MELISSA FEBOS has never been a slacker. She makes this utterly apparent in her memoir Whip Smart, in which she revisits four years spent dominating both English classes at the New School, and the fetish-crazed men of Manhattan in an upscale S&M house.
A self-described "casual anthropologist," Febos gains entry to an elite club of catheter inserters at the Dungeon of Mistress X, with intentions of expanding her frame of reference and air-conditioning her sweltering apartment in Bed-Stuy. She quickly becomes enmeshed in the lifestyle, amassing regular clients who fund her speedball addiction with each golden shower she bestows upon them. And after AA meetings, countless relapses, and a revival session with her sponsor, Febos finds herself off the junk, clear minded and thus unable to spank saggy asses and drag perverted men around the streets of Manhattan by a leash attached to their penis. A success story soon follows.
While the book offers an in-depth glimpse into a curious sect of sexual deviance, the prose can be exhausting. Always one for secrets, it's obvious that Febos experiences some difficulty in rehashing her story in such detail. She overcompensates for her shame with constant mention of her 3.9 GPA and an overall tone of intellectual superiority, working hard to convince her readers that she is more scholar than sex worker, and a brilliant scholar/sex worker at that.
However, while it's not the most enjoyable experience to feel dominated by a narrator (unless, of course, you're into that), Febos does well to engage her audience in her feats as a dominatrix in ways other than just describing her sessions. For instance, when asked if she is a sadist, she reflects, "I couldn't fathom hurting someone who didn't want it, but how many people get to experience the moral loophole of hurting someone who wants to be hurt?" In that loophole, Febos describes transcendence, referencing her love of consciousness shifts and self-alienation, which first sparked her drug habits and brought her to the dungeon. Which could very well be an excuse, tailored specifically to keep her exempt from the mindless perversion she sees in her clients, but at least it's an interesting excuse.