I want to like JJ Giles’, The Mistress and the Mouse. I do, or at any rate I want to forgive the novel its shortcomings. It has such a great title for example. How provocative is the idea of a mistress and her mouse? It’s hot stuff. Giles shows a real ability at endless plot complication creating a narrative line that literally winds wheels in various directions within wheels like string theory. Basically, we are introduced to a family of super-mega-rich billionaire deviants who do and undo each other through and between their generations. They pay for this life style with the ill-gotten gains of “old money” leveraged rapaciously by the family investment bank.
Never mind that such institutions are creatures of the 1980s. This one has been doing arbitrage since 1900 or before, and they have the creepy family portraits to prove it. Never mind that Grandpa was also, as everyone calls him, “the Spawn of Satan.” We are up to a new generation who beat and malign each other with such ferocity that the hospital is the logical end to a chic night on the town. Better still, the characters all share one genuine belief, which is that the rich are entitled to it all. What’s more, Giles seems to agree.
However loathsome these people become, their credit rating places them above the unwashed. In fact, when they want revenge, they either literally kill you, or, worse still, destroy your credit rating. When they are not doing that, they are pawing through their endless supply of psychosexual torture devices. This novel is an amazing catalogue of S/M practices, personality traits, appliances, rituals, toys, games, furniture, hand tools, incidental gear, and couture. One wonders at times why there is not a catalogue of Internet suppliers at the back to tell you where to buy all this stuff. You could wear it while you read on and on and on.
There is no method of testicular twist untried, no anal invasion omitted, no vaginal dilation or osculation deleted from this lengthy exploration of what the two genders, separately and together, can insert, impale, irrigate, penetrate, strike down, and gin up in painful extremis. If that were not enough, necrophilia and incest as well as a heavy larding of imaginative, exquisitely manic “sex therapy,” all find their way into the book.
The downside, or sides, of The Mistress and the Mouse are two: paper thin characterization and an appalling mastery of literary style. Oddly enough, the style seems to be responsible for the weak characterization, and Giles is not the only offender there.
Simple examples include a character who is “ruptured” by his orgasm. A guy, having lured the object of his desire into his “habitat” finds her presence has “thrilled him beyond repair.” Everyone in the sex therapist’s clutches is subject to her “furious punishment,” and that’s a carload of people. The thought of some sexual humiliation to one of her rich clients causes her to “swell with laughter.” All these jarring blunders in diction are made worse because they seem quite intentional. They are offered to enhance the pseudo-medical atmosphere of this book. The worst of these is a man who experiences “affixiation” during orgasm.
Affixiation is carbon monoxide poisoning which produces extreme weakness, nausea, paralysis, and other painful symptoms. It’s not that romantic and produces a very unpleasant death from say, sucking on car exhaust. What Giles means is “asphyxiation.” That is the reduction of oxygen to the brain, which in some people enhances their experience of orgasm. It’s not much more alluring to me, but it sure beats nausea and death.
Once you get used to all these redundancies and malapropisms, you are left wondering about the editing. Any sentence structure or awkward elaboration of tense is not only there but seemingly encouraged. Is it sexier to be tangled in the sheets in a mangled version of the pluperfect subjunctive? Apparently so to Giles, but I have to ask, “Where was the editor here?” Giles is not talentless and the people at LYD publishing have shelled out more than a few bucks to make this a handsome and readable book.
At over six hundred pages, it is a daunting thing to read much less edit, because you soon become aware that you will never sort out the plot but why bother? Still an editor with any craft could have caught the obvious, ham-fisted clunkers and paired away a large measure of the ineptitude of what clearly seems to be a first novel, or novels, crammed between the covers of the book. In short, it does not need to be 600 plus pages long and would be better without almost half of that.
The primary sign of that is that Giles introduces a new character or plot twist during every French scene in the first hundred pages. What’s more, most of those scenes are very short. The tweaks tend to come back for embellishment, but the characters never sustain any growth.
Who are these people? Who knows? They live in some place that is a couple of hours from Lake Erie, but it also seems to be as sunny as LA and has a gaudy hotel called the Fontainbleau a la Miami Beach. They have the sensibilities of Vegas right-to-work pit bosses, and the tastes of the cretins in Dallas. They fuck on one set of sheets and then have to change beds so they are not sullied by their own erotic effluvia in order to sleep or fuck some more.
At base they are down home, redneck, I-don’t-know-nothin’ DUMB. They are part of no culture other than one of endless, pointless, acquisition. They seem to be illiterate and have no interest in anything but a relentless, feckless obsession with themselves. Intellectually cemented into their sense of entitlement, they are beyond redemption. In short these are the aristocrats that Robespierre confronted. He had the good sense to cut the discussion short by cutting them a foot shorter, and you long for that to happen to most of these leather-clad dorks. One can see them insisting on designer tumbrels to ride to their own executions.
The center of this novel is Morgan McFaye, the sex therapist, hooker, and sometime maniac around whom the novel oozes. The author is forever flirting with this name as a variation of Morgan Le Faye, the scheming witch in “Le Morte D’arthur.” The medieval figure was the half-sister of Arthur who was forever engaged in assorted schemes and manipulations. Giles has only the dimmest understanding of the attendant literary tradition to that character...and none at all of literature in general.
Morgan McFaye intones interminably about the paltry wits of the heterosexual male who is so easily manipulated. In the time-honored tradition of third rate S/M fiction, she goes on about how easily males are struck dumb by a nice ass, or a handsome pair of tits or, better still, the right feminine toss of the hair, or piercing look of startling ferocity. It is to yawn.
“Men,” Morgan thinks to herself, “How easy it is to turn them into babbling babies ready to acquiesce to every desire.” Ponderous alliteration left aside, Morgan has exchanged nasty, shallow prejudice for insight. Whereas her chief male client/slave says, “How horribly subtle women can be,” the operative word here being ‘horrible.’ Some men are paralyzed by pussy. That’s true, but not all of them. What Morgan believes is that men are struck dumb and helpless by female sexual power. What she misses completely is that men can think about more than one thing at a time, and they are not patient.
Yes, men are struck dumb by their attraction to women and, in the case of bisexuals, to each other. What’s to talk about, anyway? They look and imagine the possibilities. On the other hand, they have other things to do, and if nothing is going to come of this flirtatious exchange, they move on. Why not? More importantly, no matter how hot a woman may look, if she is dumb, mean, or dumb and mean, it’s not worth the trouble after a man passes the age of 17. Men don’t move on because they have short attention spans. They don’t like to waste time, and they just don’t get fixated as easily as Morgan would like to believe.
How did Morgan arrive at these professional beliefs? She learned to be a sex therapist of course. How? “I went to California for a year.” Enough said, yes, California, the mythic home of the plastic blonde, with the brain from the Pleistocene era. In fiction of this sort California is always the source of credentials for the latest form of psycho-blabber. What is more, this novel is riddled with psychological catch phrases and assorted flimflam that displaces, the author hopes, any need for a real explanation of why these characters think and behave the way they do. Therapy here, as it often is in reality, is that dark, humid, bio-fungal place between the poles of art and science, where nothing of much use grows.
However much one may disdain Marcel Proust, the difference between his long eroto-decadant portrait of bourgeois life in the 1890s and The Mistress and the Mouse, is simple. His epic is based on the reportage of nuance that shows a deep appreciation of the senses and the thoughts they separately evoke in his many characters. The body, with its attendant sexual drives and yearnings, is the filter of what is real.
Proust’s entire prose edifice is built upon the taste of a Madeleine, a butter cookie. A Madeleine is a fragile thing that is at once a combination of freshly baked butter and a background whiff of lemon. Fresh and hot from the oven, it is as sexy as anything in human life because it is so fully there in all its elegant simplicity upon the tongue. Like flowers, they do not keep. When cold and forced, they are dry and disgusting.
Inside The Mistress and the Mouse, there is a novel and an interesting one. But writing is not mass production. It is not a trade, nor is it a craft. It is an art form. It demands that you must know what has come before you, which Giles does not. You may accept or reject that heritage, but you cannot supplant it with gimmickry from trumped up disciplines like sex therapy. More importantly, you must know and say something of the world, and that perforce means the world that extends beyond the hermetic environs of excessive and abusive privilege.