Jesus, what an ugly book. Hard to read for its unrelenting cruelty and the deeply dislikeable main character. A lot like Soul On Ice by Eldridge Cleaver, it is a portrait of a man with a deep hatred of women.
Another book it reminded me of, and this might sound funny, was Moll Flanders, because it’s professed to be a cautionary tale meant for moral reform but is actually just a cover-to-cover bragging match with all the salacious details on display. Ironically Moll Flanders repents of the relatively harmless sin of shagging about and settles for a pious life owning African-American slaves. Her morality is based on adherence or lack of to Biblical teaching, with no reference to the human suffering she causes. Fornication is preached against in the Bible, but slavery is sanctioned, ergo it is pious to own slaves but no shag about. Slim’s the same. He repents of his days pimping because they are contrary to the teaching of the Bible, but he has no reflection on or feelings about the human suffering he contributed to, especially among the women in his life. He retires to marriage, where he can still have all of his needs met, but in a more settled, mature, socially approved environment. Ugh.
For me, what was interesting was his awareness and frankness about his deep hatred of women, and its driving influence in turning him towards pimping. Throughout the book people tell him to stick to other jobs which he can make just as much money in, perhaps more. He refuses. He sets himself to becoming a pimp. And he’s relatively honest about why. He talks about the intense sexual rush of beating a woman with impunity, of bending her to his will, of feeling like he owned her body and soul. He has ecstatic sexual nightmares about torturing and killing women, including his own mother. When other people tell him he could make more money with less effort running dope, or pulling cons, he’s not interested. For him the money is secondary in terms of pay-off. What the pimp game has like no other is its scope for the mental, emotional, physical and sexual torture of women.
I found this interesting because there are competing feminist discourses on how to view prostitution, whether as a form of violence against women that should be immediately ended or as a form of labour that requires better compensation and rights. The former is frequently criticised for “telling” women in the sex industry what their experience is, rather than giving primacy of experience to those experiencing it. And I have a lot of time for this criticism, but the women are not the only ones involved in the transaction, both pimps and tricks play a huge part. And almost universally when they come to speak in their own words, as in this book, they describe the interaction as inherently rooted in their objectification of women. Don’t believe me? – go read Punternet. Objectification and violence are intrinsically linked, because no one has to consider if an object feels pain. And Slim describes his violence towards these women, and their dehumanisation and ownership by him, as the core of the relationship between pimp and whore.
Not even an awareness of the historical significance of the ownership of black women as breeding chattel only a few generations before seems to penetrate into the reflective part of his mind. He is highly intelligent and totally without conscience when it comes to women. In short, probably a psychopath.
To compare it to another book, just as this last, it also ends much like A Clockwork Orange, with a quiet, muted, introspective turning of character, as though a natural progression of maturity. Yet it seems totally without provocation. After all the things he’s been through, it feels very anti-climactic for him to suddenly just get tired and bored with it.
A deeply unpleasant book, don’t recommend it to anyone.