Book Review: Charlotte Shane’s N.B.

This is certainly the most challenging review I’ve undertaken. Charlotte Shane’s book is not like any other I’ve read. This was a kickstarter project to publish the collection of her blog of the same name. She says of this effort: “I was lonely and isolated, so I wrote a lot.” But that is not what makes it difficult to review. There are two issues that make this a challenge for this reviewer (after the TL;DR).

TL:DR

In the first two thirds of the book, Shane presents her early and middle years doing sex work and it is a harrowing tale that would give any father nightmares. She depicts extreme sexual positions, pain, discomfort, and sexual torture with an air of sometimes wounded but defiant bravado. In the last third, she is in more control, yet still occasionally takes johns she shouldn’t – just to prove she can control them. Control is a big theme in this work; for example, she doesn’t like pain, but takes on as a sub in order to test herself.

The writing is episodic and, early on, often very disjointed with few clues as to setting and participants. Later, it is still episodic, but more context is given and becomes more reflective, though there is no overall theme to pull the book together. It does, however, depict in brutal honesty the trade of high-priced escort. Money, sex, saps who fall for her, the clients she falls for, kindness, degradation, glamour and adventure. Other themes are big cocks, sex, shared intimacy, pain, pride in her job, loneliness, depression (never explicit, but implicit in some entries), men who think she’s beautiful, but no, she isn’t. It gets a bit repetitious with certain themes (such as that last one) yet there is no closure; the sturm und drang is open-ended, a memoir-in-progress. The last bit (Volume II) is a series of vignettes, with more attention to construction, presentation and setting,  yet not related in time or theme.

If the Boltons were real, Shane would be their huckleberry

Paper books, paper notes, no search...annoying!
Paper books, paper notes, no search…annoying!

The first difficulty in review is that this book is so raw. Shane is sometimes compared to Anaïs Nin, but I wouldn’t put this work in the same category. Yes, Nin brought us as close as her hand-mirror; she shared vast ranges of emotion (often contradicting) and deep thinking on art and psychology. She even shared the physical pain of her miscarriage. But Nin heavily edited her Diaries and even applied editorial awareness in the Journal of Love. She knew that at some point, even the unexpurgated diaries would be read, and Nin’s motivation was literary. Although there are some explicit love scenes, they aren’t the focus.  Nin conveyed that her sex was pursued in the context of love and intellectual curiosity, and in that curiosity and investigation, she weaves an overarching story.

Shane is a different animal, and she presents a problem for the reviewer, in that the content is unrelentingly revealing. I have hundreds of quotes I’d love to use (see photo) but it would be patently voyeuristic to use most of them. I feel many are statements that are Shane’s and only Shane’s to share, so I’ll quote the barest few to convey what this book is like.

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Book Review: Fear of Flying by Erica Jong

Note to the reader: this is a review of an adult book, and there are rude words and adult topics. If you think you might be offended by this, please visit the bunnies sub-Reddit.

I continue my reading of women writers with Erica Jong. I picked Jong for a couple reasons. One, I knew she wrote about the human condition from a woman’s point of view. She’d be helpful to me in depicting realistic female characters — especially ones who are in conflict with their society. Also, I’d picked up this book years back when I was working and, reading part of it, found it accessible and fun. I always wanted to read the whole thing. Coming after Nin, Jong was in many ways a continuum: very psychological, presents a character who is steeped in psychoanalysis and surrounded by psychoanalysts, facing an essential duality, and who is preoccupied with sexual fulfillment. D. H. Lawrence is a major figure in both works as well, oddly enough.

Compared to Anais Nin, I found Jong an easier read. In contrast to Nin, this is not a journal, but a fictional memoir, a vehicle for Jong to explore her own passage into fully-realized adulthood. Whereas Nin was a predator, like a tiger-cum-tasmanian devil rampaging through the jungle (well, France) like a trucker at an all-you-can-eat buffet, Jong’s protagonist Isadora is more of a furry little woodland animal that, knowing where her burrow is, and how cozy it might be, is driven to search out new climes. Isadora’s is a circular story: she starts with husband Bennett, goes on an excursion with another man, exploring her past along the way, is dropped off and abandoned, hits rock bottom and climbs out, finding completion as a fully actualized adult, back with her husband. Nin’s Diary is by definition a slice of life, with growth along the way, for sure, but no closure.

Another difference is that Nin had as many quotable lines on a page as Jong has in a chapter. That’s not a slight on Jong, she has some trenchant quotes, such as “Never fuck a psychoanalyst is my advice to all you young things out there” and, regarding her husband’s silent approach to sex: “How did I know that a few years later, I’d feel like I was fucking Helen Keller?” (p. 30). And, of course, it was in this book she introduced the ‘zipless fuck,’ a classic Jong-ism which entered the mainstream in the seventies. But Jong’s book is a narrative, she tells a tale, more so than Nin, who analyzed every moment of her life in her journals.

In addition to her disarming frankness, Jong has a wonderful sense of pathos, and weaves it with black humor. Entranced by the ashing Adrian, who grabs her butt, the lonely, unfulfilled and Jewish Isadora writes “All I wanted was for him to press my ass again. I would have followed him anywhere. Dachau, Auschwitz, anywhere” (p. 24).

And there is the lyrical Jong. Like her protagonist, Isadora, Jong was a poet, and now and then she really lets loose, often delivering sensitive subjects with both resounding frankness and lyricism, often mixing the raw and the delicate in the same passage. She introduces the essence of Isadora’s disaffection thus:

But what about all those other longings which after a while marriage did nothing to appease? The restlessness, the hunger, the thump in the gut, the thump in the cunt, the longing to be filled up, to be fucked through every hole, the yearning for dry champagne and wet kisses, for the smell of peonies in a penthouse on a June night, for the light at the end of the pier in Gatsby…”

Heady stuff.

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Book Review: Diaries of Anaïs Nin Vol 1

Note: I can’t annotate with page numbers here as my Kindle version has only ‘locations.’

TL;DR: The Diaries reveal an impassioned but (compared to the unexpurgated diaries)  composed Nin. She starts with the story from Henry and June. It is presented in a more linear, if incomplete, fashion and loses much of the impact as Nin excised all references to the steaming hot sex she was having with her lovers. Those relations lose depth as a result. The book livens up near the middle as she becomes more confessional regarding Antonine Artaud, with whom she conveniently did not sleep with. The last two-thirds of the book contain lengthy retrospectives of her first psychoanalyst, her father and her second psychoanalyst, who tries to convince her to stop with the diaries (!). The psych bits don’t interest that much and there is a lot of repetition. The story of her father is unsettling but very interesting and reveals much of her history. She closes with a tale of her pregnancy which is heartbreaking in several dimensions, finding God at the hospital, losing him when she must choose between God and psychiatry, which she’s chosen to study. Then it’s off to New York. Finis.

The Diaries vs. the unexpurgated journals

The Diaries are a fascinating read after reading the unexpurgated journal of the same time period (Henry and June, hereafter referred to as H&J for brevity). In that review, I wrote a somewhat tongue-in-cheek TL;DR describing Nin as ‘overwrought.’ I used that word for both its definitions — in a high state of excitement or anxiety, and as referring to a work which is overly elaborate. The unexpurgated diary is very stream-of-consciousnesss and records extreme levels of emotion and absorption. Here, in the originally published (and heavily-edited) Diaries, her story is more linear, more composed. She tells of her engagement with life as being at a high order of awareness: “Ordinary life does not interest me. I seek only the high moments. I am in accord with the surrealists, searching for the marvelous.” In the first third of the book, she’s a bit stiff, and as a result, Nin comes off as a a bit precious for us normal folks, we who “never awaken.” She’s living off a stipend, after all, and for her, life is not a struggle to make the rent. (When talking of giving money to June, Nin mentions a monthly allowance). However, that changes as the book progresses and she bares more of her soul to the reader in sections about Artaud and her father.

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Book Review: Henry and June

NOTE TO READERS: Not only is it very long, but this review has adult content and language. The language used below is in the context of the work; Nin is totally frank and not delicate with her choice of words. If you’re not a grown-up, please click here to go over to Reddit and read about unicorns.

TL;DR: Henry and June is the journal of a passionate, often overwrought married woman who tells of overcoming inhibitions and freeing her inner self simultaneously through psychoanalysis, multiple sexual and/or emotional affairs (including with the psychoanalyst) and the pursuit of an intense romance with another writer who, at the end, re-unites with this wife.

How good is it?

After a mere 12 pages Nin had already left an impact on me. It didn’t stop there. At every page there is a relevation to wonder at, whether it is her development (in any number of ways, more on that later) or how her many relationships are changing. The entire book is incredibly rich with detail, impressions, analysis as well as description. It never gets boring.

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