Spent by Antonia Crane
(Memoir) | Rare Bird Books, A Barnacle Book (March 18, 2014)
312 Pages | Amazon
It takes a lot of courage to write a memoir like Spent (A Barnacle Book) by Antonia Crane—but that’s one characteristic that she doesn’t lack. To take her deepest, darkest secrets, her moments of abject failure and addiction, to share that with the world as she tries to understand why she acts this way, how she got there, what made her heart, and mind, and body seek out these dangerous situations—it’s a powerful journey, that may not end how you expect it to. There is more than titillation in this book—there is emotion, honesty, loneliness, hope, and insight.
This is how the book opens:
“It was Christmas night, and Kara and I had a client at The Four Seasons in Beverly Hills—the type of place Britney Spears and Paris Hilton would smear foie gras on crackers and get shitfaced on Cristal, only they weren’t there. We were. A mirrored elevator dumped us off on the fourth floor, where we were getting paid to meet a pale guy with silver hair and get him off. Kara knocked on the door after checking my teeth for lipstick stains. A tall man with bloodshot eyes ushered us into the suite. His skin hung on him like meat before it’s tossed down the garbage disposal.”
And so it begins. This is not a glamorous gig, the first chapter of the novel, and we are shown immediately the kind of tough decisions and disgusting clients that Crane will face. What keeps the tension going throughout this first chapter, and the entire novel, is the fact that Crane does indeed get pleasure out of stripping, out of seeing clients. She is turned on by men and women alike, balancing between the need for approval and acceptance, and her physical demand to find pleasure somewhere in the shadows. One minute the work is dull, repetitious, and nauseating; the next it is exciting, hallucinatory, and pleasing. Take this quote about twenty pages in:
“Sexuality felt like a space I stepped into and out of like a mud puddle. I wanted to be chased by boys in the worst ways and my body ached when they ignored me. But when they chased me I got scared and quiet, my face flushed, and my body heated up. I wanted to be chased by boys, but I wanted to kiss girls. I admired their strength and soft pillow-like beauty. I wanted to keep their secrets and sleep next to them. I glided between sexes and needed them both.”
Need. We all need somebody, right? Who doesn’t desire attention, or want to be touched? We all ache to be seen. So as Crane shows us this world where she dances for men, and meets privately with clients, it’s not so difficult to put ourselves in her shoes for a moment. It’s exciting, the power she yields, while at the same time, once off the stage, we see behind the costumes and make-up, how the drugs wear off, the emotions crashing down around her. Once you’ve started, how do you stop?
But this novel is more than sex, drugs and rock and roll. Running alongside the story of Crane’s physical desires is the narrative that includes her mother, the strength she gets from her, the secrets she hides from her, always wanting approval, always afraid to ask for help. When her father leaves them, when she is young, it begins this lifelong journey to stay close to her mother while at the same time, pushing her away. Haven’t we all been there? What child hasn’t gone out into the world, terrified, but filled with ideas, wanting to be special, and then failing now and then, falling, fracturing whatever had been built, unwilling to ask a parent for help? Take this moment from late in the novel:
“At home, I found the paperweight with the picture of my mom inside it. My mom was about eight years old and wore braids. Her cheeks were lightly freckled and her face held the joy of a just bitten strawberry. Checkered red and white ribbons tied her long braids. She was such a pretty girl.”
Once our childhood innocence is lost, then what?
Throughout this novel we root for Antonia Crane to succeed, but what does that look like? One minute we are wrapped up in her carnal delights, aroused by her desires, a willing witness. The next minute, we are tense and worried, hopeful that she can wake up from the drug-fueled nightmare she keeps stepping into, and straighten out, and stop putting herself in danger. We watch her fight to unionize local strippers, to get better rights and benefits for the girls she dances with, these people that fill up her life with excitement and the ability to survive. We see her deal with her mother’s terminal cancer diagnosis, as her one true link with her past, when times were easier, when she was just a little girl, are now fading away.
It would have been easy for Antonia Crane to wrap up this novel in a tidy little box, to put a bow on it and say that she’s learned her lessons, that everything is okay now, even if that was a lie. But that’s not what she did. She leaves us with the knowledge that little has changed, that she still has clients, still works in the industry, and is still out there hustling, doing her best to survive.
“The way out is the way in is the way out.”
What has changed, though, is that she’s a published author now, her work appearing in Black Clock, The Rumpus, ZYZZYVA, and The Lost Angeles Review, amongst other places. She got her MFA in creative writing from Antioch University. And now, she takes these stories, and shares them with the world, shows us what can happen, good and bad—is as vulnerable as a human being can be. There is a kinship, when we finish Spent, not just exhaustion, not just satisfaction, sated for a moment—our eyes, our minds, our hearts, our desires—but a fellowship. Antonia Crane has written a touching, heartbreaking, and brutally honest memoir here in Spent, and it’s a book that has a lot to teach us, a lot to share, if only we will listen for just a moment.