WHORE by Nelly Arcan

WHORE

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KIRKUS REVIEW

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 her life, 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.”

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-8021-7002-1
Page count: 172pp
Publisher: Black Cat/Grove
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2004




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