Thursday, September 22, 2011

NEW STUFF: Getting Off - Lawrence Block as "Jill Emerson"

Getting Off by Lawrence Block
(writing as Jill Emerson)
335 pages
Hard Case Crime $25.99

Kit Tolliver may remind some readers of an oversexed female version of Dexter. I couldn't help but draw analogies between the two characters. There were some scenes in this outrageously over-the-top sex and blood thriller that seemed to have been lifted right from that popular TV show. But Block has something else in mind than the usual study of the psychopathology of a fictional serial killer. It's not so much the killing and the violence that is the focus. It's the sex that dominates this book. Raw, hedonistic, power play sex. And it is sex that defines Kit's personality and how she navigates her way through her world. It's a book where orgasm, the little death as the Elizabethans liked to call it, is in search of a much bigger death -- death as the ultimate high as the title so bluntly suggests.

The tame subtitle on the front cover labels this as “a novel of sex and violence." That 's enough to send many people looking elsewhere for a new read, I'm sure. But if you are the kind of reader who might be tempted to pick it up as a experiment in a guilty pleasure read you will get more than you ever dreamed of.  Open the cover and it's like opening a Pandora's box hidden away in the darkest corner of an adult pleasure shop in some backwater Podunk.  You will never expect what Block has in store for you.

That generic subtitle doesn’t even begin to explain what’s found on the pages within. The sex takes all forms from the usual mild descriptions of vanilla sex that fade out to the blowing curtains to graphically detailed power play games complete with ropes, blindfolds, gags, and sex toys. While most of the sex is between Kit and her male victims there’s also plenty of girl on girl action that extends to phone sex and "jilling off" stories. This is, after all, a "Jill Emerson" opus. Lesbian scenes will take center stage frequently. Kit is so depraved in her exploration of the darker side of hedonism that she even indulges in a little necrophilia.

Block presents us with a female sexual predator who experiences her ultimate high in murder. The orgasm is great, the kill is even better.
She reached a point where the sex act itself wasn't complete as long as her partner had a pulse. That was the true orgasm; when she struck like a cobra and the man died.
I was repulsed and fascinated by this book. I couldn't stop reading. How could I care about this cold-hearted, antisocial woman whose life was nothing but the pursuit of pleasure, the killing of sex partners, and the theft of their money? Surely there had to be something in her that I would find likeable or admirable. And there was. It was her cunning, her manipulation of everyone she encountered. Her father used to call her "his little soldier" and Kit in many ways has much in common with men trained in warfare. Targeting the enemy, sizing them up, out thinking them and then - bam! - taking them out.

If you stick with this deeply disturbed woman you may be surprised to find that she has a smidgen of a heart left in her steely soul. Late in the book there is a scene where she is shocked to discover that one of her former bedmates has been transformed by his life in the Iraq war. Seeing his battle scarred, abused and broken body deeply affects Kit. Her usual modus operandi in her bizarre revenge scheme is altered in an eyebrow raising scene that may elicit a few gasps of shock.

More sensitive readers might be gasping and crying out "Oh My God!" on nearly every page, frankly. The sex scenes only escalate in twisted surprising fashion as the book progresses. The basic premise is abused girl gets even with her abuser and the silent parent who did nothing to stop the abuse then sets out to find her true self in non-stop sexual encounters that usually end in murder. Problem is circumstances do not always allow for Kit to get her desired final orgiastic thrill. Five men managed to escape execution at her hands. Now she’s tracking them down intent that no one can live to tell that they ever had been with her. Kit is not fond of being the subject of conquest stories. She's the final conqueror when she meets a man. And we all know dead men tell no tales.

But Kit's search for those five men will take her into uncharted territory - the geography of her own heart. Decades ago she thought she left her heart and her emotions and what little love she ever felt buried and forgotten. Her emotional life is desperately fighting its way back to the surface, gasping for breath in a stifling existence of brutal hedonism and callous violence. Could she really be feeling love for another person? You may be praying for her soul, you may be praying she gets her comeuppance. Either way I guarantee you'll feel something for this sharply drawn, powerful and deadly woman.

For a little insight into the Block/Emerson identity crisis read this great interview where "they" talk to each other about "their" writing.

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