DIARY OF A MARRIED CALL GIRL
By Tracy Quan
Three Rivers Press. 318 pp. $12.95
Arich husband is a john-for-life. Take "Pretty Woman," for example: Richard Gere took Julia Roberts off the street and gave her the fairy tale. But what if she kept hoin' on the down-low, turning tricks while Richard was at work? And what if Richard was totally oblivious that Julia was a hooker in the first place? It's not much of a fairy tale, but it's the premise of Tracy Quan's second novel, "Diary of a Married Call Girl."
Quan, an ex-pro herself, wrote an online column that became a book, a "Sex and the City" for the flesh trade titled "Diary of a Manhattan Call Girl." Her alter ego, a high-class hooker named Nancy Chan, marries a Wall Street banker who unwittingly shares his bride with a sizable clientele. The sequel continues the vicarious sluttiness that readers enjoyed in the first book, as Nancy and her co-workers tote sex toys in their designer handbags and share bad-girl secrets about pubic hairstyling.
This second book is also a "diary," but Nancy Chan is no Bridget Jones. For all of her sex appeal and bawdy stories, Nancy is not as fun to read. And why would she put this stuff in writing anyway? Keeping a diary seems contrary to her paranoia about getting caught by her husband.
Actually, the premise of a "married call girl" doesn't make sense either. Nancy's rich husband adores her, so she doesn't need to turn tricks anymore. She stubbornly wants to "keep the keys to the candy store," as Holly Golightly put it, but what for?
A big thing in writing novels is to establish what the protagonist wants early in the book, but it's hard to understand Nancy's motivation. All she wants is to keep her "career" hidden from her husband, but is hooking really such a hard habit to break? Watching him get dressed one morning, she notices, "He's wearing the tie that I gave him the other day, purchased with my illicit earnings." Is she hooking just so she can buy her husband new neckties?
It doesn't make sense -- unless Nancy is in it for the sex. After servicing a favorite client, she admits, "I wasn't doing it for entirely professional reasons." Maybe she gets off on the excitement of living a double life, but the reader can't buy what she's selling because her behavior is so perplexing.
Nevertheless, a story about hookers is invariably more interesting than a story about non-hookers -- most of the time. I suggest skipping Chapter 8 altogether, an insufferable account of Nancy's family history brought on by the death of a relative. We get to read all about Grandmummy, Uncle Gregory, Uncle Anthony, Aunt Vivian, Kasturi (Aunt Vivian's older brother's wife), Great-Uncle Edwin et al. Nancy's family is not nearly as fascinating as she thinks it is. Who knew a hooker's diary could be so boring?
She pontificates on her prominent family (or the proper way to prepare salade nicoise) and lectures her girlfriends, which doesn't endear her to them or us. After resisting the urge to buy a handbag at Bergdorf's, for instance, she comes up with this insight: "I felt like one of those men who suddenly remembers that he has a very good 'steak' waiting at home. Except that my particular steak -- a tenured Kelly bag -- was sitting on my lap. And that handbag was no mere hamburger. Anyway, the real problems in life aren't hamburger-driven. The temptation to splurge on that extra filet has been the downfall of too many people in this steak-ridden town." Makes you wonder how late Quan stayed up at night putting together that convoluted analogy. At this point in the book, she lost me: I stopped hoping that Nancy would go straight and began rooting for her to get busted. Or the clap. Or pregnant. Or any combination of the three.
I've read Quan's columns, so I know she's a better writer than this. If the Nancy Chan serial continues, I hope Quan can give Nancy a sense of humor and more interesting challenges than cheating on her clueless husband. "Diary of a Married Call Girl" is too much work for too little satisfaction. And as any working girl would tell you, "Time is money, honey."