Saturday, January 14, 2017

Book Review - The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City

The idea of a World’s Fair seems anachronistic today. These events, which showcase things like technology, science, and architecture, seem dated at a time when you can circumnavigate the globe in a day and the Internet can virtually take you to the ends of the earth. It was not always so. The Eifel Tower debuted at Paris’s World Fair in 1889 and the Space Needle in Seattle was unveiled during the 1962 World’s Fair. Erik Larson’s book about the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair - The Devil in the White City, is a sort of Dark Side of the Moon of the literary world, sitting on the best seller list for more than a decade.

So it is no surprise that the 1901 World’s Fair held in Buffalo, New York, forever infamous for the assassination of President William McKinley, would get its own treatment. Margaret Creighton’s book, The Electrifying Fall of Rainbow City, examines McKinley’s untimely demise along with the sometimes seedy world that emerged in the Queen City for six months at the turn-of-the-century. While the Buffalo World’s Fair is occasionally interesting, Creighton’s book is ultimately not worth the price of admission.

If people think of Buffalo these days, it is likely in connection with its eponymous chicken wings or maybe its long suffering football fans, but 116 years ago, Buffalo mattered in this country. It was one of the ten largest cities in our nation and a major hub for commerce. Town fathers were very keen on replicating the success of Chicago’s Columbian Exposition eight years prior and positioning Buffalo as a place of importance as the country climbed out of recession and emerged into the 20th century.

Creighton offers a workmanlike account of the planning and implementation of this major event, but ultimately, the whole is less than the sum of its parts. The McKinley assassination has been written about numerous times and nothing in Rainbow City sheds any new light on the incident. Part of what made Larson’s book such a phenomenon was his discovery of a lost piece of American history – that a serial killer lived among, and murdered people at, the Chicago World’s Fair – but there are no revelations of the sort here.

McKinley’s shooting and the nearly two week drama that followed before he finally succumbed act as the anchor for Rainbow City but because the story is already well-known, Creighton must lean on thinner material to fill the remainder of her 274 pages. She focuses primarily on several thrill seekers who go over Niagara Falls in wooden barrels (one dies, one survives) and Frank Bostock, the purveyor of an animal and human oddities exhibit who treats his four-legged troupe as poorly as he does Alice Cenda (aka Miss Chiquita), who, at two-feet tall, he bills as the world’s smallest woman. Bostock’s callous treatment of his menagerie (including Jumbo II, an elephant he attempts to electrocute publicly) made me cringe, while his de facto imprisonment of Cenda (keeping her from another performer she would ultimately marry) made me sad.

With enough human (and animal) suffering in the world, I am not particularly interested in reading about its historical antecedents. This extends to the exhibits featuring cultures from other countries (invariably portrayed as wild savages) and an antebellum display with a pro-slavery slant on pre-Civil War plantation life. And in a world where Jackass has lowered the common denominator for what amuses us, it was difficult to muster much interest in people doing a header over a 165-foot waterfall for the sake of public notoriety.  

One bright spot is the story of Mabel Barnes, a twenty-three year-old second grade teacher from Buffalo who kept a meticulous diary of her thirty-three visits to the fair. Barnes can almost be thought of as a blogger from another age (although her journaling took several years to complete) and imagine that had she lived in our time, her exploits would have been plastered all over social media. As a sort of tour guide for the common man, Barnes is more than able and her unabashed joy at the spectacles and sights she sees does lend the book a happy gloss.

Creighton does try to reach for some larger themes – while there is wanton animal cruelty, there are also SPCA workers monitoring the treatment of the animals. Racial attitudes at subsequent expositions were more nuanced and less rose-colored when it came to the treatment of slavery, and women’s suffrage would of course become a cause celebre, resulting in the passage of the 19th Amendment less than two decades later. McKinley’s assassination sent shockwaves through the nation, but his successor’s advocacy for the environment, dislike of corporate trusts, and his muscular foreign policy were so profoundly influential TR is one of four Presidents honored on Mount Rushmore.

Ultimately, whatever “fall” Buffalo suffered had little to do with its ill-fated World’s Fair. The city continued to prosper for decades after, but began its decline when alternate sea routes opened and steel manufacturers shut down their plants and moved their production to other countries. But for McKinley’s assassination, the entire thing would have been a footnote in history, but as it is, not substantive enough for a book-length treatment.


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Sunday, January 8, 2017

Book Review - The Emotionary

Language is the way we express ourselves. It is the cornerstone of society, the way we relate to one another, and how we define and describe our experiences. Part portmanteau and part Rich Hall’s vintage Snigglets series, Eden Sher’s The Emotionary defines feelings we experience but for which no word exists. Whether we “losstracize” (loss + ostracize = rejecting the support of others during a time of grief) or erect a “vulnercade” (vulnerable + barricade = creating a barrier around our heart so we cannot accept love), Sher mines these dark corners of our psyche in a highly relatable way. 

The Emotionary is, to borrow Sher’s conceit, “spithy” (smart + pithy) in devoting chapters to things like “Annoying Shit People Do” - I mean, who cannot relate to “inapolotence” (apology + incompetence = the inability to admit wrongdoing, which describes my ex-wife to a “T”) or the more modern annoyance of “inattextive” (text + inattentive = incessant phone use during social situations) which are brought into sharper relief through Julia Wertz’s comics, which are interspersed throughout the book. Another section simply title “Rage” had me nodding my head when I got to “strull” (stressful + lull = an escalating period of passive-aggressive tension between two people that leads to a massive eruption, again, my marriage to a “T”) and “discredulous” (disappointed + incredulous = shocked/confused when a love one fails to understand something you value).

What I enjoyed most about The Emotionary is how unafraid Sher is to touch on these many emotional third rails. I do not think it is coincidental that the majority of the book is focused on negative or difficult emotions. It is not until the last of the book’s eight chapters that we get to words that relate to happiness. And while we all strive for “solidation” (solace + validation = the relief of feeling wholly understood by another) you feel Sher working out a lot of her emotional turmoil in the other seven chapters. 

The book’s “spithiness” is its one drawback. It is a written and visual bag of potato chips you can mindlessly consume in large chunks, and since the book has just one word on each of its 181 pages, it can be finished in less than an hour. In the balance, it is easy to lose the forest for the trees. The emotions Sher highlights are big and complicated and tend to revolve around wounds that take a long time to heal and people in our lives (family members, loved ones) who inflict that damage, yet if you do not pause to consider them, they are quickly forgotten in the inexorable motion of flipping to the next page. My best advice is to take your time in considering what Sher has to say; you will surely find much you can relate to, laugh about, or even shed a tear.


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Thursday, January 5, 2017

Book Review - Prisoners of Geography

An introduction to foreign policy masquerading as a book about maps, Tim Marshall’s Prisoners of Geography - Ten Maps That Explain Everything About The World scans the globe to discover that the 21st century looks a lot like the latter half of the 20th - a three-way dance between the United States, China, and Russia for world supremacy. 

But it is less in his chapters about these three powers than it is in those that touch on the rest of the world - from the Arctic Circle to Africa - that Marshall truly shines. Prisoners is an invaluable resource for understanding the nuance and subtlety of international relations and is even more important considering that for the first time since the end of World War II, Americans have no earthly idea how our President and his foreign policy team will handle our diplomatic, economic, and military relations with the rest of the world. 

Marshall makes clear China is deeply invested in spreading its influence primarily through its economic might - the sheer force of more than one billion people can do that, and China is spending on everything from a canal being constructed in Nicaragua to compete with the one in Panama to any number of African countries larded with natural resources necessary for China’s continued expansion. The consequences of these investments is not yet known, but what Marshall highlights is the vast number of investments China is making; not all will pay off (there is, for example, a question whether the Nicaraguan Canal will succeed) but China does not need them to in order to expand its influence. At the same time, China is spending on its military closer to home to firm up a zone of influence that radiates out into the Pacific Ocean, with potential consequences for our allies like Japan and South Korea. Taken together, Marshall sees a rising China competing with America throughout the world in the decades to come. 

On the other hand, Russia is playing a weak hand strongly. It has resources (oil/natural gas) that many European nations rely on but an economy that wobbles because of its corruption. Russia leverages its still powerful military to bully its neighbors, constantly pressing to see how far it can re-extend its reach before getting slapped by its Western neighbors. Its discomfiting enough but with our President-elect’s shameless flirtation with Putin, the consequences could be far more dire. Like China, Russia is keenly interested in a wider buffer zone between it and Western nations. We see this in its retaking of Crimea and war in Eastern Ukraine. Each small conflict comes with the reward of reasserting Russia’s influence and requiring it be treated as closer to an equal on the world stage. 

And that is the key takeaway from this book. While second-tier players like the United Kingdom and France lurk in the background, much of what is happening today is informed by China’s desire to become co-equal with America on the world stage and Russia’s desire to regain what it lost when the USSR crumbled in the early 1990s. These longer term goals are playing out in myriad potential flashpoints across the globe that require deep thinking, an understanding of history, and experience to properly balance these interests, risks and rewards. Handling the on-again/off-again tensions between India and Pakistan or the simmering frustration South American countries feel toward the United States require a deft hand, any mole hill could quickly turn into a mountain and a mountain into a mushroom cloud. President-elect Trump may not appreciate the gravity of what a random tweet or phone call can do, but the rest of the world surely does and the speed and ease with which something he says or does could lead to dire consequences cannot be understated. 

While much of the book focuses on strategic decisions countries make in contemplation of potential wars with adversaries (see, e.g., the Korean Peninsula, India/Pakistan, basically the entire freaking Middle East) the difficulty in predicting the future is how often writers get things wrong. Japan was ascendant in the 1980s but is now hobbled by an aging population and a decade of limited growth. Some argued the oil crunch of the 1970s would lead to America’s demise, but today, we are about to become the largest producer of energy in the world thanks to natural gas. Regardless, readers will be informed by Marshall’s knowledge and understanding of international relations and be left pondering how different the world will surely look in the years to come. 


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Monday, January 2, 2017

Book Review - Table Manners: How To Behave In The Modern World & Why Bother

It was not until the final page of Jeremiah Tower’s Table Manners: How To Behave In the Modern World And Why Bother that the need for this slim, but engaging book on etiquette was necessary. As Tower writes, “The more you think about those around you and the less you think about yourself, the more likely you are to behave well.” As a culture renowned for its self-centeredness and narcissism, and, at least in some quarters, its rudeness, Americans are particularly in need of basic rules of the road when it comes to the simple act of manners. 

Of course, we all understand what manners are, it is why we instinctively ask someone to pass the salt or pepper when it is out of reach (per Tower, whenever either is more than a forearm’s distance and will require you to extend your arm further; if the “passer,” send over both to avoid a second request) or bring a bottle of wine when invited to a friend’s house for dinner (a tradition Tower disfavors based on its simplicity and discomfort it gives the host, who must decide whether to serve, reserve, or discreetly regift at a later date). 

But because manners require that the interests of others be considered before our own, most Americans surely find these rules stilted and prescriptive. What Tower does is provide answers in nice little bite-sized portions, perfect for a culture now hooked on BuzzFeed “listicles” and articles that rarely extend past 500 words (admit it, you’re ready to bail already, right?) Be it dinner parties or nights out on the town, Tower has you covered - from how to graciously exit dull conversation (offer to get the group another round of drinks) to when requesting a doggie bag is appropriate (in all instances other than a formal or business dinner) and he does it all in a tidy 135 pages, most of which are spaced generously and can be read in large chunks without much effort. 

Of particular relevance is the chapter on technology. It is remarkable to think that 10 years ago, smart phones did not exist and today a whole lingua franca, not to mention set of rules have cropped up in their wake, but be it whether to Instagram your food (ok if done quickly and not with offense to others) or take a call at the table (a definite no no), these practical tips are themselves worth the price of admission.

You can imagine Tower is the kind of person whom you would want hosting a dinner party or attending as one of your guests. No, it is not because he knows how to devour an artichoke (leaves pulled off one-by-one and eaten by hand) or that he admonishes against acting like the grammar police in casual conversation (no one cares that you know whether “and I” or “and me” is correct), but because his writing reflects a bit of the raconteur - this is a man who can tell a great story *and* pick the right bottle of wine. His humor is droll and a bit ribald, the type of person who knows how to read a room and its sensibilities while enlivening it without offending. 


We should all aspire to this level of etiquette and civilization, but even if we cannot reach Tower’s level of sophistication, his book is a valuable guide and a recommended addition to your book collection.

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Friday, December 30, 2016

Books of the Year (Part V)

Books of the Year 5-1

5. Sixty, Ian Brown. A bittersweet, but mostly uplifting exploration of life at 60 written with a sardonic edge and (grudging) acceptance of the slow decline of old age. 

4. How To Be A Person In The World, Heather Havrliesky. The too-cool-for-school friend you had growing up who turned into a bad ass, strip-the-varnish off advice columnist (who also writes beautifully.) My full review 

3. I Never Knew That About New York, Christopher Winn. An encyclopedia tour of Manhattan, from the financial district all the way up to the Harlem River, that is equal parts history lesson and Fodor’s guide. Readers will become acquainted with landmarks, offered suggested neighborhood walking tours, and an abiding appreciation for the city that never sleeps. 

2. The Art of Rivalry, Sebastian Smee. A marvelous exploration of the relationships between giants of modern art. Less rivals than competitors and sometime collaborators, readers will relish the back-and-forth between de Kooning and Pollock, Picasso and Matisse, Freud and Bacon, and Manet and Degas. Smee’s writing is vibrant and leaps off the page as he takes readers into the parlors, salons, and studios of these iconic names. 


1. The Confidence Game, Maria Konnikova. An immersive deep dive into the world of con artists and how they dupe people into falling for their schemes. I found this book endlessly fascinating, thought provoking, and wonderfully written. My full review


The rest of the list can be found here:

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Books of the Year (Part IV)

Books of the Year 10-6

10. Blood in the Water, Heather Ann Thompson. Ms. Thompson’s exhaustive (and sometimes exhausting) history of the 1971 Attica riot and its aftermath is an absolute page turner. She not only delves into the causes of the riot, but gives a blow-by-blow of the four day siege, the negotiations, the “what ifs” (primarily ones related to why the government officials in charge did not continue negotiating when a deal seemed imminent), the retaking of the prison by force and the decades-long effort to get to the truth of what happened during those panicked few hours. I hate to say Thompson is “pro-inmate,” more accurately, she is “anti cover-up” which is mostly what happened but I felt as though in her zeal to (rightly) point the finger at those in power who tried to sweep the devastation under the rug, she was a bit too willing to give a free pass to the inmates who incited the riot. 

9. The Time Traveler’s Handbook: 18 Experiences From the Eruption of Vesuvius to Woodstock, James Wyllie, Johnny Acton, and David Goldblatt. As the title suggests, this smart and engaging book takes readers back to certain times in history, offering an experiential description of what it might be like if you were cruising Hamburg, Germany when The Beatles first performed there, hanging out in Xanadu with Marco Polo, or observing the First Battle of Bull Run. The book is meticulously researched down to the types of food you might have eaten or clothes you would have worn during each of these times in history. The publisher also printed this book on heavy bond paper with many illustrations, adding to the reader’s overall enjoyment.

8. Dreamland, Sam Quinones. If you’re interested in understanding the economics of the drug trade in America, dig into this excellent book about how heroin and its lagging indicator, opiate painkillers, have decimated entire communities in our country. My full review

7. Evicted, Poverty and Profit in the American City, Matthew Desmond. After you have learned how the drug trade has basically destroyed huge swaths of Ohio, West Virginia, and other parts of the country, boogie on up to Milwaukee to find out how rapacious landlords take advantage of poor people while suckling at the government teat. 


6. American Heiress, Jeffrey Toobin. The Patty Hearst kidnapping is now relegated to distant 70s lore, somewhere near pet rocks and the 8-track cassette deck in our collective memory, but Toobin brings the story back to life, placing it in the context of the low-level domestic terrorism that would seem disturbing today, and wraps it all up in a convincing argument that Hearst’s privilege and willingness to shade the truth ultimately allowed her to (mostly) escape justice while her comrades in arms spent years, if not decades in prison. My full review

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Books of the Year (Part III)

Books of the Year 16-11

16. The Wilderness, McKay Coppins. A worthy effort had Marco Rubio been nominated for President, not Donald Trump. My full review

15. Shrill, Notes From A Loud Woman, Lindy West. A ballsy, unabashed, and raw memoir from one of today’s strongest feminist voices. West’s book largely hits the mark though there were a few points when I wish she had not risen to the troll bait. Highly recommended.

14. Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen, Mary Norris. A book for every schoolmarm, grammarian, and english usage nerd out there. Norris writes beautifully and with a panache you will envy if you did not like her so much.

13. The Fix: How Nations Survive & Thrive In A World In Decline, Jonathan Tepperman. Life hacks from far away places where corruption once reigned, civil war raged or material resources limited a nation’s capacity for economic growth and a few other things in between. Tepperman shares case studies from around the globe - post-Rwandan reconciliation and South Korean economic revival, Brazil’s experiment with direct payments to the poor and our own country’s investment in natural gas fracking to illustrate how (and why) leadership can transform a society’s fortunes. 

12. Ghettoside, Jill Leovy. Solving murders and understanding why violence in impoverished areas of Los Angeles is so hard to do. My full review


11. How To Be Miserable: 40 Strategies You Already Use, Dr. Randy Paterson. By far the best of the self-help books I read this year. Dr. Paterson’s conceit is taking that which you do and makes you unhappy as a jumping off point for the not-so-radical idea that perhaps doing something different (or the opposite) might help. 

Monday, December 26, 2016

Books of the Year (Part II)

Books of the Year 25-17

25. Dead Presidents, Brady Carlson. How they died, why it matters, and the manner we honor them, from Lincoln’s god-like esteem to the forgotten ones like Chet Arthur. 

24. Seinfeldia: How A Show About Nothing Changed Everything, Jennifer Armstrong. Another book I was fully prepared to love and only liked. My full review

23. Your Favorite Band Is Killing Me, Steven Hyden. A book made up of the arguments you used to have in your dorm room (or at the bar) about whether DLR Van Halen was better than Van Hagar, Nirvana vs. Pearl Jam, etc. My full review

22. Going Red: The Two Million Voters Who Will Elect the Next President & How Conservatives Can Win Them, Ed Morrissey. Right wing writer identifies eight counties that will tilt the election (turns out he was mostly right). Who knew. 

21. Ike’s Bluff, Evan Thomas. Thomas argues that Ike’s subtle form of leadership, a combination of playing possum, playing dumb, and having the benefit of everyone knowing you led the largest land invasion in the history of the world, saved mankind from any number of bad outcomes while he was President.

20. Life Moves Pretty Fast: The Lessons We Learned From Eighties Movies, Hadley Freeman. I’m pro-80s nostalgia in all its various iterations and forms. 

19. We Were Feminists Once, Andi Zeisler. Consumerism killed feminism (and other observations). My full review

18. Andy Warhol Was A Hoarder: Inside the Minds of History’s Great Personalities, Claudia Kalb. A little post hoc mental health assessment of some people you may have heard of - Marilyn Monroe (borderline personality), Charles Darwin (anxiety), etc. Pithy and enjoyable. 


17. 50 Great American Places: Essential Historic Sites Across the U.S., Brent D. Glass. A wonderful survey of interesting places right here in the good old U.S. of A. 

Books of the Year (Part I)

Books Of The Year 35-26

35. Too Dumb To Fail, Matt K. Lewis. Flaccid musings of a Weekly Standard Republican rendered moot by the rise of Trump. My full review

34. The Man’s Guide to Women, Douglas Abrams and John Gottman. Advice so banal, I do not remember any of it.

33. The Life Changing Magic of Not Giving A Fuck, Sarah Knight. Ditto.

32. The Lion in the Living Room, Abigail Tucker. Cat owner writes book about how awful it is that we own cats. My full review

31. Life Reimagined: The Science, Art & Opportunity of Midlife, Barbara Bradley Hagerty. Why can’t I get paid to take a two-year sojourn through what upper middle class white people do between ages 40 and 60? My full review 

30. How to See, David Salle. I really wanted to like this book because I love art, but most of the essays discuss artists only true aficionados know. Salle is a beautiful writer, he was just opining on people and work I had never heard of and could not care less about. 

29. The World According to Star Wars, Cass Sunstein. Stretching to find metaphors for life in the storylines of one of the most popular movie franchises in history should have produced a more interesting tome, but alas, no such luck. Plus, way too much discussion of the prequel trilogy most people rightly hold in as low regard as The Godfather III

28. Whistlestop, My Favorite Stories From Presidential History, John Dickerson. A few interesting anecdotes (the chapters on Ed Muskie and George Wallace are particularly strong) barely lift this otherwise forgettable recitation of presidential campaign stories familiar to anyone who has cracked a book about American history. 


27. The Best Worst President: What the Right Gets Wrong About Barack Obama, Mark Hannah. Reads like the work product of a Media Matters intern who tried to turn a white paper into a full-length book. 

26. F*ck Feelings, Dr. Michael Bennett and Sarah Bennett. Life is shitty and people are too. Amen. My full review

Saturday, December 10, 2016

TV Review - The Girlfriend Experience

It has been said that we have three lives - our public life, our private life, and our secret life. The first is what the rest of the world sees, the second, reserved for our family and friends, and the last what we keep hidden away. Properly calibrated, these elements blend harmoniously, if not always seamlessly. What happens when this balance is off kilter is the subject of Starz TV’s extraordinary drama The Girlfriend Experience

The show takes its title and the barest outline of its plot from the Steven Soderbergh movie of the same name. Adapted for television, we meet second-year law student Christine Reade, who just landed an internship at a prominent law firm and dreams of a career as a patent attorney but is enticed into selling her body by her classmate Avery, who has connected with a wealthy businessman taking care of her every need. 

The show quickly finds its stride with confident writing, directing, and acting. Avery melts down shortly after we meet her and a former boyfriend is seen briefly in the show’s pilot and never heard from again. Christine is unbothered by the moral ambiguity of her work, but her motivations are never fully revealed. Sure, there is some aspect of the struggling law student about her, but money does not appear to be the primary driver. Is it power? Control? Even as she connects with a madam who books her clients, Christine chafes at the 30% fee she is charged. Why not just do it all herself? 

A show exploring a taboo subject like prostitution could easily fall into kitsch or cliché, but in a drama such as this, which relies almost entirely on the strength of its lead actress, casting Riley Keough was critical. She is fearless and brilliant, and not just in the raw, almost pornographic sex scenes that populate nearly every episode, but in expressing inexorable ambition that shifts from dreams of a high powered legal career into ones of being a high powered escort. As her silent passenger on that trip, it is easy for viewers to judge or question, but Keough’s performance is too self-assured to be second guessed. Because Christine is such a practiced liar, little if any of what we see or hear from her can be taken at face value. There is always an angle, a hustle, another option she is exploring, turning over the possibilities in her head like a Texas Hold ‘Em player considering an opponent’s bet. Even in the midst of the season’s major pivot point, the reveal of an incriminating video of her with a client, it is difficult to discern whether the panic attack she has is an act to garner pity or a legitimate reaction to her entire life getting nuked. 

Keough’s cipher-like ability made me think of her character as an interesting counter point to Mad Men’s Don Draper. Don constantly strove to hide the flawed, insecure man and dark secrets that haunted him. Christine acknowledges the artifice and leaves it to others to engage in the self-delusion necessary for them to believe she is, pick your poison, attracted to them, interested in what they have to say, or engaged on any level. Whereas Don used his shiny veneer as a sleight of hand to avoid having anyone try to get beneath the surface, Christine throws it in your face with a blinking red light warning you not to look. Like Don, Christine is an admitted loner who does not feel or process emotions in the way others do and has no friends. Her choice of profession forces her to fake her feelings, but she is adept at the charade, turning on her persona when the door opens and shutting it off as soon as she walks back out until it is time to start the act all over again.

Beyond the interpersonal sex, there is the underlying theme of isolation. Masturbation, that lonely form of sexual gratification that was for so long treated like a dirty unspoken secret, is a central act in the show. Mostly it is Christine doing the diddling, often with a man watching, but at a remove, via a computer screen. It allows for connection but not intimacy. It is only when she is alone with her own thoughts that the act feels erotic and not mechanical. 

Her clients have their own shaming instincts - the series finale is centered around an elaborate cuckold role play where her client dashes off to the bathroom to jack off as Christine and a man paid to be her “boyfriend” have sex on a couch. Other clients ask her to leave as soon as the sex is over, riddled with their own issues of guilt or impropriety. It is heavy stuff and mining these darker recesses of our secret lives can be uncomfortable viewing. Faced with the things we desire, GFE flips the script and asks what you are willing to sacrifice in the service of snuffing out your loneliness or unhappiness or indulge your own hedonism. 

The show’s icy sterility only serves to enhance that sense of isolation. Interiors either have the shaded look of a David Fincher movie or are European modernist, geometry in stainless steel, prefab plastic or marble. The hotels and buildings are awash in floor to ceiling windows and city scape panoramas that enhance the voyeuristic vibe of the show. The conversations are clipped, staccato, and invariably transactional. Layered over all of it is an ethereal soundtrack that jibes with the ultra modernist look. It is arresting and eye catching, a style and sensibility that matches the rest of the show’s production.

If I have one critique of this otherwise outstanding freshman effort it is, to borrow from the subject matter of the show, that it blew its load a bit too quickly. Instead of amping up the intrigue and suspense of whether Christie could juggle the demands of law school, her internship, and her side gig as an escort, the worlds collide a little more than halfway through the season when a jilted client leaks a video of Christine having sex with him to her co-workers and family and Christine retaliates against the managing partner at the law firm (who she also slept with) by releasing a video of the two of them having sex. 

The remaining episodes have the feel of an uneven coda. The guy who leaked the video that ends up blowing up Christine’s life is not seen again and David, the managing partner at the firm who is fired in the wake of Christine’s launching of her own nukes (their sex video) is left dangling as he interviews for other jobs. The case he was colluding on is left unresolved as is his replacement at the top of the firm’s hierarchy. Instead, we get an episode focused on Christine’s return home (to a stern, angry mother and a slightly more sympathetic father) and a teaser of the direction she intends to go - further down the escorting rabbit hole (she withdraws from law school with no plans to return) and with a wider menu of activities. 

During a side jaunt to Toronto in the wake of her exposure, Christine ends up in a weird hotel scene with two other escorts and a coked-to-the-gills client. The following day she and one of the other women meet for a drink and they lament their respective situations - Christine is trying to build a customer base while the other woman, a six year veteran, is trying to shed clients but the lure of easy money is too great. It is a not-so-subtle effort at the cautionary tale, a warning to get out while you still can, but The Girlfriend Experience makes clear the journey is just beginning.


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