Verdict: A remarkable investigation of a man attempting to save himself from stagnation.
A man of meager ambition and accomplishment experiences a midlife crisis that launches him into the world of S&M.
Kit Cayman is 49. He lives in a small, rent-controlled apartment in Chelsea, paying his bills by completing the inconsistent freelance translation jobs that trickle in from his shrinking list of clients. He has a girlfriend in the Bronx, though the relationship hasn’t progressed much in ten years and he fears they both continue it merely out of habit. His happiest moments are jamming on his saxophone with his upstairs neighbor LeBron; when LeBron convinces Kit to play a gig out with LeBron’s band, Kit gets a rare taste of purpose. More than the music, Kit is enthralled by a cute, purple-haired woman who accompanies him home. Their night together teaches Kit something he never realized about himself: he might be a submissive. The exchange haunts his thoughts as he crosses over the threshold of fifty. Soon he is searching the Internet for the type of woman who can pull him out of his lifetime’s habit of inertia and indecision: “A dominatrix. A decision-maker by definition, he thought. The buck stops there. Who better to shove him over the cliff?” Kit descends quickly into the hitherto unknown world of BDSM, where his long-numb sensations of pleasure, pain, fear, and excitement are reawakened, and his renewed thirst for fulfillment threatens to destroy the humble life he’s built for himself.
Dommes aside, this is not a work of erotica. Though sex and romance are discussed, the subject of this book is the loneliness that lives inside Kit and his attempts to banish it from himself. The prose is wonderfully conversational, working subtle comprehensive magic to pull the reader forward through the story without calling much attention to itself. The nuances of emotion (particularly dispassionate emotion) are hard to bring to life on the page, yet Clark manages to make them very engaging. He writes Kit’s interiority with an expertise that creates a surprising sense of universality in a story that, at least in the abstract, should be a peculiar taste. Readers will feel the needs of Kit even if they do not feel those same needs within themselves. Clark avoids melodrama by placing the tragic outcome right at the beginning: we are not asked to read to find out what happens to Kit, but to find out why. There are multiple ways to view success in life, and Kit’s journey through sexuality is not about preservation of the body, but of the soul. In the book’s prologue, a character observes that “at the end of life our sexuality outlives the rest. Memories, meaning, love, they vanish long before.” The remainder of the novel asks the reader to weigh the validity of that sentiment.
A remarkable investigation of a man attempting to save himself from stagnation.