Book Review: Some Girls: My Life in a Harem


Like many first books, Some Girls is a coming of age tale. Beneath the stage makeup and exotic costumes of a sex worker lies a teenager searching for herself. Some immerse themselves in careers or religion to find meaning. Lauren travels halfway around the world to stare herself in the face while locked in mirrored palace rooms. She soon learns that the danger of being a high-paid piece of rental property is a divorce of mind and body; the division between your persona and yourself blurs.

Some Girls isn’t a confessional memoir that seduces readers with explicit content. Lauren's voice is more reflective than remorseful, as if still emerging from anesthesia's fog and viewing the world in a raw, animal light. She passes over the dirty details, perhaps to spare family members and her husband, Weezer bassist Scott Shriner. Some readers will want to judge Lauren, to find reasons why this could never happen to their daughters, but the charm of this book is how natural and rational many of Lauren's choices start to seem.

At other times the reader wants to play parent, asking, “What the hell were you thinking?” When Prince Jefri, who had slept with thousands of women by the early 90s, many of whom were prostitutes, had unprotected sex with Lauren, she has only a fleeting fear of AIDs. She doesn’t even mention her lack of birth control until she starts missing her period because of an eating disorder. However, this unthinking voice perfectly captures the naïve thought process of an 18-year-old.

[image-2]While she's been called many names, by all accounts Lauren is a provocative character, both bold and reckless, fearless and delicate. She learns to live in the moment. Her sex work becomes a strange form of Zen meditation, separating body from mind. Like so many young people,  she “longed for a magic pill to soothe the restlessness that prickled constantly under [her] skin,” and found it in being a part of a harem.[image-3]

In many ways, Some Girls reads like a prequel to reality dating shows.  Beautiful women from around the world are locked in luxury, competing for fortune, fame and the "love" of a prince with an Errol Flynn mustache. Instead of producers, guards block every exit. Instead of cameramen, security cameras watch behind every mirror. Lauren gets sucked into the game. She stays months on end to defeat her rivals and secure an ever-expanding fortune. Be it a result of the Stockholm Syndrome or extreme boredom, her desire for the prince's attention looks and feels a lot like love.

Inevitably, the memoir's depiction of a sexual taboo in unsentimental terms will earn it comparisons with works like Kathryn Harrison's The Kiss. However, her voice is more akin to a nonfiction version of Mary Gaitskill's savvy New Yorker attitude in Bad Behavior, though much more relaxed. Lauren's involvement in the skin trade is merely the lens through which she examines herself and her relationships free of moral judgment. Like any good memoirist, Lauren holds up a mirror to reveal the darker sides of ourselves. By the end, you're not sure the author would change anything if she could do it over again, or if you can blame her. Like a tattoo, for good or ill her body-artist past will forever be part of her identity.[image-4]

This is the story of “[t]he stripper who wanted to be a ballerina.” For all its seductive glances, it's a common tale. It's the story of the endless parade of women — Penthouse pets, Playmates, bathing suit models, and a former Miss USA — who followed their dreams a little too far out west in search of a golden meridian. These girls were rarely prostitutes before, but none refused once they saw the rewards. In the end, Some Girls proves that everyone has her (or his) price;  the question is, “How much can you get for how little you give?”

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Almost all American girls have played at being ballerinas while dreaming of becoming princesses like Grace Kelly. Unfortunately, life distorts these fantasies. These same girls settle for being treated like a princess on anniversaries or having fairy-tale affairs with members of the country club. Some girls, like Jillian Lauren, realize these fantasies in entirely different ways. They become strippers, the nameless topless actresses in bad horror films. They lounge in New York high-rises as the escorts of American royalty, and a few, like Lauren, find themselves in actual palaces as members of a prince’s harem.

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