What might have been a fascinating story falls short, thanks to its inability to get to the heart and essence of its protagonist, a teenage stripper. First published in Canada and shortlisted for the Governor General's award, Atkinson's debut novel follows two years in the life of Sarah (a.k.a. Tabitha, her stage name) as she criss-crosses western Canada appearing in one seedy dive after another. Sarah, who was raised in a middle-class broken home, dropped out of school to move in with Lloyd. We are never privy as to what events drove her to leave home, nor is it explained why she can't return: We know only that she prefers supporting Lloyd and his scheme to grow marijuana in their apartment. While waiting for the first crop to pay off, however, someone has to bring in some cash, which becomes Sarah's responsibility when the two discover that she can make more in one night stripping than in a week of waitressing. When she returns on the occasional free weekend, Lloyd takes her money to buy more plant lights and starts physically and verbally abusing her. He's eventually thrown in jail, but life doesn't improve for Sarah, who sticks to the circuit. Atkinson, a former stripper herself, paints a revealing portrait of the life: the drugs, the biker boyfriends, the clientele (including those down front, in what the strippers call ``gyno row''), and the loneliness of life on the road. But we never learn much that is essential about the interior Sarah—she remains an enigmatic figure, more of a type than a complex, idiosyncratic human being. Undoubtedly interesting for its glimpse into a seedy, corrupt, rather inaccessible world, but without the depth needed to rise above its sensational subject matter.
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