MARKET STREET CINEMA, which is an erotica novel set in a strip club in San Francisco (I actually walked by it a couple times before it was closed!) and puts a human face on sex work. I enjoyed it enough that I immediately put her other book, MAY AT THE PEACOCK RANCH, on my to-read list.
Unlike MSC, MAY is set in Pahrump, Nevada, at a legal brothel. Our heroine, May, becomes sole guardian for her two younger siblings, but because she is only nineteen and most of her mother's money went to medical care in her final days, their house is now in arrears and the kids are going to foster care unless May can come up with a game plan to show that she is fiscally responsible enough to keep them.
Enter the virginity auction.
Inwardly, I winced, because this is such a common trope in new adult books. Prostituting yourself for money. Selling your virginity for money. Stripping for money. You'd think that everyone goes into sex work right after they graduate if you went by your new adult romance for guidance. ALSO, they're almost always filled with slut-shaming and the author does all kinds of logical gymnastics to explain why Jane Heroine is a desperate paragon of virtue for doing this while all the other Whorry McSluts out there are Bad Women who do Bad Things and should be Ashamed.
Not so with this book!
Honestly, the author clearly did a lot of research because the Peacock Ranch is a professional establishment with rules that make sense and leave all of the agency with the girls. Most of the other women (with one exception) seem nice and normal, if a little jaded when it comes to sexual matters, and several of them actually offer advice or help. I was also pleasantly surprised by the guy May chooses. You'd think that anyone who places a bid in a virginity auction would be gross-- and who knows, maybe they are, IRL-- but this guy wasn't. Hot Russian billionaires FTW.
I'm not going to say that this is high literature but it does a decent job of showing what might make people look to sex work as an option and doesn't make it sleazy or degrading. As she did with MARKET STREET CINEMA, Michele Machado once again puts a human face on sex work and I wish she were still writing these books because honestly, nobody does it like she does. If she publishes another one of these smutty shorts, I will be first in line. Bonus: unlike MARKET STREET CINEMA, this one doesn't feel quite as bittersweet and there's more of a romantic element to it.
3.5 out of 5 stars