This book has been on my to read list for a few years so I’m pleased I finally got round to it. I guess Lock-down 3.0 (with a Vengeance) has its perks as I am whipping through my reading list like a boss.
Most weekends are now spend under the duvet with the old Kindle doing overtime. The feature of being able to look up words on it really served me well with this particular title as it used a lot of long ones I just didn’t know. Turns out, it’s quite language-y.
Living alone in New York, Frannie teaches creative writing to a motley bunch of students, and secretly compiles a dictionary of street slang: virginia, n., vagina; snapper, n., vagina; brasole, n., vagina.
One evening at a bar, she stumbles upon a man, his face in shadow, a tattoo on his wrist, a woman kneeling between his legs. A week later a detective shows up at her door. The woman’s body has been discovered in the park across the street.
Soon Frannie is propelled into a sexual liaison that tests the limits of her safety and desires, as she begins a terrifying descent into the dark places that reside deep within her.
Well, first off I love it. It’s beautifully written and really appeals to the word geek in me. Our protagonist – teacher Frannie – is a nerd herself and collects words and phrases that appeal to her, not just as research for her dictionary but as second nature. She’s drawn to the poetry she sees written on the subway, convincing herself that maybe they’re written just for her. I definitely related to her on a certain level.
I also very much get the appeal of a risky, very bad idea liaison. Sometimes you’ve just got to go for it to feel something and I think most of us have been there before. I know I have. But against the backdrop of the decaying underbelly of the city, everything takes on more meaning and risk is so much riskier than normal. As Frannie embarks on an affair with cop Malloy, who’s investigating a spate of horrible murders in her area, she becomes more and more obsessed with the case. And less and less inhibited in her love life.
When somebody leaves a rubber hand on her doorstep, Frannie wonders if they’re trying to send her a message – and then she’s mugged walking home one night. Who can she trust? Is Malloy, a man seemingly incapable of telling her the truth, dangerous? What about her student Cornelius, who’s forever turning up at her apartment unannounced, and clearly wants more from her than she’s willing to give?
It’s a grisly tale to be sure – and there’s a lot of descriptive language around the murders, which seem misogynistic as hell – and the victims throwaway. Malloy and his partner, Ritchie are hard-boiled and uncensored, hardly fluffy in their treatment of women, or anybody for that matter. Frannie is an interesting character and I enjoy her – but I think this is a book that focuses a lot on linguistics (something I’m personally not mad at) and less on the crimes.
I also didn’t really find it that erotic – apart from Frannie’s broadening attitude towards her own sexuality – but maybe that’s down to personal taste too. I’m just not that into Noirish bad-boy cops. The ending is very interesting and I won’t spoiler it – however, it is very different in the film version – so it’s interesting to compare the two.
In the cut. From vagina. A place to hide. To hedge your bet. But someplace safe, someplace free from harm.
Comments on the film:
I actually loved the film too and I think it captured a lot of elements really well. It helped that it was in the hands of an accomplished female director, so although there were moments of male gaze, it wasn’t generally gratuitous. I say that but I felt actually shocked to see an actual penis being fellated – UP CLOSE! So it does have it’s moments.
The casting was good – the performances were enjoyable – Mark Ruffalo is suitably grubby and untrustworthy, while I remember at the time the shock of America’s Sweetheart Meg Ryan taking on such a film. It’s refreshing. Jennifer Jason Leigh brings great support as Frannie’s sister Pauline (who’s just her friend in the book) – but the added layer of relationship adds something to a certain scene and it really bothered me.
Of course the film was more visceral that the book and it is a lot to stomach. While language does still feature, this is more of a crime thriller and focuses less on the linguistic side of things, which is probably what makes the film works.
I can’t really talk about the different endings without spoilering them both so I’ll say I prefer the book ending. It makes more sense to me, even if it’s not what I would have wanted. If you know, you know.
Both bangers in their own right.
4/5 for the book
4.5/5 for the film