So we know I adore Antonia but this will be a combo review and love letter.
I’m having a very emotional week for a lot of reasons and I just finished reading Spent: A Memoir.
Okay first of all the hardback is really physically beautiful. For my fellow tactile book nerds, the cover has this beautiful artwork and is glossy. It feels nice under the finger tips and the little half dust cover is gorgeous.
And then you open it and start reading.
As soon as you start reading, you realize that this memoir is not tidy. It is not full of sunshine and flowers. It is not a story of a woman who dabbled in the dark and ran from it. While I was reading I was thinking of Antonia’s big beautiful smile and the prior readings of her words and I fucking got it.
You can see in her work that there is a sparkle in her eye and a knowing that you’re going for a ride.
In this book Antonia does not pretend. She is naked in a way that is so important to me when I read memoir by other women especially sex workers and others who have been through it.
I personally cannot connect to women’s writing that sticks to the sunny and immediately redemptive. I can’t connect emotionally or (in my case) want to sit down and talk to a person who peers into the dark and skips away unscathed.
Antonia got scathed.
She wrote that shit like her life depended on it and even though I don’t know her super well, I’m going to assume her life did depend on it.
Now, I have been waiting for this book since the first time I saw her writing way back on The Rumpus. She had no book deal and I (sorry Antonia if I got creepy) followed her around the internet to get sips of her words. Even from the bits and bobs I read, I knew here is one of my people.
There is a power for me in coming across women who however they do it just take my heart. How they talk to and about other women. Certain styles of sex work writing. There are let’s call them (forgive my woowooness) vibes I get that make my say yes.
Now let’s talk about sex work memoir as a genre.
Back when sex bloggers/workers were the it thing in publishing and I was a semi sex blogger myself, there was a big explosion of shiny books written by madams, hookers, strippers etc.
For me during that time up through now the genre itself was lacking. I read them in a fairly greedy manner and after two or three I realized that the predominant narrative was fairly standard.
A lot of those stories were either handjobs to redemption and ‘saving’ from a illicit life. The heavy handed I AM FEMINIST THEREFORE I DO WHAT I WANT, the pretty White girl going to college and venturing into stripping to boost her self esteem etc.
The tragic was covered, the Red Shoe Diary salacious type semi stroke material.
What was missing to me was the grit. I have known and loved many sex workers in the last (I’m gonna round it out) 15 years give or take. From a beloved crack whore who taught me incredibly valuable life lessons, to peep show workers, strippers, high cost escorts and in talking to a lot of them and living some of it myself when I did a bit of sex work back in the day, the struggle in those stories was missing.
There was often the struggle to reconcile religious or feminist beliefs with sex work but not the how the fuck am I gonna pay my rent, how the fuck do I get out, where do I go from here type narrative.
A lot of sex work memoirs are designed more to give the reader a sense of satisfaction at the end that while sex work is glamorous and full of money and presents, it’s way better to retire gracefully into wifedom or something.
That doesn’t do it for me as a reader or as someone who has not really seen that happen.
Antonia’s book is full of the grit. Her writing is silky and funny, it is rough and gut wrenching but it is not glossy. There is terror. The way she writes about her Mother’s illness and death is going to haunt me.
That is why I love her and her work. I honestly cannot stand writing that seems too shiny. When people write about terrible things but there is a everything turns out in the end gloss. I have a thing about that.
This is not a Red Shoe Diary stroke memoir.
It is sexy but not fap material.
This is real and raw.
Antonia’s work is naked and glorious.
Spent is the kind of book I will return to because writing that is so full of power and beauty moves me. It makes me feel at home. It makes me feel a sense of community when I feel like I’m drowning in suburban bundt cakey blandness.
I am so deeply terribly thankful that I found Antonia’s work.
So before I start blubbering.
This book is fucking fantastic and I absolutely recommend it.
I fucking love Antonia Crane.
If you get a chance to see her read or take a class with her do it and tell her I sent you.