This book is all about sex, but it isn’t a bodice-ripper. Actually, for all of the sex portrayed, this book isn’t sexy, and that is a great accomplishment.
Shelly is a talented writer, and his prose can soar poetic when he wants it to. Still, his descriptions of sexual encounters range from delicate and intimate to raunchy and completely absurd. Considering the main character is a sex addict, this seems an appropriate way to gauge his development.
Dash starts out relatively innocent. When he first begins frequenting prostitutes at his friend’s behest, he seeks intimacy and mutual pleasure. These initial experiences are filled with almost tender details of him trying to feel connected. As he gradually descends into full-fledged addiction, the way he sees the world changes. He no longer carefully describes each woman; his partners blur together into a string of random people. His actions become more selfish. As Dash’s desire for partnership fades into a desire for a higher “number,” the sex itself changes. Of an early visit to a massage parlor, he says that “there were satisfying little gestures of intimacy in that moment, such as our fingers interlacing, a kiss to the neck, the smile in her eyes.” Of a later escapade, he says only that he “finished co-mingling genitals.” Ladies he meets early in the book are described as goddesses; later women are harlots or hussies. Shelly lovingly details the sex that Dash has for the mostly right reasons, but he refuses to glorify the sex that exists as an emotional crutch and a burden. Addiction is never pretty, and this book shows that in a vivid manner.
In The Hobbyist, Darryl Shelly has created a disturbing (and disturbingly realistic) tale of a young man falling into temptation. Throughout the book, Dash’s entire ideas about sex, intimacy, and himself are altered through his transformation from average guy to sex addict. It is a fascinating and horrifying transition. By focusing on Dash’s fall and exploring primarily his low points, Shelly shatters the unfortunate idea that sex addiction is nicer than other forms of self-abuse. At his worst, Dash is no safer, no more charming, and no more in control than someone dealing with substance abuse. Shelly does a wonderful job portraying the tragedy of sex addiction. Mae West had it wrong; too much of a good thing is not always wonderful.
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