Brothel, a novel by J. Boyett. Fiction Advocate, 2012.
What do you do when you’re stuck in a dead-end central Arkansas town smack in the Bible Belt, see yourself as surrounded by hypocrites and holier-than-thou’s and folks whose biggest ambitions are beer and TV? A place where a large portion of people choose willful ignorance over reason because it’s familiar and easier than grappling with the uncertainties of anything other than born and bred faith? Say, you’ve got money, so you don’t have to struggle, but that just means you have even less direction. Say, you’re going to college but not really seeing much of interest after that’s done because this place has such a depressed economy that the best future you can have is to leave.
In Boyett’s debut novel, the answer is you start a brothel, nothing special, just change the sheets (regularly) on the guest bed in your already pretty crappy apartment and you go to town. Especially if, like damaged Joyce, your best friend is Ken, who doesn’t mind going after a room full of frat boys with a broken chair leg just to let them know that no matter how much they beat him, he’ll still laugh at them. And let us not forget that the whole thing starts as a lark intended to piss off Joyce’s parents.
The characters in Boyett’s novel all have their own reasons for the brothel: Ken is bored. Joyce is bored and wants to lash out. The other girls consider it easy money and an interesting experience. Of course, rich-kid Ken is too much of a trouble-maker to rest easy being a pimp for his best friend and her two friends (even though it means he gets to recite his Pimp Speech and maybe even use his bat with nails sticking out of it to sort out any trouble). He likes to stir shit up too much. And Joyce can’t resist a dare, even to become a prostitute. But where will it lead her? And exactly how will Ken explode this situation?
Boyett’s novel follows the not-so-innocent Joyce as her desire to live up to Ken’s expectations leads her down a darker and darker path. Boyett’s writing style is easy and readable. His characters flow naturally, though they’re quite complicated at times. These are damaged people, obviously, in a damaged culture. The storyline is pretty straight-forward: Ken and the girls open a brothel, johns appear (thanks to Ken), and it’s a question of when things will blow up. There are twists and turns as a few johns try to take things too far (both physically and emotionally).
Boyett has crafted a solid Arkansas novel, rollicking and funny in the vein of a young John Fergus Ryan. He’s tapped into the zeitgeist of the state with his outcast characters seeking their bliss. Boyett is an accomplished playwright, and his dialogue shows it. Honestly, the novel could easily be staged. It’s a quick, fun read, and I look forward to seeing more of Boyett’s work.