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The odds are probably stacked against Jennifer Belle's Going Down, a punk-picaresque first novel that Riverhead is slipping into bookstores as a summertime paperback original. For one thing, it comes adorned with blurbs from three writers (Jay McInerney, Tama Janowitz, Quentin Crisp) that may scare away all but the hardiest souls. For another, if there's one thing the culture doesn't need right now it's another tragicomic saga about a good-hearted call-girl. And if that's not enough, Belle -- a 27-year-old editor at a literary magazine called Mudfish -- saddles her protagonist with a name that shouldn't have gotten past the book's first edit: Bennington Bloom.
All that said, Going Down has a bright, engaged, bracing tone that keeps you turning the pages. The plot isn't complex: Bennington is an NYU undergrad who, on the brink of financial and emotional collapse and with no help forthcoming from her addled family, spies an escort ervice ad in the Village Voice and quickly finds herself leading a frantic double life. ("I felt self-conscious with my nipples showing through my Laura Ashley dress and my beeper going off in my coat pocket," she cracks early in the book. "It didn't fit with my story about being a paralegal.")
As Going Down progresses, it not only picks up a rueful, feminized kind of grace -- Bennington is shrewd about where she wants life to take her, and Belle doesn't condemn either her or her odd assortment of clients -- but the details are never less than exact. "New York is a convenient city to go crazy in," Bennington notes after a particularly manic day, while scanning the teeming life in Washington Square Park. "You can always stop and have a diet Pepsi with a malfunctioning straw." While never prurient, she is just as exact about her on-the-job routine: "Afterwards, I always say, 'You've got a great body.' Or if there is no way that is plausible, I say, 'You've got great hair,' and if even that's stretching it, I say, 'I love your mustache,' or 'Your skin is so soft.' Sometimes I just say, 'Nice apartment.'"
Going Down closes as its narrator is struggling toward a kind of escape, emotional if no other kind. At the same time, you feel Belle's narrative gifts working their way toward the surface, too. She's got a way to go, but she's worth watching. -- Salon