The Bottom Line: Inspired by the author’s own struggles as a sex worker, this gritty, sharply written tale transports readers into a perilous world where every breath could be your last.
There’s no shortage of suspense in Lola Smirnova’s pull-no-punches novel about a young Ukranian girl named Julia, whose family finds itself poverty-stricken after the fall of the Soviet Union. In a world with few alternatives, Julia follows her older sisters into the sex industry.
Twisted opens in Luxembourg City, a wealthy municipality that squeezes 60 champagne bars into a town half the size of Disney World. Smirnova is careful to ensure that we won’t mistake Twisted for the erotic thrillers that are all the rage right now. “Champagne bar, whorehouse, brothel, house of assignation, bordello, den of vice; call them what you like, it does not change the core of these places. Although they are often called cabarets, and occasionally there is even strip-dancing involved, you shouldn’t associate them with merrymaking or extravaganza. ‘Trade’, ‘sex’, ‘transactions’, ‘carnal’,‘barter’ or ‘perversion’ would be the better words to portray this type of nightery.”
Further dispelling any sense of glamour, the offending traits of Julia’s clients are duly magnified. Every drop of sweat, blood stain and fluid described in painstaking detail. The passage where Julia does business with a guy named “Death” is easily the most brutally graphic passage I’ve read all year.
And yet it is through the dark lens of realism that Twisted gains its humanity. There’s never a moment when we aren’t invested in Julia’s plight, especially as she ventures to Istanbul in hopes of some easy money. Beautifully juxtaposed with the scenic extravagance that only places like the Bosphorus can provide, we’re constantly aware that Julia’s clients aren’t the only thing she has to be afraid of.
If it isn’t already obvious, Twisted is an adults-only novel that isn’t for the squeamish. But it’s also a story of truth and courage that I, for one, thank Smirnova for writing.