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90 of 99 people found the following review helpful
on March 29, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I picked this book up after hearing an interview with the author on NPR. I am a big fan of memoirs in general, and I have read many sex worker memoirs, though this is the first I've read that solely focused on dominatrix work. I would have to say this book falls in the middle; it isn't the worst memoir, but it certainly isn't the best. For me, the writer came off as pretentious (hardly a chapter goes by without her mentioning her GPA or how much smarter she is than everyone else). I tend to prefer a writer (when it comes to memoirs) who can bring across the gravity of a situation, but is also able to be funny or even a little self-depreciating. Constantly boasting about any facet of your personality is a little off-putting, and it is pretty hard not to notice in this work.

I also feel in certain sections there were bits left out/glossed over or the writing was intentionally vague. I would often find I had unanswered questions in my mind, and Miss Febos would go off on her own (untrained) psychoanalysis of herself or speak at length about her addiction, which was honestly not as interesting to me. I understand this is a memoir about her, but it is also marketed foremost as a dominatrix memoir. I assumed the path to sobriety and AA meetings would play a smaller role than they did. I left the book feeling as though I should find another memoir by a dominatrix if I want to have a more thorough understanding of the profession in general, and clients in particular. I also think it would be more interesting to have a conversation or interview with Miss Febos than to read her book.
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66 of 74 people found the following review helpful
on May 19, 2010
Format: Hardcover
i was really looking forward to reading this book; i have one dear friend who loved it, and the author and i share common friends and even attended the same college. sadly and frustratingly, the book left me underwhelmed and exasperated. i finished it just to make it end, and so i could move onto something else.

'whip smart' has potential: the subject matter is intriguing. febos is to be commended for revealing an aspect of her past that may be seen as controversial, judged with disdain. there are a handful of beautifully woven passages. that, however, is where my praise ends. as others have already noted, her voice was offputting, haughty, entitled. it seemed to me she turned to drugs and other sundry dangerous/stupid lifestyle choices because the world bored her, and she was 'too intelligent' to endure it, to withstand the stupidity of everyone around her without drowning herself in substances. every time she casually tossed in some reference to 'harvard' or her 4.0 GPA, which, she repeated often, she maintained while high out of her mind and juggling a demanding domming schedule, i liked her less, cared less about her as a character. the constant dimestore psychoanalysis was beyond aggravating. the grammatical errors were numerous. the story was poorly constructed, didn't flow well. bottom line, i couldn't empathize with her; her struggles were self-induced; she came from a privileged, loving family and there was nothing wrong with her life that she didn't create herself. the book stretched my patience whisper thin; i could hardly finish it.
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2010
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
Whip Smart: A MemoirPlot spoiler warning!

I typically do not like or trust memoir as a genre. As a writer/artist, I take issue with the memoir claim that it is "true" or more truthful than creative non fiction. I find the opposite to be true. Memoirs are often times prefaced that they are a retelling of events in a creative way, and are skewed, jumbled, out of time with the actual events, and combine people to make the story more coherent and cohesive. Well, that's creative non fiction. And, memory is faulty. Memory alone creates some of the best non published works.

Memoir is a setup for the contrived "turning point" wherein the protagonist redeems her or himself, typically finds God, and in this case like so many others, finds a good man to make her life complete. I'm not applauding, Febos, you're pandering to get published.

The start of the book was very promising but the language became very bulky/overdone and stuck to that type of writing that I find tedious - telling us, not taking us there to experience it. All those creatively worded sentences seemed to pack a punch - but when I stopped to think about them, break them down, analyze them - they really didn't have any meaning. I know all the big words, but transporting me to an experience is much more powerful. Instead, I felt turned off and I started to really dislike Melissa/Justine. Was that Febos' goal? No, I don't think I can give her that much credit as an author. It is evident that she was instead trying to control and impress us, to be righteous, to be smarter. It was cold and did not further the art.

The story was a familiar tale of the Feminine Mystique. I felt duped into being intrigued and hoping for more, but what I got was a self-victimizing control freak who was obsessed with her relationships with men, her sexuality/being perceived and valued as sexy and powerful, and a painful floundering in abject poverty of love, insight, and self acceptance in order to appear independent.

She made herself out to be a genius. That's the trouble with talking about yourself and writing a "memoir" with a turning point and all the self-discovered resolutions. Lots of women get 3.9 GPAs under extremely adverse conditions (that they did not choose) and with far less resources. I didn't care to keep hearing it over and over. I never saw her struggle with it. We only heard her take it for granted that she would do well. We never went to class with the dayshift domming Melissa. It seemed superfluous, like she was taking the opportunity to be superior, but without proof. To brag. Again, I doubt this was an artistic intention. I was actually happy to hear Melissa got turned down to those first four grad schools. Finally, it seemed, something real. That's real-life. The monotonous job with the horrid office manager and the feeling that there is no end, no way out was more interesting than the should I/shouldn't I leave well enough alone with the dungeon.

As the story neared the end, the text got denser (with less actual meaning), the shared experiences became fewer, and the self congratulatory spirit became more prominent. Melissa found her answers, she turned to a higher power, she got her dream job of teaching and published writer, she lunched with her pregnant ex domme friend, and giggled over fond memories of torturing people. But, the part that made it all terribly impossible for me to embrace was that her happiness, resolve, and purpose hinged on Barrett - that most awesomely different and loving relationship, unlike any other she'd ever had. Really? Shame on you, Febos. It isn't that I wanted Melissa to be unhappy, fail, remain a domme, relapse on cocaine and/or heroin, or divulge more lurid sex tales from the darkness - not at all...well, maybe a bit (the turn of power with Larry was really interesting and I was imagining that perhaps a near death experience as his sub would be the crux of change). I just have to say, if you're gonna contrive a turning point and "make it all worth something", I'd think that as a good writer, an Alumna of a women's college, a self-proclaimed Feminist and intellectual, you wouldn't hinge it all on a neatly-summed-up-suburban-romantic-relationship (all by the ripe age of...what, 29?).

I'd like to edit this book. I'd like to flog it a bit. I wonder if there will be a follow up in about 15 years. That, I would like to read. Perhaps it will be classified as creative non-fiction and we will get more truth, less market-driven schmaltz.

I give it three stars because I did find the opening captivating and promising. Some of the simple sentences were breathtaking. The description of panic (in the ocean) was chilling. And there were other moments when Febos "let go" - where the prose was more experimental, less rigid, fluid, and took me there.

I take two stars away for the pandering drivel, not taking us there (she was dating? she had a live-in bf? what?), heavy use of the words mesmerize/ing and vegetarianism and vestibule (we get it - dungeon/BDSM, OK, OK, OK), the many typos/syntax/improper word choices and convoluted language, and for using "oversize" instead of "oversized".

Whip Smart: A Memoir
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I have the Kindle edition of this book, which is not a bad idea if you're bashful about reading something with whips on the cover. But hopefully, you're not too squeamish, because this book holds nothing back. While I have always been curious about the life of a professional dominatrix, this book was the first time I ever learned about the realities. It is a much tougher job than it sounds like. I loved reading about Melissa's transformation in Justine, and her reflections - academic and objective, or personal - on this lifestyle. I was also impressed over time with her kindness to these people, her clients. She had a sensitivity to them even though their proclivities would be considered very strange by your average person's standards.

The most difficult parts to read were about her addiction to drugs. I became very worried about the outcome, until I realized that not only did I have half the book left to read, but the author was clearly still alive. I can't imagine what it feels like to be an addict, but I felt dragged along on this darker part of the journey. It is pretty amazing when anyone can overcome that. It must be noted that drugs and domination don't go hand in hand. In fact, I'd imagine it could sometimes be difficult to do one's job safely if too many drugs were involved. And no, I didn't want to read about addiction, as some other reviewers wrote. But it was part of her life and experience - it could hardly be left out and still tell her story.

Melissa is a very interesting person. I related to many of her emotions and feelings, like the compulsion to be desired, or wanting to be open to try anything once (great for a writer), for example, or the way she enjoyed impressing people at parties. Okay, maybe everyone likes to impress people at parties! At any rate, I identified with her quite a bit even though the course of her life was extremely different from my own. I know some people felt that some of her statements came across as bragging, but I really didn't notice those parts. I didn't think much about her GPA other than understanding how hard it is to balance many different lives, and still do well in school. Unlike Melissa, I actually have to work my butt off at school, though I had classmates that could write the paper the night before without doing any research. But, like Melissa, I am balancing a number of different lives on top of going to school (although mine aren't nearly as exciting - project manager, mother, and dancer), and I can appreciate it. I know what it's like to be studying, doing reading for school, while multi-tasking at another job. Overall, she may not have been the most likable person, but she came across as a real person - infinitely relate-able in her flaws and charms. It was a huge relief to me when she really gets it sorted out in the end. It's great when a memoir, a true story, can have a happy ending.

As for the book, it really reads well. It's difficult to put down, and doesn't get boring. I found the situations depicted in here absolutely fascinating. But, again, one can't be squeamish. I know I am a bit squeamish myself, well, let's just say I won't forget some of the things I read here and I think I'd pick a different career for myself. As she points out in the book, you have to have a certain level of comfort with the human body, much like a doctor or nurse. I don't want to be a doctor or a nurse either. Nevertheless, this book is much more interesting than a book about doctors or nurses. It also treats the subject with humor, and can be downright funny, but also sometimes sad, or even sensual. I just don't feel I can do it justice in this review. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I read it and I wouldn't read it again or pick it up for reference. I thought I was going to learn something about the motivations of those who go to dominatrices. I thought I would understand her customers better. I thought I would learn if woman did engage in such fetishes, and if they did, were there places they could go; and most of all, why.

As one reviewer noted, she constantly told us she was smarter and prettier that all others, and by implication, didn't have to do what she was doing. I wanted to know more about how she grew up - what traumatized her. I understand that if her parents are still living this is hard. She hardly mentions her father - a glaring omission in a book that talks about the proclivities of men and her will and need to satisfy them. As in many memoirs, I often why did the author bother if they are not going to come all the way clean. As even she says of herself, she never was fully honest with anyone, and that is demonstrated very well in this book.
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41 of 54 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2010
Format: Kindle EditionVerified Purchase
I, like a lot of others, read this book after hearing NPR's Terry Gross interview the author on Fresh Air. I found this book at best disappointing and at worst incredibly self-involved, self-aggrandizing and just plain annoying. Had I realized that it was yet another book about an addict's path to recovery (the nature of which is always self-involved and self-aggrandizing), I never would have picked it up in the first place. Been there; read that.

I suppose the reason the book has been hyped in the manner it has been is that to put it forward as yet another "road to recovery" memoir would have caused a lot of people to pass it up - hence the "dominatrix" angle. Yes, there were disgusting stories of very sick people having really awful things done to them by others numb from drugs, but nothing any more disgusting than the depictions put forth in Trainspotting or any other story of drug addiction. The author's preoccupation with herself is what one would expect to find in any story of addiction, but again - this book was not marketed that way, and had I known that this was the primary angle of the story she tells, I would have left it on the shelf.

Further, the editing of the book was lacking; the author was continually making grammatical typos (e.g. using "there" when she meant "their," incorrectly using "I" instead of "me," etc.), made only more annoying by the fact that she presents herself as something just short of a scholarly genius despite all her addict shortcomings, and uses rather big words and complicated sentences in what can only be viewed as an attempt to make herself look intellectual in spite of the horrible choices she makes all through her life, as depicted in her story.

"High school had seemed an impediment to my ambitions; I knew better than my teachers what I wanted to learn and how to learn it. At sixteen, after passing the GED, I moved out of my mother's Cape Cod home and into my own Boston apartment and took on a busy schedule of night classes at Harvard..." This is the first of MANY references to "having taken classes at Harvard." Is that supposed to be impressive? What follows is a rather formulaic representation of a 12-step recovery story (peppered with shocking, disgusting side stories of her torturing others and herself by association) that unfortunately, really never has us wanting the author to come out the other side of the dark hole she's gotten herself into. I didn't even care when she finally tells the story of how she got clean. All I found myself wanting was the book to finally end. The only saving grace was that I read it on my Kindle, so it only cost $9.99.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon August 14, 2011
Format: Hardcover
This is a memoir of an addict, plain and simple. Like most addicts, the author is in search of control and, as she slowly and methodically learns to control her addiction, she realizes that she isn't in control of life and other people.

The S&M gloss on addiction is really quite interesting. Obviously, S&M is about power and control over another. And this author is drawn to being a domme because she likes control, just like every other domme. However, she has a really hard time admitting that to herself. Like other addicts, she has intricate rationalizations--the money is good, this is great work for my anthropology classes, I'm in control, I never takes my clothes off, etc.

And just like other addicts, there are several things the author is addicted to. This author loves speedballs, cocaine and heroin at the same time. And of course, the author is surrounded by other addicts--she dates addicts, many of her clients are addicts and so are her closest friends. But the relationship she develops with her therapist seems wonderful--nonjudgmental and patient.

A lot of the clients she discusses are wonderful characters. She discusses a wide variety of folks that show up in the dungeon and it adds a great sense of what this facet of the human condition is about. There is the firefighter that likes to play dress up, the switches (the men that go from dom to submissive in the same session), the exhibitionists, and Jacob, the Hasidic that sets her up with her boyfriend at the end.

If you want a romantic tale of a professional domme that loves her work, look elsewhere. This book is about a real human being that slowly matures and becomes a better person. The author, like us all, is complicated, filled with contradictory feelings, and, at times, a liar and deceiver. The author is definitely not a super hero.

A note about other reviews: Some criticize the author for her tone and they see her as condescending. Well, duh. That is what the author is trying to convey...at the beginning, the author feels better than everyone else, that she can control any situation, that she is smarter than everyone else and that, because she feels special, she thinks she can control her habit. As she grapples with herself, she learns that she isn't as special as she once thought.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format: HardcoverVerified Purchase
This is really two books in one. This first is just what you would expect it to be--a voyeuristic peek into the unsavory (for some) world of a professional dominatrix working in a midtown Manhattan dungeon. Febos gives us a verbal tour of the place. The Red, Black, and Blue Rooms contain full bathrooms and toiletries. Other amenities include a bondage table, giant wooden cross, leather swing, coffin, hanging cage, Catherine wheel, candles, stocks, porno, thrones, mirrors, strap-on dildos, and an electrical stimulation device whose electrodes can be attached to nipples, scrotums, or penises. Mounted on the walls are chains, coils of rope, leather floggers, whips, riding crops, paddles, cuffs, blindfolds, and even a couple of gas masks. Then there are the three Medical Rooms that have proctoscopes and stethoscopes, rolling wheels with spikes and pincers, clamps, syringes, thermometers, tongue depressors, enemas, gadgets to peek and pry in orifices, and human anatomical posters of both the male and female reproductive systems. The Cross-Dressing Room offers a vanity table and wardrobe bursting with man-size stilettos, panties, French-maid costumes, and other items of feminization. As this list suggests, there seems to be an infinite number of ways in which a domme with imagination can pleasure,torture, degrade, and shame her male clients. Febos gives her readers a romp through most of them, leaving nothing to the imagination. Unfortunately, unless you are into this kind of titillation, the litany can become tedious.

However, the storyline of the author's four years in the dungeon is wrapped around a bigger and much more fascinating plot: her own psychological growth. The book's title is a reference to the fact that Febos is, in fact, a highly intelligent and shrewd observer of both her inner and outer worlds. Her story begins when she is 21, a college senior with a high GPA and prestigious internship. Although she "still knew how to be good," Febos admits that "the allure of dark undersides pulled my life toward a future of increasingly fractured extremes." She pursued older lovers, both male and female, and basked in their attentions. Addicted to heroin and cocaine and eventually to sadomasochism, she found the last of these the hardest to overcome. Febos habitually lied, faked it, and playacted--for a long time, she was putting on facades that even fooled her. But every heroic story needs a turning point, one at which the crescendo of impending disaster twists on itself and transforms into a glimmer of hope that then expands. The author's moment came when she joined AA and got a sponsor. I won't be a spoiler and give away the details of her happy ending, because Febos narrates her own tale so beautifully. [Hint: However, a foretaste of her success can be found on the book's cover in her lovely photo and list of accomplishments.] This is a brave, unsparing, and deftly told story of personal redemption. Highly recommended.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on July 5, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I bought this book after hearing Melissa deliver an intriguing, intelligent interview on NPR. While her story is interesting, the book reads like it never made it to an editor. Parts in the book made me want to puke - but they weren't about torturing sex slaves in a dungeon - they were the parts where Melissa waxes philosophical about sexual paradigms in society or dissects every intricate detail of her dinner conversation from a calculated mental perspective. BLEEH. Let's be clear, as the title implies, this book is partly about the author's life as a dominatrix and drug addict (Whip), but equally about Melissa trying to prove to everyone (including the reader) that she is smarter than you (Smart). In the end I struggled to finish this book and would give it a lukewarm recommendation to others.

I found "How To Make Love Like a Porn Star" by Jenna Jameson to be a much better read on a similar topic.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on August 7, 2011
Format: Hardcover
If you go to this book expecting titillation, you'll be disappointed. Febos describes her domme sessions as revolting, and is spare in offering details about them. Her aim in the book is to describe how she became addicted to the dominatrix role and how she overcame the addiction. She is describing subtleties in thinking and attitude; fortunately, she has the writing ability to convey all of it. You can't rush through the book. You have to accept the gradual pace of her psychological changes and think your way through them. As she depicts herself, she is a Faustian figure. She wants to live beyond all boundaries, but only finds herself in hell. The account of her drug addiction is particularly harrowing, and you wonder at how many times she must've been close to death. The book is actually a brave gesture: she is about a true picture of herself, not a pretty one. As you read along, you wonder how, after so many revolting experiences, she could ever have a normal sex life and find love. That she does, and how she does, is one of the more compelling parts of the book.
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