Whore

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Overview


A brief, breathless (heavily autobiographical) novelistic account of the life of a young woman who sells her body for a living, Whore is a searing look at the world's oldest profession and a confessional in the tradition of Sylvia Plath or John Berryman. "Cynthia," as the nameless narrator calls herself professionally, is a French-Canadian Catholic from the sticks who escapes her strict upbringing and stifling parents to move to Montreal as soon as she is old enough. One day she answers the ad of an escort ...
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Overview


A brief, breathless (heavily autobiographical) novelistic account of the life of a young woman who sells her body for a living, Whore is a searing look at the world's oldest profession and a confessional in the tradition of Sylvia Plath or John Berryman. "Cynthia," as the nameless narrator calls herself professionally, is a French-Canadian Catholic from the sticks who escapes her strict upbringing and stifling parents to move to Montreal as soon as she is old enough. One day she answers the ad of an escort agency, and quickly becomes compelled by her strange new calling. Visited by men including an Orthodox Jew cheating on his piety, a boorish Muslim with a deformed arm, a neverending parade of businessmen and fathers, and a young man whose youth and fitness disturbs her more than any of the rest of them, "Cynthia" delivers an unyielding, poetic, and deeply personal account of her whore's life.
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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
There's no mystery as to what this book is about: in a stream-of-consciousness style, a prostitute named Cynthia tells her own story. It's not hopeful or inspiring-it's not even erotic. What first novelist Arcan has written is a rhapsody of self-deprecation with notes of anger, defiance, and pragmatism mixed in. As Cynthia tells it, she came from a cold, wormlike mother and a Catholic school education determined to shred the notion of being a good, docile girl. She admits that she loves to talk about how many clients she sees daily, how important or trivial they are, what physical imperfections they have, and how they see her. She cares deeply about her image and identity, undermining what she says about not being a good girl or being anything like her mother. Doesn't her client see her literally as his own daughter? Will her parents ever find out how she earns a living? These thoughts cycle through her mind over and over, forming a rhythmic undertone. Though the atmosphere is unrelentingly gloomy, and sentences often go on for pages, this is a provocative and mesmerizing story. For academic and larger public libraries.-Lisa Nussbaum, Dauphin Cty. Lib. Syst., Harrisburg, PA Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A seemingly interminable (in spite of its size) and sophomoric exercise in automatic writing pursuing the existential woes of a 20-year-old escort-cum-prostitute. She calls herself Cynthia, after the dead sister she never knew back in her religious home near the Maine border, and she entertains a loathing for her bedridden, useless mother and pious, fire-and-brimstone father. Cynthia is a student in literature at McGill University in Montreal when she answers an ad for an escort service and begins servicing up to eight men a day in a discreetly provided room with bed and bath. She prefers working the daytime, like a regular nine-to-five job, and isn't above enjoying the earlier clients, though it's the repetition-as she reveals in her melodramatic first-person sentences that ramble on without punctuation for pages-that's killing. French Canadian author Arcan actually describes a few of these customers, thus elevating her debut novel above the tedious, self-loathing litany of the analysand. We meet the Sabbath Blackbird, an aged Jew dressed in black, with gray sidelocks, whom Cynthia imagines as "Moses from my catechism courses and my father's Bible . . . honoring God in whoredom" as he masturbates to her gyrations; and Jean the Hungarian, who has a withered arm and myriad scars that, as they discuss literature, they never mention. Cynthia for the most part free-associates about the hate she feels for her yellowing mother; about her father, steeped in a fear of sex that left the daughter eternally small and infantile; about obsessions with her fleeting youth and perfection (plastic surgery helps); and about dreams of death. All these she shares with her psychoanalyst, the true love of herlife, though he gives nothing, not even a response. Hard to get a handle on this very French-feeling, waiflike work that teases like a meal the anorexic Cynthia isn't allowed to swallow: ill-nourished fiction, overall, suggesting unconvincingly that this "caged life is the only one possible."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802170026
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 12/15/2004
  • Pages: 172
  • Product dimensions: 5.44 (w) x 8.20 (h) x 0.46 (d)

First Chapter

Whore


By Bruce Benderson

Grove Atlantic, Inc.

Copyright © 2001 Editions du Seuil
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-8021-7002-1


Chapter One

When I speak, it's usually not to others, which is why there's nothing to hold me back, and so I can say without terrifying you that I was born in a country village near the Canadian border with Maine, that my education was religious, and that my teachers were all dried-up nuns, fanatic about the sacrifice they were making of their lives, women I had to call mothers and who'd had to choose fake names, like Sister Jeanne for Julie or Sister Anne for Andrée, sister-mothers who taught me that parents were powerless when it came to naming their children, that they were inadequate at defining them in relation to God, and what else would you like to know, that I was altogether normal, rather a gifted student, that in this fervently Catholic country where I grew up they sent schizophrenics to be exorcised by the priests, that life here could be quite beautiful if you didn't want much, had faith. And what else? My studying twelve years of piano and like everybody else wanting to leave the country for the city, and then after I stopped touching the piano ending up as a barmaid, then a whore, to escape every shred of my past identity, so I could prove to others that you really could pursue your studies, dream about being a writer, hope for a future and throw your life away here and thereall at the same time, sacrifice yourself just like the sisters in my elementary school did to serve their congregation.

Sometimes at night I dream about that elementary school, go back there again and again for my piano exams, and it's always the same thing, I can't find my piano and my sheet music is missing a page, I go back there knowing that I haven't played a note for years and that being there again at my age as if it were no big deal is ridiculous, and something tells me that it would be better to turn back and avoid the humiliation of no longer knowing how to play in front of the Mother Superior, that anyway she couldn't care less whether I play since it's no big news that I'll never be a pianist, that I'll never do anything but tinkle, and in that little redbrick schoolhouse where every clearing of a throat thundered in the corners, you had to form lines to go from one class to another, with the smallest first and the tallest last, and I had to be the smallest, I don't know why but that was what we had to do, the smallest took the lead and wasn't squeezed in between the smaller ones and the taller ones, and when school started and it was time for the sister to set up the marching order for the year, I'd bend my knees under my dress just to be sure, because yes, I was small, but it wasn't absolutely certain that I was the smallest, I needed to put a little more into it, scrunch down to make sure I got first place, and then I disliked grown-ups, one word from them was enough to make me cry, which explains why I didn't want to have anything to do with any part of them but their bellies, since bellies can't speak or ask for anything, especially the sisters' perfect round balloons that you had the impulse to bounce with your fist. Though today I'm way past this need to be small, for several years I've even worn platform shoes to make me taller, not too tall, just enough to look my clients in the face.

* * *

Actually, I had too many mothers, too many sanctimonious models reduced to a reinvented name, and maybe they really didn't believe in their God who was so thirsty for names, at least not to the end, maybe they were just looking for a pretext to separate from their family, free themselves from the act that had brought them into the world, as if God didn't know that they'd come from a father and mother, as if he couldn't see that they were trying to hide those inappropriate names their parents had chosen under their Jeannes and their Annes, I had too many of that kind of mother and not enough of my mother, a mother who didn't say my name because she needed to sleep too much, and in her sleep she left my father in charge of me.

* * *

I remember the shape of her body under the sheets and her head poking only halfway out like a cat balled on the pillow, a wreck of a mother who was slowly flattening out, nothing left but hair to show that she was there, to distinguish her from the sheets, and the time of the hair seemed to last three, maybe four years, until for me it became the time of Sleeping Beauty, my mother treating herself to some underground old age, although I wasn't really a child anymore, and not yet a teenager, although I was suspended in that intermediary zone where the hair starts to change color, two or three black hairs suddenly sprouting in the downy gold of the crotch, and I knew that she wasn't totally asleep, just halfway there, you could see it in her stiffness under the too-blue sheets, which were too straight in her too-sunny room, with its four large windows that surrounded her bed throwing bright rectangular shafts of light on her head, and anyway, how can you sleep with light shining in your face, and what's the use of having so much sun in a room where you're sleeping? It was easy enough to see she wasn't sleeping by the way she'd jolt suddenly in bed and moan without warning for some unknown reason hidden with her under the sheets.

* * *

And then my father: who didn't sleep and who believed in God, that was all he did, believe in God, pray to God, speak to God, predict the worst for everybody and prepare himself for the Last Judgment, denounce the human race during the six o'clock news at supper, Here's the Third World dying of hunger, he'd always say, and how shameful this easy life is, living high on the hog, my father whom I loved and who loved me in return, who loved enough for two or three, loved me so much that loving myself would have been too much, too ungrateful, in the face of that gushing coming from outside, but luckily there was God and the Third World to protect me from him, channel his forces into a faraway paradise, and one Sunday in church, as both of us sat on the same wooden bench while my mother stayed in bed, as I sat with him on a bench in the first row and watched daylight come through the stained-glass windows and ricochet off the altar in constantly rectangular shafts, I kept the host I was supposed to swallow in my hands, it ended up in my pocket to end up in my room, between the pages of a book I was hiding under the bed, and every evening I'd open the book to be sure it was still there, a fragile white circle that I suspected of not containing anything at all, why would God lower himself to reside in that, what a flattening out, and next Sunday, before leaving for mass, I showed it to my father to let him in on the secret, look what I did, Daddy, take a good look at what I didn't do, and I swear, he almost hit me, It's a sacrilege, he told me, and that was the day I understood that I could be with men, men who had to be renounced, I understood that this was where I had to stay.

And I also have a sister, an older sister I've never known because she died a year before I was born, her name was Cynthia and she never had a real personality because she died too young, according to my father, who said at eight months you can't have a real personality, individual characteristics need time, a particular way of smiling and saying Mama, you need at least four or five years to feel the influence of your parents, to take your turn shouting in the school yard, to shout the way they do to have the last word, my sister's been dead forever but still floats above the family table, she grew up there without anybody mentioning it and settled into the silence of our meals, she's my father's Third World, my older sister who's taken over everything I didn't become, death has let her have everything, any future at all, yes, she could have been this or that, been a doctor or singer, the most beautiful woman in the village, become anything you want since she died so young, free of any possible defining mark one way or another, dead without any tastes or attitudes, and if she'd lived, I wouldn't have been born, that's the conclusion I've had to reach, her death gave me life, but if some miracle had made both of us survive my parents' goal of having only one child, I definitely would have resembled her, been like her, since she would have been older, and a year is enough to establish a hierarchy. I never talk about Cynthia because there's nothing to say, but as a whore I use her name, and not just by chance, since each time a client uses it, it's her he's calling back from the dead.

* * *

Then there was my life, which has nothing to do with all that, with my mother, father, or sister, there's my teenage years and the friends I had, music, pangs of love, trendy haircuts, crying jags about the results and fears of this being too fat, that too small, having a friend who's prettier, ten years of turmoil leading to the beginning of adulthood, the big city, college. For the first time in my life, I found myself alone in an apartment, with a Siamese cat given to me by my parents to keep me from being lonely, so that we'd make the best of each other, no doubt, they figured we'd share the same bed and develop a routine, an ecosystem of fondling and minor needs, and she was the one stable element in a universe fraught with newness, her drowsy consistency taught me that you can suffer from too many possibilities, from too many trains to change in the subway, her name was Zazou and she had blue cross-eyes that made them look bluer, like mine, and I was always hitting her just because she was in the way, and my father had gone to the trouble of putting a crucifix in every room of the apartment after having made sure to have them all blessed, They absolutely have to be blessed, he'd say, because if they aren't, they could get emptied of God and become carcasses, too many people wear the cross without believing in it, just for the look, because these days people only think about prettying things up, cars, religion, and the reason he put crucifixes all over my apartment was to keep me under surveillance and to let visitors know he was there, Nothing said that I don't hear, nothing done that I don't see, by this emaciated body of Christ, but I never understood how you could have a dead person for a god.

* * *

My father never stopped voicing his horror of the big city, there was too much to denounce, the whores and homosexuals, the rich people and celebrities, the booming economy and the law of the strongest, the disaster of things that aren't intelligible anymore, a cacophony of languages and architecture, spring's muck and the ugliness of modern buildings, And how can the facade of a church serve as the entrance to a university, he'd exclaim indignantly as if it had something to do with me, a church stunted as an unblessed crucifix, emptied of God, and how could the halls of the university lead right out to peepshows, where are we going when there's just a step from education to prostitution? And what he said was true, scientifically verifiable, a church's facade was the entrance to the building where I had most of my classes, a facade that had been preserved and restored for the patrimony because it looked pretty, and a lot of the windows of the classrooms looked out over bars with nude dancers, the pink neons of the feminine principle, I spent whole classes with a bird's-eye view of droves of sex workers, and that's quite a turn of phrase, you can see some recognition in it for the world's oldest profession, the oldest of its social functions, I like the idea of working sex like you work pastry dough, pleasure as labor that can be wrung out of something, that demands effort and merits a salary, restrictions, standards. And most students found nothing wrong in this cohabitation with whores, that's the most striking part, you quickly get used to something you can't escape, when it overflows from the other side of the street onto your class notes, but the nearness of it had an effect on me, it sent me toppling over to the other side of the street, how could a theory hold water in the face of so much pleasure? Yet nobody knew me anyway, and spring went well, it pushes you to act, to put the rope around your neck, it gave me the opportunity to slip out of my hick's clothing, and I was thrilled about that.

* * *

Prostituting myself was easy, since I'd always known I belonged to others, to a community that would take the responsibility of finding me a name, regulate my comings and goings, give me a master who'd tell me what to do and how, what to say and not say, I'd always known how to be the smallest, the sexiest, and by then I was already working in a bar as a waitress, whores were already on one side and customers on the other, customers who tipped me a little more than necessary and who expected a little more attention than necessary, ambiguity settled in very gently and naturally, we used each other for several months before I made up my mind to go for what strongly attracted me, and thinking about it today, it seems as if I didn't have a choice, I'd already been appointed a whore, I was a whore before I was one, all I needed was to leaf through the anglophone daily, the Gazette, and find the escort agencies page, all I needed was to dial a number, the number of Montreal's most prestigious agency, and according to the ad, the agency hired only the best escorts and accepted only the best clientele, meaning the youngest women and the richest men, the two have always gone together, everybody knows that, and since I was very young, they were eager to hire me, they came to pluck me out of my home and stick me right away in a room where I had five or six clients in a row, beginners are always so popular, they explained, they don't even need to be pretty, just one day in that room was enough to convince me that I'd done it all my life. I grew old in a single stroke, but I also made a lot of money, I made friends with whomever it was possible, and even frighteningly apt, to have a rapport, since we shared a common hatred, a hatred of the clients, but as soon as we left the circle of prostitution, we became normal social women again, enemies.]

Continues...


Excerpted from Whore by Bruce Benderson Copyright © 2001 by Editions du Seuil. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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