Whores in Hollywood? The entire concept is a cliche, but sexpert and writer Anna David breathes new life into what is the oldest game in town.
Staying true to her self-deprecating style, David draws you into her story by her willingness to weave herself into her characters. Any writer knows that the best stories are those told from a first-person point of view, and this is a niche Anna has mastered in her second novel, Bought.
Bought is centered around soul-searching Emma Swanson, a free-lance writer working red-carpet events for the fictional magazine Substance. Red carpets to the unfamiliar person might seem like a glamorous place to be, but to dejected Emma, it's a curse she's sure has some kind of karmic fingerprint for failings she's yet to figure out.
Even with Emma's privileged upbringing (she grew up in upscale Palisades) and expensive education (Skidmore College) she's surrounded by hints of her failures in every corner of her life. Her lawyer father and artist mother want her to go to law school and give up her pointless pursuit of writing. Her younger, and of course, more beautiful and perfect sister, is dating a Spanish Royal whom she met while attending Harvard (where Emma was denied entrance, despite two alumni parents and generous donations.) Then there's Emma's best friend Claire, whose subtle digs on Emma's single status and barely-getting-by life are a constant source of chaffing between the two. Life according to Emma sucks, but it still beats the suburban blahs.
Without creating too many spoilers, what Bought succeeds in doing is giving us a glimpse into the often misunderstood world of prostitution. But this isn't your Sunset Strip-style ladies we are spying on, but rather "paid girlfriends" and as is so pointedly stated in the book, the men aren't paying these girls to stay, but rather to leave.
Emma throws herself into the seedy-side of Hollywood after seeing an old flame at a swanky baby shower for a friend. Emma is thrown in an emotional tailspin when she sees her agent ex out with a way too perfect woman who exudes not only exotic beauty, but a worldly grace that makes her captivating not only to men, but Emma. To make matters worse, when she discovers "Jessica" is a working girl, Emma starts out on a journey which turns her world upside down.
There are hints of romance in Emma's life, one with a down to earth, but beneath her station guy who works at Whole Foods, and her inattentive ex whom she turns the tables on, thanks to some lessons in love she receives from her new best friend Jessica.
After talking her editor into letting her work on a possible cover story (her big break she hopes) Emma goes undercover to learn how so many of the beautiful women who seem to merely exist simply to make the rest of us insecure, manage to survive in the land of make believe.
As Emma discovers, there seem to be working girls everywhere, from the local Starbucks to Robertson Blvd., to her very own yoga class; there some man's idea of perfection living high on the hog at his expense, many of whom already have wives and families to support. But instead of being paid by the hour, these "temporary girlfriends" are given cars, expensive handbags or simply have their rent paid for them. Making it only slightly less illegal than a cash/service arrangement.
If it weren't for Anna David's cutting wit and insightful eye for complicated relationships, this could be a paint-by-numbers story about Hollywood's high end call girls, but Anna draws us in with a twisted relationship between two very different women who, for a while, find common ground.
The relationship between Emma and her cover story subject, Jessica, while perverse and one-sided, is not without a valuable lesson. While Jessica manipulates and seduces Emma using the very same techniques she uses on her clients, we see Emma lose herself to the charms of this "professional," including some dangerous flirting with coke and alcohol abuse which temporarily causes Emma to essentially jettison everyone who cares about her from her life, because as she discovers: "being bad, feels so good."
But rest assured, Emma finds her way back, albeit with some funny and surprising twists and turns. Easily the best part of this story is the richness of Emma and Jessica's subject turned frenemy courtship. Anna shows us that sometimes to you have to lose yourself completely, before you can find out who you really are.
Writers note: I also highly recommend Anna's previous novel Party Girl which deals in harrowing detail one woman's struggle to overcome serious addictions. Anna has written for multiple publications, is a professional member of the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists, was a host of "SexFiles" on the Sirius/Maxim channel. For more, check out her website, AnnaDavid.com