Book Review: Readings
Sarah Katherine Lewis
Reviewed by Terry Ornelas Woodroffe, Fri., Jan. 26, 2007
Indecent: How I Make It and Fake It as a Girl for Hire
by Sarah Katherine Lewis
Seal, 256 pp., $14.95What exactly is the catalyst that makes a woman seek out the sex industry? For Sarah Katherine Lewis, it was a lingering curiosity left over from a televised cop drama, coupled with a desire to stop schlepping coffee. This measure, born not out of desperation but a genuine inquisitiveness, eventually does two things for her: One, it immediately removes any of the clichés of victimization and drug-induced decision-making commonly associated with prostitution. Two, it puts her in complete control of her journey. In Indecent: How I Make It and Fake It as a Girl for Hire, her convincing ownership of her actions plus a mean sense of humor give Lewis the tools and humility to take this adventure, bind it, and deliver it to readers as an unabashed peek into a heavily guarded subculture.
She opens with applying for a job at a lingerie-modeling tanning salon, which, in her naivete, she figured for a tanning salon that actually sold lingerie. Her amateur porn career came about shortly thereafter, when, in one afternoon, she went from taking nude photos to taking men in her mouth on film. As she traversed from point A to point XXX, we read about her working the pole as a stripper, fighting for her right to a clean workspace as she works the sex window in a peep show, trying her "hand" at massage relief in a twisted astral massage parlor, and becoming a sex worker-cum-autobiographer. She pulls no punches in any of these stories. From the embarrassing to the awful, we get to read it all.
Though her tone is light, her acceptance of herself and the women around her is fierce. She lingers a lot on the camaraderie and, in some cases, lack thereof among the women she works with and the women she works for. As she moves from job to job, her adventures in the adult world and her experiences with customers get raunchier and funnier. This makes up the meat of the book: a series of encounters highlighting depravities that seem to worsen, both in description and implication.
As Lewis writes it, it's easy to pity the men she services. But as she learns the ropes, these tales become less about them and more about how easy it is to emasculate both their wallets and their manhood. Their merit to get ripped off is apparently in line with the depth of their individual perversions. We read of men being asked to lick very unclean strip-booth windows, men who have their fantasies openly mocked, and men who get ripped off on a stripper's whim. This is charted by the map of Lewis' journey, revealing a clear shift in her voice: from being innocently curious to looking for adventure while making ends meet to jaded and hardened sex-vet fantasizing about killing her clients. "I could almost feel his spinal cartilage popping under my fist as I slammed the knife home," she writes, "could almost hear the whistle of his collapsing lung."
It is page-turning, to say the least, as she addresses, in detail, many of the questions about what really happens out in the sex-trade underworld, from Crock-Pots of hand-job lotion to the best angles for penetrative shots to the hazards of hand cuts. But the memoir eventually becomes as painful to read as it is to put down. The dangers, physically and emotionally, are always very close at hand, and one thing Lewis doesn't do is gloss over them. It's easy to like the person Lewis writes herself out to be, and it's hard to take when things get ugly for her.
Still, in the end, we find Lewis wrapping up the last chapters much too quickly and without solid closure. As much as she reveals, there's twice as much left out. The gaps in the story filter out her family, love life, and friends. For someone who comes across as smart as a whip, there doesn't seem to be a master plan at work here. Maybe that's the key. Since there was never a road map to reference no "guidance counselor for the sex trade" available for career advice maybe her lack of a plan is the plan. Perhaps she's concocting her own happy ending. If we've paid attention, we'd know that the best weapon a girl in her stilettos has isn't what she shares, but what she doesn't.