In the long-awaited sequel to Twisted, Julia and her two older sisters have left Europe and are working as exotic dancers in a Cape Town strip joint. Whatever hopes Julia has of finding a rewarding sex job in her new location are quickly dashed when she receives one client rejection after another. Convinced that she is not cut out to be a stripper, she plans to leave her sisters behind and return to Europe. An accident involving her dad changes the course of history and Julia uses her hard-earned plane ticket money toward medical expenses. But with ongoing familial problems, she has to find a way to make it work in the sex-entertainment industry since this is her only form of income. Ultimately, Julia becomes overwhelmed while desperately seeking control of her circumstances and well-being. The question remains, can she do that without the aide of her sisters as well as drugs?
To those new to Lola Smirnova’s literary style, the rising author does not mince words. Inspired by real-life events, Smirnova’s first person narrative is heavily laced in a mixture of vulgarity and sarcastic lingo to reflect the stark realities of life in the sex underworld. Spoken through Julia, Smirnova portrays her featured character and the youngest of three sisters, as beautiful and intelligent, but lacking self-esteem. And as ironic as it is to make loads of cash, Julia is often stigmatized as trash, which only magnifies her sense of worthlessness. She longs for a better life, yet she has no idea how to successfully achieve that.
Compared to hopeful moments in Twisted—the first in Smirnova’s trilogy—Craved is definitely dark and dismal. But amid the dystopian environ, Smirnova does a stellar job lightening her plot with Julia’s snarkiness, which is reflected in her running-commentary thought processes as well as through dialogue. Hilarious examples respectively are found in a work description with one of her clients (“If this is a lap dance then I am a bloody astronaut!”) and her consistent exclamations of “unf**ingbelievable”—reminiscent of Vizzini’s “inconceivable” remarks in the well-known comedy film “The Princess Bride.”
While chapters are replete with graphic scenes of Julia and a host of rather “colorful” clients amid her tumultuous personal and familial situations, unique to Smirnova’s plot is the paradoxical portrayal of Cape Town’s legal and moral mores and the corrupt sex entertainment industry, which focuses on everything erotically conceivable short of copulation. Julia compares the scandalous system to the addictive claw machine that constantly grabs for the prize, but never reaches satisfactory attainment. It creates the illusion that the client owns the toy, but then the illusion crashes “soon after the dancer hears ‘no’ to the next lap dance and moves on to another client.”
Closing with a depressing cliffhanger, Craved is a remarkably eye-opening, heartwrenching, and one-of-a-kind must read that is indubitably “meant for the open-minded readers who are not afraid of a little blood, sweat and semen.”review