Shuck

Shuck

By Marisa Grizenko

A review of Shuck by Daniel Allen Cox

Published on October 1, 2008

Shuck
Daniel Allen Cox

Arsenal Pulp Press
$16.95
paper
978-1-55152-246-3

Shuck is a compelling treatment of a young man’s quest for identity and artistic awareness. Jaeven Marshall is the novel’s 22-year-old narrator, an occasional male prostitute and gay porn star, as well as an aspiring writer. Jaeven navigates the rougher streets of New York City, squatting in a designer shoe store stockroom and acting as the live-in muse of an artist. Cox deftly renders his non-traditional subject matter aesthetic and meaningful: porn shoots are predicated on relationships of power, bruises are beautiful, and discarded objects are emblems of cultural experience. Cox surrounds Jaeven with these cultural markers, which take the form of lists:

Revolvers, shell casings, kitchen knives, pacifiers, photo albums with pages torn out, fingerless gloves that smell like perfume, rolled-up panties that smell like pussy, half-full bottles of Absolut vodka, bones, baby dolls with holes cut into their crotches

.

Grotesque, scattered, and ephemeral, these objects inform Jaeven’s sense of beauty and purpose. His nomadic existence is mirrored in the narrative, which is delivered in fragments. Fittingly, a man named Richard Rorschach begins photographing Jaeven, and in doing so, uncovers indelible truths about his psyche. Jaeven’s writings, his found objects, become means of reading him. Cox’s narrator is a strong voice. He lies to the reader and then repents; at turns he is a jaded raconteur of street stories, then at others he vulnerably asks to be respected for his art. Jaeven’s struggles to establish himself as a writer help him articulate his experience in the sex industry. He realizes that “you’re never more than ten feet away from a guy who’ll pay you to shuck your pants,” and that “the truth of whoredom” is that “your intelligence becomes a running gag.”

Shuck is a meditation on art and eroticism as commodity, and a document of sexual and psychological awakening. mRb

Marisa Grizenko is a Montreal editor.

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