‘Whore of New York’ Reflects on Sex, Love and Labor

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Books of The Times

  • Oct. 13, 2021, 2:42 p.m. ET
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Let’s commencement with the title. “Whore of New York” employs the large and underused [Character] of [Place] naming normal — 1 seen successful works similar “Anne of Green Gables” and “The Merchant of Venice” and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.” I similar this titling signifier for its orienting purposes. It’s arsenic though the writer has drawn a promenade representation and enactment a large YOU ARE HERE sticker connected it for the reader.

So wherever are we successful Liara Roux’s memoir? We are successful New York, with a whore. (“Whore” being the author’s word, obviously.) Roux introduces herself arsenic a autochthonal of the city, wherever she attended schoolhouse connected the Upper East Side and camped successful the Catskills arsenic a child, and enjoyed “the accepted autistic obsessions” of computers, bid simulators and Pokémon. (That’s not a metaphor. Roux identifies arsenic autistic.) She besides liked playing with snakes, processing binary theories of the satellite and chatting up strangers connected the internet. Some readers mightiness see these past 3 arsenic grounds of weirdness, but I judge that each children are weird if you look intimately enough.

As with astir memoirs, the “childhood” conception of the publication is the slightest interesting. Things get cooking erstwhile Roux finds her calling. This happens successful San Francisco, aft she drops retired of assemblage to determination successful with a girlfriend, Anna, who is astir a decennary older and turns retired to beryllium atrocious news. Despite hefty informing signs — Anna is convulsive and manipulative — the 2 yet marry. As Roux toils astatine a miserable job, 1 of her acquaintances floats the conception of enactment work. After a play of information and research, Roux creates a illustration connected Seeking Arrangements, a dating level that is beauteous overmuch what the sanction suggests. (The institution has since rebranded arsenic Seeking, but the “arrangements” portion remains, shall we say, heavy implied successful its selling materials.)

Roux tackles her archetypal assignment similar an anthropologist, taking intelligence notes astir the process of transactional seduction and walking distant with $500 cash. (“Easy money.”) From there, the encounters vary. One antheral takes her to dinner, drops $10,000 connected a buying spree and books a country astatine the Ritz — lone to denote that helium won’t usage a condom. (She walked retired connected him.) One lawsuit stalks her. Another tells her that helium receives thrice-weekly massages, and Roux observes, with delight, that his tegument is arsenic creaseless arsenic “a pampered Wagyu cow.” Some clients are obnoxious, rude oregon paranoid. Some she likes — these, presumably, are the clients thanked successful the book’s acknowledgments conception for “their fiscal and affectional support, arsenic good arsenic their benignant and thoughtful advice!”

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Roux has zero involvement successful pretending that her acquisition is emblematic of her profession. This memoir, similar each memoirs, is astir the particularities of an idiosyncratic life. It’s not astir the State of the Sex Worker successful America. Roux likes her work, but that doesn’t mean it is without discomfort, anxiety, alienation and fear. She suggests that this is existent of galore jobs, though it’s wide that adjacent a distinctly advantaged tier of enactment enactment contains much perils than the mean job. After 1 lawsuit wraps a loop astir her neck, Roux has nightmares for months. “I became acutely alert of conscionable however susceptible I was,” she writes. “It’s wherefore I was ever truthful stringent astir my screening, contempt the occasional whining of my prospective clients.”

A companion publication to “Whore of New York” mightiness beryllium Studs Terkel’s classical 1974 oral past “Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do.” In it, Terkel plunged into the lives of a gravedigger, a farmer, a photographer, a janitor, a steelworker, a barber, a dentist and dozens of others (including a enactment worker). “Working,” Terkel wrote, was astir the hunt “for regular meaning arsenic good arsenic regular bread, for designation arsenic good arsenic cash, for astonishment alternatively than torpor; successful short, for a benignant of beingness alternatively than a Monday done Friday benignant of dying.”

Along with being fascinated by the existential implications of work, Terkel was intrigued by each vocation’s logistics and vocabulary. These were the parts of Roux’s publication that got my neurons firing, too. She methodically walks america done some the glamorous and mean elements of her job: scooting astir the satellite connected backstage jets, taking Pilates classes and logging clip astatine the spa, but besides getting tested each 3 months for S.T.I.s, managing a bookings calendar, dealing with Verizon erstwhile the stalker lawsuit won’t halt calling and convincing a doc to prescribe H.I.V.-prevention medication. (The doc insists his diligent “probably” doesn’t request it; Roux pushes backmost and feels safer for it.)

While Roux’s home beingness crumbles — she yet files for divorcement and moves backmost to New York — her vocation flourishes. She builds heavy friendships and travels the world: Dubai, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Paris, London. At 1 party, she spots an “infamous writer” being led astir connected a leash by a dominatrix. Over brunch, she demonstrates an quality to glimpse astatine a alien and conjecture “with a precocious grade of certainty” what his fetish mightiness be.

“Whore of New York” is acold from perfect. The penning meanders, dips into therapeutic bromides (“Family is triggering!”) and mostly could person utilized different circular of editing. Some sections are polished to a gleam portion others consciousness similar archetypal oregon 2nd drafts. Roux’s thoughts connected tendency and the net are much vivid than her depiction of her troubled matrimony to Anna, who remains a vague (if disturbing) character, astatine 1 constituent randomly slapping Roux connected the thoroughfare and astatine different secretly spending $10,000 of the couple’s shared wealth connected comic books successful a azygous month.

But for each fewer clumsy oregon fuzzy sentences, there’s 1 consecutive retired of Edith Wharton: “Perhaps portion I americium astatine work, I americium similar a precise bully teacup successful a good eating restaurant: utilized by many, but handled for the astir portion with care. I surely person nary aspirations to beryllium kept successful a furniture somewhere, gathering dust.” This is simply a memoir by a young idiosyncratic astir a beingness successful progress, and if it occasionally feels similar an unfinished work, that doesn’t detract from the book’s powers arsenic an archetypal reflection connected joy, anguish, sex, emotion and labor.

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