from her clients, keeps her profession secret from her family, and has a series of nondescript relationships.

Febos' story came roaring out of the gate. I loved her writing, her style, her matter-of-fact way of talking about the gritty underbelly of both sex work and drugs. I was fascinated by how she felt lost and adrift, the push/pull of the drugs, her disgusted fascination with her clients' sexual proclivities. But somewhere along the way I kind of lost interest. Febos became off-putting, selfish, self-indulgent. Even her writing changed; it became more awkward. She referred to things - her parents' divorce, a fairly serious relationship with a man - as though she had talked about them earlier. Her writing became almost condescending and I found myself losing patience with her manufactured (at least to me) angst. I found it increasingly hard to relate to or have compassion for her. This is not a woman who turned to sex work out of need or desperation; this is a woman who chose this line of work and yet bizarrely comes across as looking down on others who made the same choice.

Febos is an excellent and talented author. Today she teaches at SUNY, NYU, and The New School, as well as being involved with other literature projects. I have no nits to pick with her writing. But she rushes the end of the memoir, leaving the dungeon abruptly and rather quickly quitting most of her regular clients. She keeps a couple - the money is too good to turn down - until she finds a man, and then the story is tied up with a neat little happily-ever-after bow that left me unsatisfied.

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