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Evelyn Lau Gets Fresh (Shorties Pt. II)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Fresh Girls & Other Stories

Evelyn Lau

Once more, just for fun.

Yes, these stories are old (published 1993), and yes, I’ve read them before (I even wrote a poem based on one of them), but I was looking for slim, light books to bring with me to Taipei and this one fit that bill (119 pages).  Plus, it was the perfect thing for me to read as I was still on a come-down from the Baroque Cycle (yeah, this was a while back).  So please permit my digression into possibly familiar territory.

These stories all centre around women, some middle-aged, most still in or barely out of their teens, all employed or involved somehow in the world of Vancouver’s sex industry.  Based on this premise, one might expect all these characters to be portrayed as victims, sucked into this life by desertion or desolation or abandonment etc.  But Lau makes sure it’s not as cut-and-dried as all that; these girls definitely have to take a lot of shit at the hands of the men who form the other half of their worlds, but these stories show how some of them actually seek it out, or how others are so naive they believe it will just up and end one day and provide them with the future they dream of, and how these dreams are the things that are keeping them trapped.

The first story, eponymously titled, offers us, who may not be overly familiar with the ins and outs of prostitution and heroin addiction, an introduction to this world; it is set at some sort of massage-parlour-cum-brothel, and shows us, through the eyes of a new, young, ‘fresh girl,’ the day-to-day machinations of the place.  Yes, it’s slightly creepy — the men are not seen in a very favourable light.  But then it also shows the jealously and competitiveness that the older women feel toward the young new girl, seeing in her, basically, ’employment competition,’ and not being all that thrilled about it.  As much as you could argue it’s not a  great job being a prostitute, if that’s how you make your money, you’re not going to want others coming into your ‘company’ and doing your job better than you.  It’s an interesting dichotomy, and it is just these sorts of ironic or interesting juxtapositions that Lau chooses to focus on.

I was going to go more in depth about the other stories, but I think I may have already made my point about how Lau presents this world to us in the book, so I’ll just mention a few things quickly and then admonish you to read it yourself.  In The Session, we get a great and funny scene of a man who has hired a dominatrix to come to his apartment and ‘S&M him’ in the living room, all the while his invalid mother is closed into her bedroom; Pleasure looks specifically at masochism and asks the question about whether a person who enjoys being hurt is actually a victim or not; Fetish Night makes the argument that most people’s desire to be ‘different’ or ‘unique’ only ever gets developed in a superficial way — they put on latex clothes and go to S&M clubs and think they’re different but the way they act and react to things is not different or unique at all; and finally, in The Apartments, we have a prostitute who can’t help but mix all off her clients and their various apartments together in her mind, so that she can never quite recall where she’s been or whom she knows.

Overall, it’s a very short, direct, strong collection of stories using sex as a central theme, but then veering off into different realms of the sexual experience — a lot of it first-hand knowledge — to provide some pithy and original observations.  You could argue it’s cautionary, but really only in the sense of you must be cautious of not letting your expectations or possible preconceived notions about certain things blind you from this world as Lau is presenting it; her main goal seems to be for the reader to accept these characters and their experiences at face value and see the grey areas that he/she may not have been willing to regard before.

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