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Work the Sex
By Coral Hull
Review by: Morgaine Swann

  1/1/04

This review would be a lot easier to write if I did not know who Coral Hull is. She has a doctorate in Creative writing, has produced 35 books of poetry, prose and digital photography, and she is gorgeous. That should not matter, but I mean, I would be packing for Australia if I had not read this book. I did read it, though.

If you are a lover of beautiful prose and uplifting imagery, this is not for you. It is a story of a group of prostitutes working in a harbor town in Australia. The imagery is raw and often far too visceral for faint hearts or weak stomachs. We never get a clear picture of the women themselves, but we get to know their customers in putrid detail. Dr. Hull will never be accused of glamorizing the life of an escort. I have several friends in the Sex industry, and I really pray that their reality is not as horrid as this.

The reader is thrown into the story without any context, which was confusing at first, as was the stream of consciousness narrative which alternates between the principle characters. It reminded me very much of Catcher in the Rye in that there was very little demarcation between narrative and dialogue. (I wanted to kick J.D. Salinger's ass after I read Catcher so take that into account when you decide whether to give any credence to my opinion. I know I am in the minority here.) The tendency for the characters to confuse dates and tricks was disturbing. Often the narrative was too flowery and the imagery too complex to be believable coming from the mouths of working girls. Even the most sophisticated woman is unlikely to speak in such detail and the writer's hand was plainly seen where it might better have been hidden in service to the characters themselves.

Still, there were moments of horrible tenderness, as when one of the women, Roxanne, saves a possum baby, and when she describes her intent to provide not just sex but healing to her clients. She is at once the most hopeful and heartbreaking of the group as she takes us through her New Age approach to her work and her own painful experience with abortion. Hull does a good job of showing that there is no such thing as an "easy" answer to an unwanted pregnancy.

Imagery in the book was surprisingly Freudian - to the point that I would have guessed that the author were male had I not known her identity. Repeated references to the mythical vaginal orgasm as preferred to clitoral orgasms (we know now that all orgasms involve vagina and clitoris) and the Eros/Thanatos dichotomy combined with a tendency to refer to their own bodies in the hardest language were unexpected, to say the least. I felt that they were too harsh to allow any empathy with the characters.

The story leaves us on a positive note, though the journey has not been an easy one. This is a sad, disturbing trip you might not want to take.

 




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