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Whip Smart: A Memoir Hardcover – March 2, 2010

89 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Febos's candid, hard-slogging debut about her four years working as a dominatrix at a midtown Manhattan dungeon cuts a sharp line between prurience and feminist manifesto. Having grown up on Cape Cod, Mass., then dropped out of high school before moving to New York City and enrolling in the New School in the fall of 1999, Febos slipped into drug use and needed a way to finance it. An attractive law-school graduate neighbor in her Brooklyn apartment building mentioned that she worked as a domme, and Febos decided to give it a go. She spanked grown men, professionals, fathers, and rabbis, sometimes inserted enemas, sodomized them with dildos, and otherwise verbally humiliated them, all for $75 an hour, plus tips. At first, Febos managed the grueling, unsavory work while high on heroin and cocaine, and gained a tremendous sense of confidence, even invincibility at being able to justify her livelihood as one of the few well-paid acting gigs in this city. In time, she also became addicted to her job; she eventually joined AA to help get clean of drugs, but kicking her addiction to sadomasochism was harder, and in this emotionally stark, excoriating work, Febos mines the darkest, most troubling aspects of human interaction. (Mar.)
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“All memoirs are an attempt to follow a trail of breadcrumbs home, yet WHIP SMART steps off the path, into the wooded shadows, and names that part of ourselves that could linger there forever. Melissa Febos masterfully brings us into these unexpected, unsettling places,  the least of which are the dungeons she so vividly—briefly—occupies.  WHIP SMART is a wild, bright-eyed, ride home.”
--Nick Flynn, New York Times bestselling author of ANOTHER BULLSHIT NIGHT IN SUCK CITY

 “WHIP SMART is remarkably honest, brave and provocative about growing up: the pleasures and perils of being visible, the temptations of being numb, and the weird kick of being desired.”
--Rob Sheffield, Rolling Stone critic, and NY Times bestselling author of LOVE IS A MIX TAPE

“Mesmerizing.  A brave, darkly wild and powerful memoir, Melissa Febos's fearless journey through drugs and dungeons into the uncharted territory of true intimacy will shock, inspire, and leave you breathless. Don’t even think about resisting."
--Rachel Resnick, author LOVE JUNKIE

“Melissa Febos takes us by the hand and leads us into a curious, disturbing, and funny world of a dominatrix, and she does so with often startlingly beautiful, expansive prose. That would be engaging enough. But what's even more gripping is Febos' fierce intelligence as she examines herself inside it. A must read for anyone interested in enlarging his or her understanding of sexual politics.”
--Kerry Cohen, author of LOOSE GIRL

"Melissa Febos writes with lacerating wit and insight into the world of the professional dominatrix, saving the sharpest sting for herself. An unsparing, deep, and dazzling read.  
--Janice Erlbaum, author of GIRLBOMB & HAVE YOU FOUND HER

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books; First Edition edition (March 2, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312561024
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312561024
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (89 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,145,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Melissa Febos grew up on Cape Cod, as the well-loved daughter of a sea captain and a Buddhist psychotherapist. She was first employed as a chambermaid, and subsequently worked as a boatyard hand, babysitter, and dishwasher at a slew of seafood restaurants, despite the fact that she is a lifelong vegetarian and probably the only person raised on Cape Cod who has never tasted lobster. At 15, she dropped out of high school and home-schooled herself for a year. At 16, she moved to Boston and scooped ice cream for a living while taking night classes at Harvard. After moving to New York in 1999, she graduated from The New School University, spent four years working as a professional dominatrix, and received an MFA in writing from Sarah Lawrence College.

Melissa co-curates and hosts the popular monthly music and reading series, Mixer, on the Lower East Side, and teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, NYU, and SUNY Purchase, in addition to offering private instruction. She has also taught at Eugene Lang College, Utica College, Hofstra University, The Woodsprings Institute, and The Gotham Writers' Workshop.

Her writing has been widely anthologized, and published in places like Glamour, Salon, the New York Times, Dissent, Bitch, BOMB, and The Chronicle of Higher Education Review. Her critically acclaimed memoir, WHIP SMART (Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin's Press 2010) has been featured on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross, the cover of the NY Post, CNN's Dr. Drew, Anderson Cooper's daytime show, and New York magazine. Melissa is the 2012 winner of the Memoirs, Ink contest, a 2010 & 2011 MacDowell Colony fellow, and a 2012 Bread Loaf Fellow. More at

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

91 of 100 people found the following review helpful By Mandy Alford on March 28, 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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67 of 76 people found the following review helpful By H. Johnson 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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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful By crewelmoi on August 26, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified 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.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer VINE VOICE on March 31, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified 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!
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