Meg Cohen Ragas
Just when you thought there was little new to say about single life in the '90s, here comes Diary of an Emotional Idiot, performance artist Maggie Estep's much-anticipated first novel. Yet another tale of love gone wrong too many times, Diary is saved by its fierce irreverence, razor-sharp humor and the simple fact that it doesn't take itself too seriously.
Zoe, the book's 20-something, defiantly cynical protagonist, lives in a hovel in Manhattan's East Village and supports herself by writing porn books and working as a receptionist at a dominatrix club. One night she becomes obsessed with the idea of paying a surprise visit to her ex-boyfriend (he's named Satan), who dumped her the day after her father's funeral. Her intention: to tie him up with a bicycle chain and make him perform demeaning tasks. Satan's not home, so Zoe decides to wait for him in his closet, during which time she unravels the wryly amusing story of her dysfunctional life, from her teen years spent shuttling from horse farm to horse farm with her father and his entourage of girlfriends ("By now I had blue hair and loved the Sex Pistols") to her escapades in Morocco ("I wanted 12 naked Moroccan boys writhing in my hotel room") to her various stints in and out of rehab and halfway houses ("Fucking on the bathroom floor kept us sober"). Orgies, drug fests, petty theft, poverty -- Zoe's been there, done that.
A darkly comic spin on the traditional coming-of-age story, Diary succeeds on the most basic level -- as pure entertainment -- but also as an honest portrait of misguided youth. Reminiscent of last summer's Going Down, Jennifer Belle's similarly raw debut about a young woman who puts herself through college by becoming a call girl, it begs you to read on even though you pretty much know where it's all going to end.
Diary's tart prose and almost too-well-paced vignettes make it feel, at times, better suited for the stage than the page -- which makes sense, considering that Estep was a principal member of MTV's "Spoken Words" series. Although Zoe's escapades are never dull, they can leave you wondering what else could possibly go wrong. While Estep has found a brazen voice in Zoe, it'll be even more interesting to hear what she has to say next. -- Salon
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Performance artist Estep delivers a raspy, ultra-hip monologue for her first novel, a clever and cynical take on a young woman's life on the edge of urban society. Zoe, a "fuck-book writer and receptionist to dominatrixes" who lives in Manhattan's East Village, narrates from the closet of her ex-boyfriend Satan, where she is awaiting his return so she can tie him up with her bicycle chain and make him perform menial tasks. "Maybe I should confide my heartaches to Lucy the Mailwoman. But I'm not like that. I'd rather tell them to you." Tell them to us she does, shifting easily between the past and present: shuffling from town to town with her mother or father; scooping litter out of her drug dealer's cat's box for free dope; scrubbing toilets as penance and punishment during rehab at a halfway house; and, above all, loving and leaving (or being left by) a variety of boyfriends in an endless cycle of repulsion and attraction. The writing is as raw and unpolished as Zoe, but also as smart and funny. This diary reveals not only Zoe's vulnerabilities but also her fierce pride in her unusual life. Zoe likes to talk about herself, and Estep succeeds in making the reader want to listen. (Mar.)
Estep started out as a spoken-word performer, stomping out onto poetry-slam stages and delivering her witty, sometimes angry prose to loud, appreciative audiences. In addition, she has been featured on MTV and performed at Lollapalooza. Her first novel will surely thrill her fans and seduce new ones from the body-pierced, Gen-X crowd as well as Ginsberg and Kerouac followers. As the novel opens, the clean and sober Zoe is holed up in her ex-lover's apartment fantasizing about chaining him up and making him perform menial tasks. From this vantage point, we see flashbacks to her former life as a heroin addict frequently repulsed after a few days with a new boyfriend, writing porn novels for a living, and even cleaning her drug dealer's toilet for a fix. Estep has an incredible ability to make even the most disturbing scenes absurdly hilarious. Recommended for libraries serving a trendy population.Editha Ann Wilberton, Kansas City P.L., Kan.
MTV's favorite performance artist, a self-styled rebel poet, now commits herself to print in this utterly conventional, at times semi-literate, narrative: an episodic tale of romance in the East Village, with interspersed memories of a screwed-up childhood.
Zoe, the posturing narrator of this "document of Emotional Idiocy," is a young woman much like the author: She plays bass guitar, writes porn novels for money, and saves her true self for poetry. She also works part-time as a receptionist in an S&M dungeon, which is perhaps where she learns to be so blasé about sextalk. Zoe's "emotional idiocy" no doubt results from her dysfunctional past. Her parents divorced early on, and she grew up in places as varied as Colorado and France. Later, she joined her itinerant father as he bummed from job to job as a horse-stable manager. Eventually, though, she ends up living in a New York tenement, where her neighbors include hookers, junkies, strippers, a Heavy Metal guy, a Hefty Lesbian, Japanese fashion students, and a superintendent with an unusually long penis. She and her best friends join together to form Idiots Anonymous, a group with membership restricted to "dope fiends, sex addicts, or thieves." Such is the cool world of la vie bohème: Zoe herself studies Burroughs's Junkie, makes the obligatory pilgrimage to Morocco, becomes a "shaky junkie chick," and then detoxs and rehabs. Her desultory sex life includes lots of bad guys, masturbation, and some obligatory lesbianism. In the narrative's present time, she's keeping vigil in the closet of her latest ex, a.k.a. "Satan."
Poetical outbursts (e.g., she's "scrubbing the metaphoric toilets of love") only add to the pretentious claptrap here. Heroin chic, S&M chic, "the arts" as a lifestyle choiceall sound like a great idea for a Broadway musical, if only Jonathan "Rent" Larsen hadn't gotten there first.