Maidenhead is in a Class of its Own, says Fashion Magazine

By Zoe Whittall
Fashion Magazine
March 1 2012

In a profile of Maidenhead author Tamara Faith Berger, Fashion magazine's Zoe Whittall considers the combination of sexiness and savviness that makes Berger such a unique, unsettling and compelling writer:

It’s not surprising when author Tamara Faith Berger says the artist she’d most like to collaborate with is electro sex goddess Peaches: Both Canadian provocateurs specialize in red-hot work that aims to make you think and turn you on in equal measure.

The virgin gone wild is a pornographer’s cliché, but Berger explores that tricky thematic territory with a keen poetic intelligence. Her fixation on the “teenage girl cluster of revulsion and desire” fuelled her first two books—Lie With Me (which has since been made into a film, directed by her husband, Clement Virgo) and The Way of the Whore—both of which were about young women she describes as being in thrall while experiencing degradation at the hands of an older man. Much has been made about the fact that Berger used to write porn, although it’s no secret that women write and consume a fair amount of it. Lie With Me was a direct response to the limited options available to women in that milieu. “You could either be a man-eater or a sniveling slut,” she says. “At this stage, 10 years later…I feel a bit savvier and not so overwhelmed by porn. I don’t feel worried about people misinterpreting my female characters.”

Berger’s third novel, Maidenhead (Coach House Books), continues with this theme but differs in its scope and slightly more sophisticated and stylized prose. We follow 16-year-old Myra as she encounters the unfamiliar worlds of sex, porn and class war while on spring break in Florida, where she falls for an older Tanzanian musician named Elijah. He eventually reunites with her in Canada, but he brings along his girlfriend, Gayl. Soon, Myra gets caught up in the thrill and violence of Elijah and Gayl’s teachings.

Berger’s work has always had the potential to bring controversy, dealing as it does with young girls having sex with older men, but that doesn’t seem to concern her. “It has been important for me to explore in my work all that ‘first time’ stuff, including the attraction to pornography, which often does not align with the age of consent.”

When it seems like adults everywhere are obsessing over sexting and representations of teen desires in the media, Berger finds rich and inspiring terrain to mine in the humiliating mistakes that teenagers make in their first sexual experiences. “I love these mistakes… The shameful spurts of communication in the realm of sex have always, frankly, defined me.”

Maidenhead is by turns creepy and seductive and unlike anything you’ll read this spring.

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