Becky Due’s First – The Gentlemen’s Club: A Story for All Women
Review by: Zénó Vernyik
The black front cover of this average-sized book is dominated by a strange drawing of white, grey and red, but predominantly the first of these colors. It features a strangely telling composition: a woman nailed to a man, as if she were crucified. Shocking as it may seem to some, or even sacrilegious, part of the reason behind its powerfulness is the reference to one of the primary myths of Christianity: the act of self-sacrifice. In this picture, it is a woman who is crucified, or rather Woman, as such. The cross, at the same time, becomes exchanged for Man, that is, it is no longer a symbol of the axis mundi, the World Tree, on which she is crucified, but Man. Women are suffering by and for men; they are crucified on, by, but also for them. Another crucial point can be that Man who stands in for the crucifix is just as powerless as Woman. This is exemplified by the fact that neither one of the two figures is veiled. Our savior, here, is exposed and powerless, but the case of the living crucifix is not much better. Neither one of the two figures is in the position to cover himself/herself . The only way they could perform that action would be made possible if, and only if, the crucifix stopped being a crucifix, and permitted movement for her. The bonding function of the nail also works in both ways: Man is just as inseparably bound to Woman, as it is true the other way around. Furthermore, the calm and peaceful facial expression also suggests an air of comfort and happiness, something that can be or should be achieved through the unity of man and woman that this visual metaphor may also skillfully represent. This complex icon that the book features tells much of what this book sets as its goal: a thorough, painful and direct analysis of all the possible kinds of relationships that are existing in contemporary bourgeois society. The handling of the topic is similar to the treatment of an ulcer by the surgeon: precise, uncompromising and cutting right to the hidden core. And the expertise of the venture is no less professional than the means. This text is visibly and evidently informed both by personal experiences and recollections, and thorough sociological research in the subject matter. What is this book then? A testimony, an analysis, a therapeutic vehicle. But also, first and foremost, a story, and a very good one at it. The storyline is captivating, the text practically reads itself. Basically, it is impossible to put this book down. Those who found Alexandra’s Project by Rolf de Heer too didactic, might find this one, just as well over didactic, but let me make clear I am not one of those people, and I found their position fundamentally mistaken. There are issues that must be tackled openly, honestly and bravely, and directly. Just that, does not make a venture didactical, or even worse, political propaganda. Text (book) or subject (person), one cannot leave her ideological capitation behind, and should not attempt to behave as if it were so. What makes this venture particularly honest and successful is its acceptance of its ideological position and its self-criticism. Needless to say, this is definitely not a book for those who wish to find a decorous escape from reality. There is no idealization or compromise in its portrayal of what forms a man-woman “relationship” can take. Be prepared: this book is about rape, both statutory and not, it is about prostitution and about violence both in the family and outside of it. There is suicide and murder, suffering and torture. But for those willing to take this journey, it is definitely worth it: it is empowering and gives a lot of hope. I am not saying that this work is perfect and faultless. There is no such work, of course. Mainly in the second part of the book, it tends to overuse the rather simplistic formula of “Rebecca asked,” “I said,” or “Julie added.” Dialog becomes a bit mechanical and unnatural because of this. Also, the ghost of compulsory heterosexuality seems to linger among the lines and perhaps also a slight hint of hostility towards others, but it seems to be a minor issue compared to the book’s enormous achievements. This book is a must-read for those who read and enjoyed Dawn Lyons’ The Dry Well, as well as for anyone who is willing to take the troubling journey into the lives of many women who were raped, forced into prostitution or tortured in any other way. It is also a book for those who like powerful storytelling and vivid descriptions, and do not get scared by some “extra message.” A percentage of the book’s profits will be used to support the cause of the prevention of domestic violence and sexual assaults.