From Publishers Weekly
The author of Up Through the Water evokes sordid, neon-lit San Francisco nights in her brooding, explicit new novel of sexual degradation and futility. The story opens as narrator Jesse, shunned by her aloof lover Bell, bleaches her hair in a pathetic effort to impress him. "I have always been attracted to people who make me feel inadequate," Jesse admits, and Bell--who frequently leaves her for homosexual liaisons and craves a former male lover--is a perfect example. But he needs her, too, to provide his false link to conventional heterosexuality. Jesse manages to leave Bell, but continues to welcome abuse; she descends into the nocturnal world of heroin addict Madison, an icy, cruel woman who derives her strength from punishing the weak. Every conversation here constitutes a power struggle; every statement brings revelation. Jesse's relentless introspection, raw emotions and indulgence in meaningless sexual encounters may put off some readers. Nevertheless, Steinke reveals many hard-to-accept truths about sentimental love, self-delusion and obsession as she strips each character of dignity. Author tour.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Kirkus Reviews
After her relatively demure debut (Up Through the Water, 1989), Steinke turns up the heat for this episodic tale of kinky sex and all-out depravity. It's a bad girl's memoir of her descent into the netherworld of San Francisco's Mission District. In two weeks, pretty young Jesse (a woman always ``attracted'' to people who make her feel ``inadequate'') explores the seamy underside of modern life. Doing penance for her ``bland suburban past,'' Jesse ``dabbles in perversity.'' Her lover, a handsome actor named Bell, is busy mooning for his former boyfriend, soon to be married in L.A. Insanely jealous, Jesse confides in Madam Pig, an obese alcoholic for whom she keeps house. The reclusive old dame encourages Jesse to seek out a woman named Madison, who Pig claims is her daughter. In fact, Madison, Pig's ex-lover, is now a junkie prostitute who works from a bar in the Mission. From the moment they meet, Jesse is drawn to her sense of ease and power, and moves into Madison's apartment. Jesse's adventures begin: a trip to a live peep show; anonymous sex in a darkroom; sex with Bell in the presence of a trollish homosexual; masturbation with a statute of Christ in an empty church; a hand-job to a homosexual in a gay bar; turning a few tricks at Madison's whorehouse; smoking opium in a den run by a hermaphrodite; and witnessing Madison penetrate a john so violently with her fist that he dies. This last finally convinces Jesse that all ``relationships'' are ``sinister, violent, even murderous.'' As if all this weren't laying it on a bit thick, Steinke has Bell commit suicide at the very moment of Kevin's wedding. That's totally in keeping with the reductive psychology everywhere evident in this silly, violent book. So self-consciously seeking ``that exquisite kick of perversity,'' this callow fiction comes off as something along the lines of a much more sincere American Psycho. All the more pathetic. Expect the usual brouhaha: condemnation, then increased sales. -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.