Saturday, September 17, 2011

Paying For It

by Chester Brown

It's been a few days since I've finished reading this book, but I wanted to take a while before writing about it, as I'm not sure how I feel about it.

Basically, Chester Brown gives us a journal of his experiences with prostitutes and escorts, in both in-call and out-call situations.  We also get to read a fair amount about his justifications and rationale for this behaviour, and the reactions of some of this closest friends with regards to it.

After having a slow breakup with his last girlfriend (they continued to live together, but her new boyfriend moved in), Brown decided to use prostitutes to satisfy his sexual needs, and to no longer seek relationships with women beyond the monetary kind.  We follow him through a few years of his whoring, as he goes from being a timid john utilizing a pseudonym, to developing a monogamous relationship with one particular woman who he loves, but continues to pay for services rendered.

While the book avoids being particularly graphic, it is indeed pretty explicit in a number of places.  This is definitely not a book for someone who enjoyed Louis Riel and wanted to read more of his stuff (although that's more or less how I came to read it).  Brown gives each woman their own chapter, and gives us as faithful a rendition of their encounter as he can, allowing for the shoddiness of memory, and his desire to protect the identities of these women.  It does seem like he's getting (and paying for) a lot of sex, but it's worth paying attention to the dates listed, as he has carefully organized the time between his encounters.

A book like this is sure to raise all sorts of opinions and questions.  I can see how this arrangement worked for Brown, but recognize that it's not for me.  He doesn't shy away from issues of human trafficking and sexual slavery, but also appear to ever reject a woman if she suspects that her involvement with him is not purely consensual.  Brown fills the last twenty-five pages of the book (before his voluminous notes) with 23 appendices designed to share his views on topics like exploitation, pimping, violence, and Nevada's brothels.  It's a very informative book, opening a window onto a world I am pretty unaware of.  The fact that Brown lives in my city adds particular relevance to the book for me.

This is probably the most honest in a long line of autobiographical and confessional graphic novels completed by Brown and his circle.  I have no doubt that it's an important book; I'm just not sure how much I enjoyed it.  I did find it compulsively readable, but like Brown's meetings with Anne in the book, it left me feeling kind of empty afterwards.

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