Getting Off: A Novel of Sex & Violence
Lawrence Block (Writing as Jill Emerson)
Hard Case Crime
Hardcover, 335 pages, $25.99
Review by Sheila M. Merritt
There are numerous ways to address Getting Off: A Novel of Sex & Violence. Because the book is intentionally humorous, a reviewer could resort to innuendo: “Hard not to love this thriller; you’ll be up all night. It throbs with excitement and drips with danger.” Then there’s the possible referencing of films with similar content: “Lawrence Block has written a tale that begs for adaptation from Joe Eszterhas, the scribe who brought us the movies Basic Instinct and Showgirls. The story also has a touch of Fatal Attraction…” And, of course, there is the potential for puns, none of which are suitable for this newsletter. Suffice to say, Getting Off is implausible and immoral. This lewd take on the female serial killer is laden with gallows humor that will tickle the fancy of many horror readers, but the extremely explicit depictions of carnal carryings-on may well offend others. The novel would not be out of place filed in the erotica sextion – sorry, meant “section,” of a bookstore.
The lascivious lass who is the narrative’s protagonist sheds identities as often as she sheds her clothes; and that is very often, indeed. Her sex and murder spree is based on Freudian psychology: She must reenact the relationship she had with her father, which included killing him. Incest, while the motivation for revenge, is relegated to a mere plot device in the storyline. All the subsequent slayings are similarly justified; the victims are morally challenged individuals who, in the Old Testament sense, get a crash course in ethics.
Back to the touchy incest issue: Many women would be justifiably upset with the concept that a girl who was taken advantage of by her father enjoys intercourse with such gusto. Author Block, while not deflecting the issue, adroitly employs ways of working around it. First, he explains how the dad romanced and wooed the child: “He was very gentle with her, always gentle, and his seduction of her was infinitely gradual. She had since read how the Plains Indians took wild horses and domesticated them, not by breaking their spirit but by slowly, slowly winning them over, and the description resonated with her immediately, because that was precisely how her father had turned her from a child who sat so innocently on his lap into an eager and spirited sexual partner.”
Block also tackles the psychologically questionable, enthusiastic sexuality of the character with a cagey darkly comic quality. The emphasis is on the act of killing; it defines the climax. Skirting the problematic childhood history, the author flashes the metaphorical underwear: “She’d reached a point where the sex act itself wasn’t complete as long as her partner had a pulse. That was the true orgasm: when she struck like a cobra, and the man died.”
Among the memorable personages who lay the foundation of the narrative are: A husband and wife who thrive on kinky ménage à trois encounters; a severly injured war veteran who discovers that his reunion with the protagonist is a meeting of the minds, if not bodies; a hot-to-trot gal who takes the murderess in as a boarder, and more; an incarcerated former yuppie, doing time for a crime executed by the killer; and a Mormon who was saving certain acts for marriage to his betrothed, but who never makes it to the altar.
The novel features more details about bondage, sexual positions, self satisfaction, and accoutrements, than the average person probably wants to speculate about or envision. Thankfully, most of it is done with tongue-in-cheek levity, which arouses well placed titters amidst the images of titillation. Lawrence Block shrewdly pulls off Getting Off. The seasoned and respected writer knows his way around. He embraces the absurdity of the premise, blithely dodging gaping plot holes, and focusing instead on lurid liaisons. His anti-heroine embodies the vindictive vixen: She is a predator whose passions are over the top; her emotions ride high. Throwing credibility to the wind, Block’s tale exemplifies the notion of a “guilty pleasure.” It is up to the reader whether to accentuate the word “guilty” or “pleasure.”