Nine and a Half Weeks by Elizabeth McNeill

Nine and a Half Weeks by Elizabeth McNeill

I said I was on a quest to find some quality erotica, right?  I wasn’t kidding.

I thought I had read this years ago, but now I realize it was only the movie I saw, starring Mickey Rourke and Kim Bassinger – and in all honesty, the only scene that stands out in my memory is the one in which he ties her up and blindfolds her and feeds her different things.  I found that to be very hot and steamy.

Back to the book, though.  It’s a quick read at just over 100 pages, and written in a very minimalistic style: fragments of conversations, flashes of scenes, we never even learn the characters’ names.  It’s a memoir – which makes it all the more intriguing because it all apparently actually happened – and the author writes in the first person; her male counterpart in the story is only referred to as “he” and “him,” and he never addresses her by name in the book (Elizabeth McNeill is a pseudonym).

Taking place in New York sometime in the 1970s, she is a successful, college-educated, independent corporate executive – a product of the sexual revolution.  She has a brief case, clients, her own apartment, lovers that come and go.  She meets “him” by chance at a crowded street fair and embarks on an affair with him that lasts nine and a half weeks, during which time she lives a double life: by day, ever the professional executive, and by night, basically a sex slave – allowing herself to be handcuffed to the table leg at his feet night after night, beaten, ordered around, gradually giving up all autonomy and sense of self to him.

So it went, a step at a time.  And since we saw each other every night; since each increment of change was unspectacular in itself; since he made love very, very well; since I was soon crazy about him, not just physically, but especially so, it came about that I found myself – after the time span of a mere two weeks – in a setup that would be judged, by the people I know, as pathological.

It never occurred to me to call it pathological.  I never called “it” anything.  I told no one about it.  That it was me who lived through this period seems, in retrospect, unthinkable.  I dare only look back on those weeks as on an isolated phenomenon, now in the past; a segment of my life as unreal as a dream, lacking all implication.

It is astonishing to consider the things he gets her to do: crawl on the floor at his feet like a dog while he whips her with a riding crop; dress up as a man so he can take her “as he would take a man,” leaving her bleeding; allow herself to be strung up and tied to the wall by her wrists for hours, gagging her when she begins to cry and leaving her like that for another hour while she is convinced she is going to die from choking on her own terror and mucous; watch him have sex with a hooker; rob someone at knifepoint for the thrill of it – and the list goes on.  It is shocking and disturbing, and, I think because of the almost dreamlike manner in which much of the story is told, it is also utterly compelling.

Nothing had prepared me.  Some years back I had read The Story of O, intrigued by the beginning, horrified after a few pages, repulsed long before the end.  Sadomasochists in real life were black-leather freaks, amusing and silly in their ridiculous getups.  If a friend, a peer, had told me she had herself tied to a table leg at home after a full day’s work at the office – well, it has never come up.  God know I would not have believed it.

Finally, she succumbs to a mental breakdown after nine and a half weeks of being under his spell.  Shaken at his inability to stop her from crying, he takes her to a hospital, where “I was given sedation and after a while the crying stopped.  The next day I began a period of treatment that lasted some months.  I never saw him again.”

It raises some interesting questions, this story: what kind of woman allows herself to be terrorized and degraded like this?  How did she rationalize it as it was happening?  And where is the line drawn between “fetish” and criminal?  Was he – also a successful executive of some sort who wore a suit every day – a psychopath, or just into kinky sex?  Did he move on to another woman who was pliable enough to go along with his proclivities?  And what about her?  Why did she write the book?  Certainly not for fame, since she wrote under a pseudonym and no information appears to be available about her to this day, nearly 40 years later.  Did she need the money a book would garner her?  Did she tell her story to entertain or to caution?

Disturbing and worth the read, but not for the faint of heart.