You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Sunday, August 28, 2011


Paying for ItPaying for It by Chester Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chester Brown's autobiographical graphic novel starts with his break up from long-term girlfriend Sook Yin Lee. They live in her apartment, and he agrees to move into the guest room so her new boyfriend can stay over and eventually move in with her. So from the start, Brown sets himself up as a sad sack, disappointed in romantic love and incapable of establishing his 30'ish-year-old self in the world.

He decides to act on his interest in buying sex, and Paying for It records the next several years of his life among call girls and escorts. HIs initial insecurity gives way to a practicality about what he wants and from whom. He learns to read the review websites that cover local prostitutes. He has his favorites, and takes in stride the indignities that go with paid sex: He calls up a favorite and learns that the phone has been disconnected. When he goes to meet a woman for the second time, a different woman, claiming the same name, answers the door. But no problem -- the woman he wants is watching soap operas in the room next door and is available. He finds the women consistently beautiful but worries sometimes about their true ages. For the first few months tipping poses a problem.

Don't think for a moment that this book is funny or sexy. Brown puts eight panels of the digest-sized pages of his book. The setting is Toronto, and the main characters walk generic streets and end up in anonymous bedrooms. The sex scenes for the most part could depict copulating noodles. Brown never shows the women's faces, but I doubt that I would even recognize him if I saw him on the street. (Actually that's not true, there is photo of him in the back of the book.)

Brown is in frequent conversation and debate with two friends, one of whom asks him the priceless question, "When you were a child did you think you would grow up to be whoremonger?" At times Brown seems willfully disingenuous.  He feels confident that none of the women he frequents have been trafficked. He accepts their stories that they are independent entrepreneurs, not being run by organized crime or pimps. He also draws no direct line between the world of the relatively high-priced call  girls he visits and prostitutes turning tricks on the street and the drugs, crime, and violence that goes with that trade, His answer for everything, explained in copious appendixes, is to legalize prostitution.

This book is not likely to change anyone's opinion on prostitution, but it is a fascinating, first-hand case study.

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