Marion May Campbell Reviews Rose Hunter and Nellie Le Beau

By | 29 June 2023

To vacate the self is to ventriloquise what one is not. The sex worker’s voice is taken over by set scripts: the “porn talk script” she tries to memorise becomes “background blanketing of white noise”; in fact, another obliterating snow storm (43; 44). This self-evacuation enables a Zen-like calm:

a half-smile on my face
a Zen-like imperturbability


Further shaming comes from other parasexual workers like the stripper who looks down on massage parlours as “grope-a-thons” (45). “[G]o to a tanning salon” is her advice if Rose is to rise above abjection (45). In fact, in her abject passivity, Rose’s persona becomes the sadist’s prey. Note the nominal verb, manifesting the predator here:

“Coming back with my boys 
to kill you, whore!”


his ragged shadow in the corner of my vision
sharking up off the table

(48-49, emphasis added)

Taking refuge from the shark of murderous intent, Hunter’s persona finds herself plunged even deeper into abjection amongst the cumulus of spent cum, itself like a swarm of circling rays:

handkerchief-sized white rays
with kite-like pectoral fins
heavy with water
and the spit-like parts of them
they come here so violent to leave behind


Abjection spreads like a virus, with an offal-like invasion saturating the whole scene:

                                       on the futon with

bile like, chartreuse and oxblood brown
wave breaks, the foaming
disintegration, throat-sharp and spilled-chemical


And one might ask what perspective, if any, is available to traumatic memory? Hunter deploys a shattered, quasi-cubistic, multi-perspectival take, in which the reader supplies the negated scene of violence:

Could have been seen from there was not
much, right
(velvet don’t flutter)

maybe that’s the point
from the front of the building these
were the things that didn’t happen: the man wasn’t

a tall hard shadow who shut the door behind him
and pushed me to the floor.
                   Sorta disbelief, sorta struggle like inside
my skin like my skin
was a plastic bag to panic-wriggle out of, or a straitjacket; where

did my arms disappear to, then?


This shibboleth, sourced in Law and Order: SVU sums it up: “You can’t rape a hooker” (77).

Acquiescence to the violence meted out to the sex-worker is a “silence deep as fangs” (77). Aligned with her entrapment, and the encroachment of deadly menace, the reader is plunged into a cascade of auditory images, becoming kinetic, olfactory, and tactile:

The buzz on the door, the pop of vacuum
unsealing; hats, gloves, coats, peeling
the white water rushing
of steaming milk, the ruff-scruff on caramel
bristles of door mat, the background trip hop
with leaf-rustling rummage
static of newspapers


The high specificity and acuity of this soundscape stems from its sourcing in Hunter’s journals and one can only be grateful for Hunter’s almost surgical suturing of her archive:

‘radioactive’, I called my journals
later I bundled them into a plastic bag
sealed it with cummerbunds of masking tape
like a drug brick ; stashed it

in case some random snooper
would be so interested! In discovering what
a terrible person I was? Not just what I did for cash
but what I had to tell myself, to crawl back into
a liveable headspace, crawlspace
scrawl place

(82-83; emphasis added)

Hunter assumes the voice of prowling masculinity in the sequence ‘Why We Are Girls’, demonstrating shockingly with what metamorphic, reductive plasticity instrumental desire operates on the “girl”:

A girl is a wisp, a potato chip
barely there, a girl drifts
by the side of the road until you show up


Echoing the tactile acuity of the earlier “drug brick” image of taped-up journals, Hunter closes with a bleak evocation of her ritual counting of the “bills”, this endlessly “slippery” testimony to her “value in the world”, or to her commodification:

[…] to feel the matte and slippery
paper under my fingers
brown, red, and green

bend them lengthwise slightly
so they sat flat in their little stack
I had value in the world
here was the paper proof

and how the proof came in, and went back out
(so slippery), and later I couldn’t understand
how I’d kept none of it
but in the meantime
floorboards and bills with music playing
and vodka going down like easy; yes

this was what a friend was, what a home was
I thought


The evanescent mirage of home and friendship is thus devastatingly proffered via the oblivion of vodka and bill-counting, a ritual bound to bleak repetition, just like the stuttering of fragmented, traumatic memory that recurs throughout this disturbing and most courageous work.

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