Q: Why did you write Saving the Hooker–a book about an errant academic trying to save a disturbed prostitute?
A: Because it’s one of our favorite American stories. If you look across the landscape, you’ll see that some of our most popular stories—Pretty Woman and The Hangover, to name just two—involve a good man saving a sexy but sweet, “fallen” woman. Dozens of western and gangster movies work the same plot. Even classics in the Anglo-American literary canon—like George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion and Stephen Crane’s Maggie, Girl of the Streets—use this plot. This carries into real life too: Robert Hansson, the CIA turncoat who sold the Russians’ intelligence secrets for big bucks, spent much of the money on a stripper, but none of it on sex. He was trying to convert her to “a good, Christian life.” While there’s some literary criticism built around “the hooker with a heart of gold” being saved by Prince Charming, few of us consider how common this story is in what we watch and read.
I wrote Saving the Hooker with the goal of standing the hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold and her male redeemer on their heads, and bringing them into the real world. In so doing, I made two assumptions: First, real prostitutes generally don’t have hearts of gold. Studies of real prostitutes suggest that many come out of abusive childhoods; as adults, they are prone to drug addiction, mental illness, and criminal acts. Second, the men who set out to rehabilitate these women are probably—on some level—vainglorious fools with suppressed sexual ambitions. As I wrote Saving the Hooker, it went from a serious book with comic moments to a comedy with serious moments. And I am delighted that I emerged with a book that satirizes more than male hubris. It also lances academia, father-son dynamics, and the shouting that passes for news coverage on cable television. For me, the most validating moment with the book so far was when a friend of mine—a PhD academic—finished reading it and said: “Your book’s not even about hookers. It’s about screwed up men, and it’s funny.” I think that’s about right.