Apparently, that’s the theme of the book, but it doesn’t stop there. The book’s got plenty of juicy domestic violence, sexual and emotional abuse, drug and alcohol addiction, dangerous high-risk lifestyle choices and behaviors, and so many other textbook cases of psychological “crutches” that it’s a Pandora’s Box of dysfunction, aberration and pathology – more than enough for a team of Freudian psychologists from Vienna, or a squad of detectives from the Special Victims Unit investigating sexually related crimes, to process in a lifetime.
The book describes the most deviant and perverted sex acts imaginable, written as explicitly as possible, yet it’s neither gratuitous nor pornographic. It’s written to shock, and it does, but the erotic narrative is not shocking in itself; the insinuations are shocking, things that are sneered at in “polite” society. The sex and drugs are real and hardcore, not simulated, and not safe by any means, but the reader will not easily separate the sex from the drugs, because one feeds the other and neither can live without the other. At least that’s how it is until Oriana Small (aka porn star “Ashley Blue”) finds a way to live without abusing either one. Her story is certainly not a confessional. She doesn’t ask for, nor expect, absolution and forgiveness for anything; and why should she? There’s no trace of regret, remorse or victimization. This is not the story of a submissive woman looking for explanations and reasons -- just the opposite: only a self-confidant woman, albeit emotionally damaged, could live through this and write about it and still be more than a survivor.
The book is, possibly, the best example of “authenticity” I’ve ever read.
The story is also about a city -- Los Angeles, California -- where people live earsplitting lives of distraction on a daily basis. Los Angeles (especially San Fernando Valley) is the centerpiece for the porn industry, and the book lets us see another side of urban sprawl. We can almost smell the cigarette smoke rising from an ashtray, or from a cigarette butt smoldering on the top of a soda can in a stale, dusty room when the sunlight comes in low from the east and hits it just right, through a half-opened curtain hiding a dirty window in an apartment near Fountain and La Brea, after a night of group sex, recreational drugs and no sleep, again. Hollywood, West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Santa Ana, Studio City and the entire southern California freeway system are characters in the story with just as much importance, if not more, as any dialogue between boyfriends and girlfriends, filmmakers and wanna-be sex starlets strung out on crystal meth. From Universal City to Las Vegas, from Northridge and Chatsworth to Palm Springs: the story goes everywhere and takes plenty of sex and drugs along for the ride; in this book, sex and drugs are really the only ride.
But the book also lets the reader examine a completely different “ethos-system” of codependence, honesty, and love -- redefined in terms that are unknowable and unavailable to most people. In a netherworld where you and most of your friends are young and damaged goods, barely to be trusted, your collective myths are accepted as “truth”, made to create private pretexts for public consequences. It’s almost, but not literally, a “parallel world”, alien to most common shared realities, and yet there are obvious similarities. As the book makes clear, intensely strong loyalties and bonds are formed between people who have more than their share of jealousies, insecurities, possessiveness, emotional withdrawal, self-doubt and estrangement; but they’re just as capable of expressing romantic sentiments as anyone else. The fact that the book describes them having sex with lots of other people, on film and for money, with which to buy more drugs and have sex with even more people, doesn’t even matter.
As an outsider looking in, the reader is provoked, or maybe I should say “invited”, to defer to a morality that’s intolerable, misunderstood and even condemned. And yet throughout her largely self-inflicted misery, for Oriana Small, at least, at the end of a very long day that had turned into years, the experience of love, a successful marriage, regeneration and self-renewal were waiting for her at home. Others weren’t so lucky.