WOMEN'S RITES by Jeanne de Berg

WOMEN'S RITES

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Writing under a pseudonym, the wife of a well-known French writer offers a brief but claustrophobic memoir of a few choice sadomasochistic rites enacted in New York and Paris. The ""sacraments"" of this black-gowned mistress are meant to raise this humiliating, occasionally bloody, sexual addiction to the level of erotic art. Posing as a simple voyeur, de Berg makes a foray into New York's raunchiest gay club, the ""Toilet."" A trip to a heterosexual club follows, and de Berg is so intrigued that she returns--to have a young blond ""slave"" suck her spike heels with such abandon that she is inspired to improvise a slow, sadistic sex act on the spot. Usually, however, she prefers intimate performances, calculated ""soirees of fantasy"" in which one or two male slaves and female ""acolytes"" enact ornate scenes: for example, ""The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian"" (""in which eggs would take the place of arrows""). Deadpan, de Berg sets out the literally painstaking preparations that lead up to an awe-inspiring ""tableau vivant"": a tall blond ""Sebastian"" stands unflinching before a wall-size mirror while the delirious mistress of ceremonies pelts him with raw eggs. De Berg then replays this runny scenario, using a woman, before moving on to new tableaux in Paris. On the banks of the Seine, she shackles and flogs a young man (whom she insists on calling ""the Black""). In a Paris townhouse, she brands her original blond ""Sebastian"" with a cigarette after a series of bizarre and debasing rites (with ""the Black"" serving as handmaiden and whipping boy). In the last scene, meant to demonstrate the dangers and addictive charm of the ""art,"" de Berg accidentally stabs her black slave through the thigh. De Berg neither illuminates nor titillates, but gives us something elaborate and lifeless that drags like a long, off-key waltz. Her subject is pathetic, and she makes of it very, very bad art.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1987
Publisher: Grove