Between the Covers

Whip Smart

Mellissa Febos

I don’t know what made me choose this book... a mild curiosity as to what a dominatrix actually does? The clever, catchy title? This memoir comes with a warning from me. THIS IS NOT FOR THE FAINT-HEARTED!

Set in New York, it’s honest, detailed, and poetically well written – Febos is also a top uni student. She describes a job servicing men’s desires to be verbally and physically humiliated, punished, bound, tortured, and other extreme sexual fantasies including many involving bodily excretions.

After reading some sections, I felt I needed a good scrub down in the shower. The sad part is most of these fantasies originate with cruel and unusual punishments doled out by mothers to their toddlers, ‘Mean Mommie’ being one of the most popular role plays.

The first few chapters were so overwhelming in their grossness I wondered if this book would ever deliver on the cover blurb of her emergence from her double life (it did, eventually). This job was not taken because of drugs nor stopped when drug use stopped, as Febos slowly became sucked into this underworld herself, using it to explore the far reaches of her own personality. You feel the dirty black tentacles of depravity seeping into her mind and body. Many times I felt I had to put this book down and walk away to avoid contamination myself. Powerful writing.

She has a great turn of phrase: “My perspective shifted so violently, the bookshelf might have spun around, transporting me from a library to a bat cave.”

Her therapist’s explanation “... resounded like a long lovely note expanding into the silence that follows it. Unexpected truth does this...”

And this gem: “Real trauma is like a giant hunk of scar tissue that the rest of your life accommodates, grows around. It changes the shape of you, of everything that happens after it.”

This is an analytical study of one very intelligent woman’s mind as she struggles to feel truly empowered. Much of what she says about the compulsion to control events in her own life will have resonance, but few would choose the path she took. Anyone who thinks being a dominatrix might be fun – you know, high heels, whips and all that leather – should read this.

Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Shopping Square.

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