The Melancholy Strumpet Master
by Zeb Beck
Genre: Literary & General Fiction / Humor
Print Length: 257 pages
Reviewed by Akram Herrak
A hilarious and original story about a failed scholar doing research on prostitutes in Tijuana
The Melancholy Strumpet Master has one of the most original premises for a novel that I’ve seen in recent memory, possibly ever. A PhD scholar in anthropology who decided to do his thesis on prostitution, more specifically sex workers in Tijuana, struggles for years to get his project going, and as he keeps failing both academically and in his personal life, he finds himself obliged to take a job as a teacher in a correctional facility for delinquent teenagers. Meanwhile, he’s using his money to pay the sex workers for their time to have interviews with them. With a premise this original, I’d expect only one of two outcomes: brilliance or a complete failure.
Thankfully, The Melancholy Strumpet Master does not disappoint. Strong characters like protagonist Gil and his friend Rex are very distinctive and not at all self-aware of the silliness of the story; they are fully invested and you can see the importance of it all for them. Their serious involvement facilitates immersion in a story that is the complete opposite of ordinary. I found myself deeply interested in the characters and in the contrasting settings of Los Angeles and Tijuana. While Gil works as a teacher in L.A., his trips to Tijuana over the weekend reveal another side of him.
His dedication to his work and research come out clearly, and his insecurities, past, and longings do as well. This is naturally a recipe for disaster, but our protagonist wouldn’t call it that. Either way, his increased involvement in the research leads him to the idea of starting a website so the girls could post their pictures and videos online to reach more customers. Keep in mind that this novel is set in the beginnings of the internet so this is all still very bizarre, and this idea leads the story into new, unexpected, and hilarious directions. This idea would coincide with another decision of his, which is to begin sleeping with the prostitutes, not just interview them. As you might expect, this complicates things even further.
What more can I say about The Melancholy Strumpet Master? A funny, wholly original novel with a short-enough page-count—a near perfect companion for a weekend of laughs and surprises.
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