WHIP SMART by Melissa Febos


A Memoir
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In her provocative debut, Febos chronicles her descent into drug and sex addiction and her harrowing escape from both.

Already a heroin addict in 1999, the author moved to New York to attend college at the New School. A chance encounter with a neighbor led her to find work in an upscale S&M house. For the next four years she was a professional dominatrix. Febos pulls no punches as she describes in minute, and at times horrific, detail her working life fulfilling the sexual fantasies of men who need to be humiliated (or to humiliate), where the tools of her trade included “latex enema, colon tube, Bardex, clamps, catheter, piercing needles, leather cuffs.” At first she viewed the work as just a well-paying gig, but she began to realize that it also fulfilled personal needs that had seemingly always been there—a need to seduce, to be desired, to control but also, paradoxically, to be controlled. She was seduced by “the romance of misbehavior” and “the exhilaration of secrecy.” She considered herself smart and clever enough to be both “normal”—the brilliant student with a bright writing future—and a drug-addled sex worker who increasingly crossed self-imposed barriers of what she would not do for money and attention. Eventually her dual life began to destroy her, and her intellectual arrogance gave way to the realization that “my compulsions were simply stronger than my will.” Her drug life was reduced to locking herself in her room with “a glass of water, a bag of puke, and a coffee can full of pee in the closet.” With much suffering and plenty of help, she ended her drug addiction, but the sex addiction remained. Not until she learned to accept the essential truth about herself was she able to escape the demons that haunted her and the depression they nurtured. In lesser hands this could be a maudlin, salacious tale, but Febos’s electrifying prose and unremitting honesty continually challenge the reader.

Expertly captures grace within depravity.

Pub Date: March 2nd, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-312-56102-4
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1st, 2010


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