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Indecent: How I Make It and Fake It as a…
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Indecent: How I Make It and Fake It as a Girl for Hire

by Sarah Katherine Lewis

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This is a sharp, smart book, and Lewis is a capable and witty writer. If your true interest lies in learning about the sex industry, in brutally honest detail, this is a great choice, and certainly superior to the other, more popular stripper memoirs. So, why isn't this a breakout success? As your resident bookseller, perhaps I can shed some light on this for any curious readers.

One of the great sad truths of the book industry is that very few great books succeed. Is this because you, the reading public, are actually idiots content with whatever pap is crammed down your throats? I don't think so; but I think that the publishers believe it. They're afraid, at any rate, scared to take a chance on something which may not provide maximum return for their money. Small presses are, of course, different, and we have brave small publishers to thank for keeping interesting books around. There are exceptions, I'll grant - no point in arguing that, so let's just move on. Yes? Yes.

Like the customers Lewis describes in her book, the publishing industry currently seems to prefer that women writers be slightly less intelligent - dim enough not to be threatening, at any rate. Smart women writers are either a) dead b) foreign or c) expected to indulge in slapstick, at their own expense, to take the edge off. Take the entire career of Chelsea Handler, certainly nobody's fool, or the otherwise enjoyable "Mennonite in a Little Black Dress", in which the author - a professor of poetry - softens the possibly intimidating force of her advanced degree and perfect grammar with seemingly endless self-deprecating jokes about her age, her figure, and her gay ex husband. Cue hysterical chick laughter here.

And if you're going to avoid downplaying your intelligence, it's even more important that you adhere to other standards of female comportment. Stripper memoirs - and they do seem to be becoming a genre in their own right - follow a standard structure similar to those old 1950s gay pulps, and for similar reasons: their intent is, in the main, to titillate. First, you must provide some background, a wholesome upbringing, a good school. This is so the reading public can identify with the girl, see that she's a good girl about to be immersed in a shocking world of corruption. Next, she must enter this world by degrees, but never losing her plucky courage or her compassionate heart. She will meet colorful women who will give her a sense of meaningful sisterhood and provide her with colorful anecdotes. The stripper with the heart of gold is a nice touch at this juncture - no one gets sick of that one. Maybe she'll become jaded, as who wouldn't, but she will meet a man who proves that not all men are pigs, or otherwise be saved from her life - redeemed, forgiven, her stripping past just a slightly naughty interlude before her real life commences. Alternately, she might claim to be empowered by her work, and her memoir might end with a faux riot-grrrl ode to the pleasures and freedoms of getting paid to take your clothes off. The end.

See? A formula with something to appeal to everyone, a clear narrative arc with a little voyeurism thrown in to spice up a typically American tale of sin and redemption. We like those the best. Lewis' memoir refuses to play along, as if sex work demanded so many concessions and lies she simply wasn't willing to sling them any more. Her venomous contempt for the work and for her clients burns through every page. She gleefully recounts her murderous fantasies and the joy she took in robbing drunken clients. The men in her book are pathetic or disgusting, never to be fully trusted. Sisterhood is here, true, but the real kind, the fierce kind, the kind closed to outsiders. And her closing, heartfelt plea: that commerce has no place in intimate relationships, that money for sex cheapens and demeans all of us as human beings, is practically anti-American.

There's no redemption in this book, no lessons learned and no sunset to be ridden into. Just a brutal story about the world that coexists with ours, that we try not to see, an indictment of our culture, a sad hard true story told by a survivor. That is not what sells a book. But it makes a damn fine read. ( )
  paperloverevolution | Mar 30, 2013 |
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"Sarah Katherine Lewis is a veteran sex worker whose cutting observations and dark humor about the nature of her work reflect the gritty realities of an industry she alternately loves and hates. For more than a decade Lewis has done it all -- from lingerie modeling and striptease shows to porn and illegal work. Indecent is a balls-out, in-your-face account of what really goes down in America's peep shows, adult massage parlors, and strip clubs."--Cover… (more)

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