Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Chester Brown, "Paying for It" (2011)

Brown has managed to concoct an memoir style graphic novel that chronicles his life as a 'john'; a man who pays women for sex. Of course, the novel is bound to be controversial. Brown has included an abundance of philosophical, political, and historical arguments in favour of deregulating, if not legalizing prostitution in Canada. While his ideas are interesting, they are unlikely to switch the thinking of anyone.

Less often explored in discussion of the book is the conundrum (characteristic of all autobiography) of separating fact from fiction, elimination of uncomfortable truths, and introduction of fictional elements to support a particular narrative outcome. In all the interactions Brown includes, his communication with the prostitute is generally either positive, or coldly analytical and unemotional. Perhaps this is the mindset that must be adopted to 'pay for it', but it does not help the reader understand some of the difficult questions the book raises but unsatisfactorily covers. For instance, what proportion of prostitutes are the clever, savvy, independent women Brown describes, and how many of them are transported here under false pretences, kept against their will or shamefully manipulated into the sex trade, and don't want to do this kind of work? Brown does narrate to a certain degree that he exercised choice as a john, perhaps seeking out prostitutes who seemed in control of their own business, but it does not eliminate the reality that many men do not, and in fact might seek out a capitalist bottom-line of 'getting their nut greased' at the cheapest price possible over some kind of sexual libertarianist praxis.

Brad Mackay reviewed the novel in the Globe and Mail (30 Apr. 2011).

Brian Heater wrote a far better review in the Daily Crosshatch (6 Jun. 2011).

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