Monday, December 31, 2018

The Scarlett Letters: My Secret Year of Men in an L.A. Dungeon by Jenny Nordbak

Rating: ★★ + .5 | 9 hrs. 11 min. | St. Martin's Press | Macmillian |  Release Date: 4/4/2017
 Jenny Nordbak's podcast, The Wicked Wallflowers Club, has been one of my favorite podcasts this year. Their author interviews are always a fun mix of craft talk, raunch, and bookish squee. After hearing Nordbak share a few snippets of her time as a dominatrix on the podcast I decided to check out her book to get the full story.

This memoir follows the two years in Nordbak's early twenties where she secretly trained and worked as a dominatrix at a BDSM dungeon in Los Angeles. Nordbak weaves together the events of her "vanilla" life with anecdotes about her sessions with clients as she becomes Mistress Scarlett. I found the peek into the BDSM scene fascinating and enjoyed getting to know the irreverent found family Nordbak creates for herself.

This book is pretty hardcore though, the content is not for the faint of heart--some of the fetishes her clients have are a lot.  Like there is a guy who liked to be forced to do disgusting things and she recounts all the gross things she and the others would think of for him to do.

While I liked this memoir the perspective kept nagging at me. While  Nordbak is definitely part of the scene and has her own personal struggles it's not clear to me why she is the one who gets to publish a book about this scene. Nordbak is only a dominatrix for two years and leaves because she loses the spark and soon after marries a man who is not in the scene. I feel like someone who was in the scene longer or more experienced could have written a more interesting book.

Many of the other characters we meet are more entrenched in the scene and I think they would have added more point-of-views on the BDSM lifestyle. Like the club's only male dominant who grew up in East Germany or the older desk mistress who is described as having as "seen some shit" or the  Black submissive who is often asked to act out slave or pimp/prostitute fantasies.  I wish it had been more like Orange Is The New Black which is both about Piper's story but also acknowledges others stories.

I did this on audiobook and Nordbak is a good narrator, she had a theater background so there is a performative quality to her narration. I do side-eye the fact that despite there being Scottish, British and German people in this book the only accent she does is an Asian one. She does it once to mimic a client and again as a joke and it just came off as really distasteful.

On the podcast, Nordbak mentions some TV happenings with her book and I think this would make a great Netflix dark comedy.

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