MAIDENHEAD by Tamara Faith Berger (Coach House), 154 pages, $18.95 paper. Rating: NNN
You'd think that Tamara Faith Berger's preoccupation with sexually precocious teens would be getting a bit old by now. But she works it so well that you can almost forgive her for harping on her familiar themes.
In Maidenhead, 16-year-old Myra heads to Florida for a vacation with her splintering family and meets Tanzanian musician Elijah, who sniffs an easy target. Soon Myra's desperate to lose her virginity in Elijah's motel room, only to be hit with the first of many surprises he has in store for her.
Eventually, he and Gayl, his girlfriend and business partner, turn up in Myra's small unnamed Canadian town, whereupon she starts hanging out with them in their hotel room, degrading herself in myriad ways.
From the moment she meets Elijah, Myra's in thrall - literally. This is a story about sexual slavery, and Berger mines the terrain with considerable skill.
For starters, she portrays Myra as a brilliant teen, the kind who reads Hegel and Bataille and writes high school essays about the complexities of the master-slave relationship.
There's lots of savvy dialogue between Myra and her pot-smoking anarchist friends as they discuss these issues, although - and this is crucial to the story - they have no idea to what extent Myra is living them out.
Berger tries to use a po-mo device in which Gayl and Myra's best friend, Lee, comment on the narrative, but you get the feeling she's not quite sure what to do with it. But the writer builds tension in ways that are wholly appropriate to her story. One thing about obsession is that it does tend to deepen.
Those with anti-porn tendencies will loathe Maidenhead, but some of us can appreciate Berger's attempts to grapple with sado-masochistic dynamics. And everyone interested in literary erotica will agree that she makes a unique contribution to the genre.
Berger reads as part of the Coach House Spring Launch on Wednesday (March 28). See listing.
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