Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Whip Smart: The True Story of a Secret LifeWhip Smart: The True Story of a Secret Life by Melissa Febos

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(There may be a spoiler or two in here – don’t say I didn’t warn you.)

Firstly, let me say that I found Melissa Febos’ WHIP SMART to be extremely well-written and knowledgeable… this is truly an unforgettable read.   With only an occasional discordant note, Ms Febos' narrative has a ring of truth that makes WHIP SMART a compelling, thought-provoking, and compassionate telling of human frailty… of human need… of human imperfection.  I recommend this book without hesitation.

The discordant note(s)? The imperfections which led me to upgrade my rating of the book?

The back cover of WHIP SMART reads (paraphrasing) – “Whip Smart is the story of Melissa’s journey into a shocking double life [as a college student and a professional dominatrix]. And she spares no one – clients, co-workers, herself…”

Oh, but wait a minute.  It seems Ms. Febos does spare herself… to a degree.  In characterizing her ‘work’ in the mid-town sex dungeons as ‘a professional dominatrix’, Melissa is less than honest with herself… and her readers.  And, disappointingly, she does not correct this misperception.

This was really my only objection with the book.  Well, there is one other thing, but it is really more of an observation than an objection with the story Melissa tells… and tells quite well, I might add.

All through the book, I waited for Melissa to have her ‘epiphany’.   Either the epiphany never came, or she chose not to share it with her readers.

I do not doubt for a moment that everything that Ms. Febos wrote about is true... I am nonetheless disappointed that she is not being as honest with herself as I would have expected in a ‘tell-all memoir’.   I don’t know - I have a suspicion - if this is deliberate or Melissa is simply in denial.  I just expected more honesty, in the midst of all that truth.

I do not say this to be mean or judgmental… it is simply fact.   Allow me to offer up a couple of definitions -

Prostitution – the act or practice of providing sexual services to another person in return for payment.

Dominatrix - a woman who takes the dominant role in bondage, discipline and sadomasochism - having near-absolute control over the submissive.   The submissive does just that… submits.  He, or she, does not ‘direct’ the dominatrix.

One can color it how they will, but what went on in those dungeons appears to have been more prostitution than domination… true domination.  It can hardly be called domination if one simply does what another person has paid to have done to them.  Is there really that much difference between paying a person to fellate them to orgasm, than to pay a person to whip or spank them to orgasm?   Both acts meet the first definition.   One does wonder though… about all those clients… how many of them went about the rest of their day thinking how cleverly they have reversed the roles?

If Ms. Febos were to be completely honest, she would preface her book with something along the lines of - “I spent four years as a prostitute in New York City, taking money from men who obtained sexual satisfaction from humiliation and pain, instead of the more conventional acts of sex. At the same time, I worked toward earning my degree, became addicted to drugs (in an attempt to numb myself to the fact that I was, in essence, selling my body so that other people could ‘get off’) and subsequently became a recovering drug addict; ultimately going on to teach creative writing at various institutions.”

I mean… if we want to take away all the pretty words; that pretty much sums things up.

The epiphany I waited for?

Just this… it became glaringly obvious fairly early in the book, that Melissa was not the ‘dominatrix’, but was instead, the ‘dominated’ – the submissive in the twisted symbiosis of two souls in need.

Consider this…

If someone gives you money and tells you exactly what to do… and you do it… who is the one in control?   And, who is the one being controlled?  Who is the one being dominated?

Who was… ‘whip smart’?

Did I miss the ‘mea culpa’?  No… I’m simply not going to spend a lot of time on it.  Drug addiction and recovery seem to be formulaic as far as memoirs go, and Melissa’s was about what one would expect.   Blame is portioned out… perhaps not equally, but the interesting thing about blame and responsibility… they evolve… until what was once an unclosed circle… is complete.

Some have noted that Melissa’s telling of her addiction was a “little too ‘all about me’”.  Of course it is… isn’t that what memoirs are all about?

It sounds as if Melissa has, as much as possible, made her peace with all that transpired during those years. Is her memoir that final step… an [attempt at] expiation of her ‘sins’… an exorcism of her demons?  Only Melissa can answer that.

If it isn’t, then she has paid a steep price indeed, to ‘live outside of convention’.  I want to ask her… if it was worth it… all that she lost.

In closing, I would say only this… Thank you, Melissa Febos.  Whip Smart is one book which will stay with me for a very, very long time.  I am certain that I will read it at least a couple of more times.

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