Sunday, August 31, 2014

Suspicious River by Laura Kasischke

A hotel desk clerk becomes a prostitute

Leila, a young desk clerk at the Swan Motel in the dreary north Midwest, offers blow jobs to curious patrons for $60 a trick, saving the money for “something.” Soon word gets round and a line of creepy men starts checking in. One of them, Gary, is loving and protective and more than a little bit scary. As Gary takes her money, steals her car, and pimps her out in dreary bars, Leila relives witnessing her mother’s murder and her own adolescent compulsive (yet orgasmic) promiscuity. At the climax of the book, Leila must decide if she wants to live or die.

This book was a odd combination which almost succeeded. A gritty story about a shell shocked girl selling blowjobs to middle aged men related with extremely lyrical language, language at times maybe so poetic it jolted the reader from the story. Literary techniques, such first-person, second-person, and third-person points-of-view, are employed. The scenes are absolutely humorless but sharp and lucid and beautifully sad. The writing reminded me of Kate Braverman, but Kate Braverman’s heroine had loads more energy. I just wanted to slap some sense into this passive girl, sleepwalking to her death. What motivates her? Not the money – it’s the longing for death apparently. The final scene, however, and her final decision, do not really feel motivated.

The story hinges on prostitution being demeaning and humiliating. Is prostitution inherently demeaning or does our culture assign an unwarranted stigma to it? Is it the phoniness, the lying that causes the stigma or the promiscuity of the woman? The story gets more gripping as it goes on which I didn't expect as the interactions between Leila and the men are such relentless downers. The sharp cuts between the past and the present make Leila’s self destructiveness clearer, like a roller coaster ride into the abyss. Two types of men are depicted in this book --emasculated cuckolds, and truly sadistic bastards. Are men really this terrible? And why does Leila’s husband starve himself?

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