VICES/VIRTUES is a collection of stories framed by the life and experiences of the narrator, Cristela, raised by a single mother, graduated from NYU on a scholarship, and working both as an apartment shower and a dominatrix. Intermingled with the story of her life are the stories of the other women who work for the BDSM dungeon–from Justine, with parents descended from Italian and African royalty and nobility, to Virginia, still trying to deal with the fallout from a problematic relationship with a German man, to Daisy, survivor of abuse and drug addiction.
The clients, too, have stories of their own, and all of them are looking for something missing in their lives, some need that has gone unfilled or satisfaction they can’t find anywhere else. While the clients’ stories frequently remain enigmatic or are only partly told, each of the women gets to tell her own story from her own perspective. This, while occasionally mildly confusing, provides the reader with a chance to look through another set of eyes for a bit, and to experience their backstories firsthand. All of these stories are told with sympathy and affection, and all of them are presented to the reader as is, without judgement or apology. The result is a tapestry of human experience, colored with love and sorrow, loss and hope, illustrating the qualities, inborn and developed, that make us who we are and lead us down the paths from our childhoods to our futures.
A BDSM dungeon is an unconventional setting, no doubt, one that some might assume involves strictly dehumanized, commercialized relationships, and that very fact throws into stark relief just how human the participants are, both dominatrix and client, and how human their behavior towards each other and towards other people in their lives inevitably is. None of the characters in the book are without flaw, and none of them are without virtue–no one is unlovable or unworthy of love. Even privileged Justine has her battles to fight, and even the most downtrodden and humiliated client is presented as a person worthy of our sympathy and kindness. This is a novel that doesn’t focus so much on plot, with a defined beginning, middle, and ending, but presents itself as an ongoing series of narratives, processes that don’t stop with a final climactic resolution and a “happily ever after” but keep on moving towards growth, self-understanding, and learning.
VICES/VIRTUES is a beautifully written, strikingly moving, thoughtful look at the interacting lives and diverse backgrounds of women in an unconventional profession.
~Catherine Langrehr for IndieReader