‘Lechery’ by Jayne Anne Phillips

phillips, jayne anne 1979

Lechery by Jayne Anne Phillips, 1979

The magic trick:

Adding the haunting backstory details about Natalie

This is a relentlessly sad story. I mean, any story about child prostitution is bound to be difficult to the point of heartbreak, but even as far as child-prostitution stories go, this one is brutal. Phillips uses the first-person narrator to great effect. The narrator begins the story almost gleeful in her telling of the power she wields over the virginal boys she introduces to sex. That they are about the same age as her is the first clue that this is an extraordinarily sad situation.

Of all the stories she tells of her past, the ones about Natalie are the most affecting. In a life almost entirely devoid of love and kindness, Natalie is the exception. There isn’t a lot here about Natalie, and what is revealed isn’t very clear. The reader can’t even be sure if Natalie is real or just a concept. Either way, the mere mention of any means of salvation only serves to highlight the tragedy of the narrator’s reality. And that’s quite a trick on Phillips’s part.

The selection:

Natalie is standing in the sand. Behind her the ocean spills over, the waves have thick black edges. Natalie in her shredded slip, knobbly knees, her pale blue eyes watery. Natalie standing still as a dead thing spreads her legs and holds herself with her hand. Her fingers groping, her white face. She squeeze and pulls so hard she bleeds She calls for help She wants me. Faces all around us, big faces just teeth and lips to hold me down for Natalie. Natalie on top of me Natalie pressing down. Her watery eyes say nothing. She sighs with pleasure and her hot urine boils all around us.

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