Hollis Hampton-Jones has produced a svelte, trendy book that is reminiscent of the anything-goes tradition of porno-chic as seen in memoirs like Catherine Millet’s The Sexual Life of Catherine M. and Raffaëla Anderson’s Hard and films such as Catherine Breillat’s Romance. All works were groundbreaking in terms of the sexual freedom exerted by their female protagonists. Millet and Anderson, in their memoirs, and Marie in Romance, are unflinching and unapologetic in the examination and pursuit of their sexual lives.
So too is Hampton-Jones’ protagonist, Christy. A recent high school graduate, living in Nashville, Tennessee, she’s used drugs and has been having sex since the age of fourteen. Her sister and best friend, Lizzie, dies in a car accident. Her father reveals her sexual secrets to the boy next door while they both masturbate. Her parents can’t afford to send her to college so she decides to become a lap dancer. Pretty grim stuff. This novel floats, in a trippy, drug-hazed sort of way, as Christy the school tramp becomes Sugar the pole dancer who then becomes Veronica the sex entertainer.
Christy is a self-proclaimed provocateur. Early in the novel, the word “slut” is scrawled onto Christy’s locker. Christy muses: “I tend to think of myself as something, well, lighter. Something like ‘arouser’”. While Hampton-Jones allows her character to sexually assert herself, it is only possible when coupled with acid dropping or coke snorting which the main character does frequently. Sexual deviance and drug abuse appears all the more fashionable, even acceptable, when a pretty, young female is doing it. Something in a nice package doing risky things is not stupid; it’s sexy—in a dirty, sleazy sort of way.
Christy’s mother and Julie, her sister, trip through life in a different manner. They are opposed to liberal sexual antics and appear to be unaware about Christy’s nonchalant drug use. The mother and sister use Jesus and religion as their “drug of choice” in much the same way Christy uses pot or cocaine as a pick-me-up. Hampton-Jones paints a picture depicting religious fanaticism and frigidity as more damaging to one’s health than any narcotic Christy could ingest.
In many ways, this book is a romance. All the attention seeking, the cries for help may, ultimately, be a quest by the characters for love—or if love is too strong a word, an escape from isolation, a simple desire to be touched. It is a justification for this all this bad behavior. Despite perceived betrayals, there is still a yearning for connection, even if it is a false and transient one and even if it uncovers a greater longing. Christy describes this as she is on the receiving end of a lap dance:
The thing is she’s tender and makes me feel like she’s into it, like she likes me, like she cares, which I know is bullshit, but maybe, just maybe not, and I realize nobody has touched me in a long time and to remember a tender touch, I’d have to think way back.
The happy endings emerge grudgingly and never in the expected package. While Christy grasps for a connection, the onus is on the reader to see through the drug haze and the smart mouth and reach out to Christy. One doesn’t have to be a rampant drug abuser or pole dancer to comprehend Christy’s loneliness, loss and longing. Readers wait with bated breath—hoping that the impossible will happen and that things will go okay.
This is a coming-of-age story where the characters never really come of age. They sidle close to it and then sink deeper into the quicksand of their lives with a disturbing resignation. Christy is not going to go into re-hab, she’s not going to find a man, no one’s going to say, “I’m sorry” to her and no one is going to forgive her. This is the path that one girl chooses: glittering with promise but mostly harsh, bitter, and vicious.
Hampton-Jones’s book serves as a criticism of the current wave of self-help or instant spirituality media constantly bombarding the public. Whether through books, television shows, magazines or commercials—we are constantly told that there is always a way to be better, smarter, richer. We must all believe that there exists an untapped force within us that will make us into the person that we really should be—in a record amount of time. Vicious Spring is the antithesis of the pop culture mentality that embraces a personal-Jesus who will redeem us. In this book, there is no redemption.
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