Scott Spencer is a writer who works on so many levels—but doesn’t show it. “Willing” is rich and so is “Men In Black,” “A Ship Made of Paper” and “Endless Love.”
What? “Endless Love?” That ancient early1980’s flick with Brooke Shields about two high school lovers, houses burning down, that sort of thing?
Yes, that “Endless Love.” I thought the same thing. The thought went like this: I saw the movie, the book must really reek. (Yeah, I didn’t care for the movie.) Then a friend starting raving about Scott Spencer and I started reading because the friend wasn’t completely crazy.
Friend was right.
Spencer pours so much work into his stories he makes it look easy. From a BOMB magazine interview (1999), Scott Spencer: “On a fundamental level, I would write no matter what its importance, because it’s just what I like to do and it’s how I like to spend my time and I don’t know what else to do. Nothing else has ever made me as interested in getting up and getting through a day as writing has. So it’s not as if I surveyed the world and said, Well, we really need to get some novels written or else everything is going to fall apart. It starts off as a pretty instinctual, maybe even as a selfish, impulse.”
Fine with me.
I finally found my way to “Willing,” a novel about high-end prostitution that turns into a story about desire and relationships. Spencer is so consistent—original, witty, dead on. The writing is intoxicating. The main character, Avery Jankowsky, is a three-dimensional character, self-aware and a keen observer. One man has “scimitar sideburns.” The bar of soap leaps from his hand like “like a toad.” A sink’s faucets issue a “rodenty squeak.” A piece of paper is slipped under Avery’s hotel door and when it wakes him up, he thinks: “I don’t know if I have ever been jolted out of sleep by such crumbs from the sonic table.”
Spencer slips these little slices of poetry into the prose like…like what? I’d love to what know he’d come up with. They are gifts. The metaphors generate energy. They are propulsion devices that keep your eyes dancing and your head happy. Spencer drips them out with a fine sense of timing, like a stand-up comic.
There are R-rated sections as the book moves among the three northern European cities, the stops on a very high end tour for men who are willing to pay for the most beautiful women in the world. Avery’s traveling companions are sharply drawn and so are the women Avery encounters. None felt like afterthoughts. If a character shows up in a Spencer book, they are never throwaways—they are developed and given a place to stand in the universe.
It helps that Avery agonizes about his feelings about each transaction and their whole purpose, helps even more that he has ethical quandaries as a writer. Avery, after all, is actually there to develop a book on the tour and the business. The challenges for Avery are coming to terms with his emotions and analysis of the situation as he tries to put the tour in a kind of logic that both his heart and his head can grasp.
More Spencer (also from BOMB): “What we are is not the same thing the world requires us to be. We are full of appetites, unreasonable drives. This internal system of impulse and desire tests itself against the reality of social law—what the people with whom we live expect and require of us. This push and pull is part of the process that makes us human, and makes us interesting, too. You need some opposing force to measure yourself against and to define yourself either in accordance with or in opposition to. It could be the law, it could be the church or God, but you need something to be the Other and something to represent what is expected of you in contrast to what you sense you really are.”
In the end, “Willing” is about family and friendships, what’s for sale (and what’s not). Good stuff all the way through.