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Sex Work, Academia and Pain That Resists Diagnosis

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Chris Belcher’s entertaining debut, PRETTY BABY: A Memoir (260 pp., Avid Reader, $27), recounts how a West Virginia adolescent who read Foucault and Derrida went on to become “L.A.’s renowned lesbian dominatrix.” Her work is as much about money and financial precarity as it is about sex and sexuality, if not more so.

Having moved to California for a Ph.D. program in English, Belcher finds herself in her mid-20s “at the end of my financial rope,” collecting food stamps and considering selling her eggs when a new girlfriend, Catherine, suggests she join her in working at a “B.D.S.M.

dungeon” on Venice Boulevard. “Needing the money is always more present than anything we might have to bury inside,” Belcher writes.

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