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June 8th, 2007

Review: A Woman Alone At Night

Woman alone at night

Before I review A Woman Alone at Night by Tamara Faith Berger I’d like to thank Soft Skull Press. As much as I hated this book I’m still appreciative that I got the chance to review books from them.

But honestly I hated this book. It was horrible, possibly the worst book I’ve read in years. The only thing that kept me reading was my commitment to review the thing. Mr. Radical is happy that I’ve finally finished because I bitched about it to him althrough my reading. I can only recommend that you not read this book. It was horrible to read and pissed me off at times.

The story of Mira reads more like journal ramblings than like fiction. Instead of chapters the book is split into three sections-Mire, Hallucination and Vigor. Mira, the main character, mostly describes what is happening to her; she rarely reflects on the meanings of these happenings and when she does it sounds more like nonsense than deep thought. Mira never grows as a person though the back cover describes her being a willing “participant in her own degradation.”

Mira is a young teenager (I’m guessing 15 because she doesn’t drive and the book never says) when an older man John seduces her. There is no chemistry between them. He says to follow and then fuck him. She does even though she’s not attracted to the man. John and his uncle Michael start filming her for amateur porn videos. There is no explanation on how the relationship ends but suddenly Mira is in a strip club visiting a friend. A “bad girl” stripper named Adi pulls Mira to another club. The strip club is also a whorehouse and Mira becomes a prostitute. After some non-sexy sex scenes Mira runs off with another loser of a man Gio. Instead of filming her in pornos Gio fills Mira with non-sensical religious garble that has some semblance to the St. Mary mythology. The end of the book finds Mira with Gio and her cousin Ezra. I suspect the scene is meant to be erotic but I found it distasteful and forced. The back cover says the story is based on Saint Mary of Egypt. (Wikipedia has a entry on Saint Mary of Egypt here.) I’ve read some about the Saint and don’t really see a connection between the two. Yes, both were prostitutes but there’s not much similarity beyond that. Besides Gio’s rambling about Saint Mary I don’t see much of a connection.

There was nothing in the book that made me care for any of the characters. I disliked all of them, especially Mira. She has no personality, no charisma. It’s as if she has no free will. Throughout the book she goes through life not making any life choices. People do things to her and she doesn’t resist. I was disgusted that she couldn’t take action by herself.

All of the characters seem underdeveloped. The reader is given no history for any of the characters. Why do they act the way they do? What are they motivations, their desires, their dreams? Mira is attracted to John, then Adi, then Gio. None of them were charismatic in any way however. They were all dull and one dimensional. Gio was able to convince the working girls to run away with him and fuck for religious reasons. He should have been a fascinating character. I found him to just be a creepy old guy who justified his taste for hookers by confusing religious babble. John’s comment that all men think a woman walking along at night is a hooker is where the book’s title comes from. While there are probably men out there who believe this, the comment feels more thrown in for shock effect rather than character development.

The plot was frustrating. There is no time line, scenes jump back and forth and it is left to the reader to piece everything together. No description is made to the city where Mira lives or to the time the novel takes place. Perhaps this is meant to give the novel a sense of timelessness but I feel it made the story even weaker.

My biggest complaint about A Woman Alone at Night is Berger doesn’t understand sex work. There is a scene where Mira is on stage stripping. She mentions that her clothes don’t match but it doesn’t matter. This makes no sense. Strippers care a great deal about their clothes. Good clothes make good money. A well chosen outfit can mean the difference between making the utility bill and making rent in one shift. I called my friend Amber who is a stripper and read her this passage from the book. She was aghast by the thought that strippers wouldn’t care about their work clothes. Work clothes are vital to strippers.

Also, as much as men fantasize about strippers fucking clients in the back room this doesn’t happen as much as they think. Sure there are clubs where this occurs. Amber burst out laughing though when I told her the book featured a whorehouse above the strip club. “Cops come into my work all the time. No strip club would have hookers doing tricks upstairs, they’d get busted in a week.” I agree.

There is another scene where Mira is walking through a park. A man propositions her for sex. Though she doesn’t want to work she agrees to the sex. (Again, where is her free will?!) While starting to suck his cock she says she wants him to use a condom. He refuses saying he doesn’t have one. Mira doesn’t have any condoms and sucks him without one. Again, another sex worker scene that makes no sense. An experienced prostitute that doesn’t negotiate the condom issue until seconds before sex with her client? And why would a prostitute that wants to use condoms with her tricks not carry any condoms on her? There is no other mention of condom use with any of her other clients so why is it mentioned in this one scene? To show how Mira is even more a “participant in her own degradation”?

The other strippers treated Mira horribly. They were catty to her and called her “cocksucker” though the book implied most of the strippers were prostitutes themselves. While it is true that some sex workers fight and stab each other in the back this part of the book was not realistic. I’ve worked in the sex industry for over five years now. I have found the adult biz to be quite welcoming and friendly. Yes, I’ve had a fellow pso talk trash about me. It does happen. But on the whole we sex workers bond together and help each other out. There is a bonding between people in the adult biz that is deeper than I have found in other industries. To portray sex workers the way Berger does shows that she has no understanding of strippers, prostitutes, the porn industry and sex work as a whole. “Write what you know” is a statement I’ve read many times. It is apparent to me that Berger is using the sex industry as titillation in her book and has no deep understanding of it.

In a nutshell? Avoid this book.

Posted by Vixen as Reviews at 11:09 PM CDT