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
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Belle combines very funny, sharply written prose and a superb grasp of narrative in her debut novel. At the center of it all is her unforgettable main character, Bennington Bloom, a 19-year-old who goes to work as a call girl in high-class New York City brothels to put herself through NYU. This is no hooker with a heart of gold. She's better. The arresting combination of her caustic wit and insightful observations make for a wickedly hilarious sense of humor evoking Dorothy Parker. This is keenest when she's in bed with the men who are paying her for sex; to focus her mind elsewhere, she calculates how much money she's making. She's not about to take anything seriously: her dysfunctional family, her ridiculous acting classes, her stress-induced ulcer, her wayward friends, her intensely type-A boyfriend or, least of all, herself. Even in her moments of intense self-pity when she's confessing to her deaf, senile shrink, she can stand far enough away to laugh, or at least smirk. Things do faze her but, true to her restless nature, never for long. With tight prose and precise detail, Belle transforms the perverse into the absurd and tempers it with an empathy that prevents the book from becoming mean or crude. Belle's riotous, vivid debut has the energy and gritty appeal of New York City itself.
Bennington Bloom is a 19-year-old acting student at New York Univeristy in search of a part-time job. Answering an ad in the Village Voice for "coeds" leads her into a life as a high-paid call girl. In a light, no-nonsense, humorous voice, Bennington describes her sexual experiences, her adventures with eccentric friends, and her distant father. She becomes so hooked on the easy money she makes as a prostitute that when she finds a decent man and moves in with him, she can't give it up. Instead, she invents a job for herself as a caterer to explain her frequent evening absences, which leads to heartbreak and humiliation when the truth is discovered. While Belle is clearly a writer to watch, having crafted a first novel that is compulsively readable, her characters are so shallow that in the end the reader is left with nothing substantial to remember. Recommended for adventurous readers.-Patricia Ross, Westerville P.L., Ohio
A pleasing frolic on dangerous ground, this debut from Belle features a ditzy NYU coed's yearlong misadventures as a novice hooker, spiraling downward while she imagines herself on the road to better things.
Abandoned by her professor daddy so that he can make a life with his new wife, shunned by a thieving roommate for her lack of enthusiasm over his spoils, Bennington Bloom is lovely but homeless as her 19th birthday nears. On a whim, she contacts an escort service and is hired on the spot, beginning her hands-on education as a working girl. Busy enough to take her mind off her troubles, she buys expensive treats while trying to save enough for tuition, but when the owner of the service becomes paranoid and dumps her, Bennington turns to a brothel. Having to juggle her clients at Blanche's, acting classes, more roommate problems, and ongoing parental neglect, she seeks counseling, but because her therapist is 80 and partly deaf, the two can't communicate. Bennington barely escapes from a raid at Blanche's, then leaves when management wants to tax her earnings. An encounter with a painter friend (who has filled an East Village church with images of her, as a saint, as Mary Magdalen, even as one of the wise men) takes her to Martha's Vineyard for much needed R&R; she meets the hunk Adam on a whale- watching cruise and before long has moved into his Manhattan apartment. Telling him she does catering, Bennington goes back to work, but in time her man learns her true calling and dumps her, too. She searches the city for love, wandering the streets in a paralyzing snowstorm, until she finds new hope on a nearly abandoned subway platform.
Though finely detailed, and appealing in its madcap manner, this flurried portrait of city hustles and heartbreaks offers only a limited, eviscerated view of the perils of a life on the make.
What People are saying about this
A funny, sad, nasty little gem of a novel.
From the Publisher
"Going Down is a very funny and sharply observed picaresque tale of a young woman's struggles in New York, featuring an irrepressible, and winning narrator. Jennifer Belle has a gift for capturing the moments of screwball comedy offered up by everyday life in the city, and making them feel not only fresh but significant."
"Witty, gritty, and thoroughly convincing."
"Delightfully, sickeningly, hilariously enthralling."
"Imagine Holden Caulfield's siter, Phoebe, growing up and turning tricks to study acting, and you have Bennington Bloom...Alternately vulnerable and self-possessed Bloom is the main attraction of this book, but there are others: a riveting plot with menacing undercurrents and creepy details, a cast of colorful minor characters, and a happy but not sappy ending. Going Down is loaded with comical ironies...a wonderful, aberrant, compulsively readable novel: A."
"The best thing about Jennifer Belle's appealing first novel is Bennigton Bloom, the near-tragic yet fantastically winning narrator...Belle has created an oddly affecting character whose self-reflexive candor and wry observations add up to an astringent, darkly comic view of New York life."
—Time Out New York
"Belle combines very funny, sharply written prose and a superb grasp of narrative...Her caustic wit and insightful observations make for a wickedly hilarious sense of humor evoking Dorthy Parker...Belle's riotous, vivid debut has the energy and gritty appeal of New York City itself."
A kind of twisted version of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes...delightfully, sickeningly, hilariously enthralling.