Miami Purity BOOK review by Peter Davis
Feb 20, 2008, 23:36
MIAMI PURITY by Vicki Hendricks; Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1996
Not much to know about Vicki Hendricks 'cept she lives on a sailboat in the south of Florida with a couple of cats and an undoubtedly stinky pair of ferrets. In her debut novel though she erupts upon the printed page with a volcanic barrage of over the top carnal lust and white trash pathos. I dunno, maybe it's got something to do with the water down there...
But so begins the story of Sherise Parlay: “Sherri for short” has just been released from jail for clobbering her physically abusive boyfriend into the final oblivion with the household boombox. Vowing to keep her nose clean and knowing full well that there's more to life than being able to “mix a drink and puppet [her] bleached peach around in a blacklight,” she sets out to get a regular job. Choice of professions however are not her problem; men are. And when they're mixed with her over-active libido hell does have a way of making itself known.
Getting herself squared away with a gig at the Miami Purity Dry Cleaners is apparently not without its bonuses, after all there's the manager, and owner's son, Payne Mahoney. He of the “baby face and Jagger lips...” Even by Hendricks' characters own admission she's helpless, yes, without a clue, well, apparently no. One such early passage illustrating Sherri's neurosis as the female counterpart to the quintessential cockhound, reads like this:
I sat down on the plastic lawn chair against the side of the wall. I could see that he was watching so I made a little show of crossing my legs under my short pink skirt and wiping the sweat off my neck. My body was jittery. My foot started to jiggle and I put both feet down flat on the floor. I knew I didn't have to fuck Payne to get the job, but I would have felt more comfortable with that.
Switching from clever turns of phrase to full throttled, in your face eroticism, Hendricks weaves a tight plot, fraught with over-the-top sexual tension and psychological malfeasance wherein her protagonist is as much a victim, if not more so. You rifle through the pages wincing at how easily manipulated she is by her itch; there's never really any question why it is she's had rotten luck when it comes to men but the hook of intrigue has long since been cast, you're snagged, and all you can do is turn the page and allow yourself to be reeled in to the stories conclusion; what an irony-laden doozey it is too.
I can't recall a time short of pornography where a women in the literary world has written a book more sexually in your face than this one—nor as downright hardboiled. Upon its completion, curiousity immediately begged the question, “was it really written by a pseudonymous male?” It would certainly make a big difference to me. The latter would be a bummer, because Miami Purity is a seriously good book that plays out well on a series of different levels, but most importantly it proves that the world of hard-bitten prose is not an exclusive game of hardball that only the boys can play, and nor should it be. I'd certainly hate to see this bubble burst.