I had been warned that Rag Doll by Mathew Klickstein (OCPress, 2012) was not a book for the faint hearted. Being a purveyor of pretty full-on BDSM sex stories myself, I am not that easy to shock, but even as I read the prologue of Rag Doll I have to admit to a sense of unease- and yet, deep curiosity. When one of the first sentences reads, ‘She needed to understand that sex with him would only hurt her emotionally and physically,’ a natural wariness is bound to follow.
One transformative evening, sociopathic loner Oliver Maxwell discovers an unconscious street-girl lying in an alleyway. Inspired by his amorphous sense of right and wrong, he decides to take the sleeping rag-doll back to his apartment where he intends to nurse her back to life. Overcome with an insubordinate erection, Oliver must do everything he can to distract himself from taking advantage of the helpless girl. This overwhelming lust leads Oliver on increasingly depraved erotic adventures with numerous women, each one more perverse than he. Will the sender of the cryptic text messages (I know what ur doing) or his nosy neighbor lead to his ultimate undoing?
At no point does the author try to endear the reader to Oliver- which is both clever and sensible, for there really is nothing to like about him. Trying to justify his warped view on the world would have been a mistake. Instead we are merely asked to accept him for who he is- and once the reader has done that, then Rag Doll becomes compelling- although at no point does it lose its uncomfortable edge.
Rag Doll could be a story about how a messed up bloke gets through the days, or about how he wrestles with his troubled conscience. Ultimately however, it is the story of how Oliver stops himself from having sex with a in a coma girl he has found at the side of the road, and taken home to care (which he does in a series of gentle, yet intimate ways), by having lots of sex with other woman- most of whom are troubled themselves.
Rag Doll is not an easy read by any means. Not only is the vocabulary used often a touch pretentious and rather complex, it is not arousing in the conventional mould of erotica- yet I can’t imagine that Mathew Klickstein would ever wish to be considered conventional! What Rag Doll is however, is addictive. As you read, you have a feeling you shouldn’t be moving from episode to episode with such speed or eagerness; and yet you are driven to see what on earth Oliver will do next, and what will happen to the unconscious rag of a girl, limp and barely alive in his bath.
So- did I like Rag Doll? To be honest, I am still not sure. I do know I didn’t not like it!
Am I glad I read it? Definitely. Oddly appealing and bizarrely imaginative- Rag Doll opens a window onto a world which I hope I never have to understand.
Give it a try- It will surprise, unsettle, and intrigue you. Here’s an extract to give you a little taster.
To set the scene- Oliver has escaped from his home and the unconscious girl for a while…
He’d forgotten where he’d parked his car.
Searching, he realized he hated himself. He hated what he’d become. How discombobulated he’d been lately. Even before the drug-addled previous night.
He couldn’t focus, read, concentrate. Could it have been because of the girl? Was he making her worse and was she returning the favor? Had she been destroying him the way he had been destroying her?
He ruminated over this while keeping his eyes on his dirty white sneakers stepping over the grainy, gritty, pebbly dirt path upon which he walked on the side of the creek. It was night now, hours later, hours on the road, to the lake up in the mountains.
Far away from her.
The black babbling creek to his right. The crescent moon glowing above him in the velvet-black sky salted by tiny, twinkling white stars. Just enough moonlight to see the path, icy hands in the pockets of his orange mackinaw. Cold breath streaming from his chapped lips.
The black lake ahead. The endless abyss of thick, dark forest to his left, trimming the path upon which he listlessly trekked. The running water of the creek to his right.
It was a magnificent evening. The kind he preferred. His car lost behind him for the time being, Oliver wondered if he was really destroying the girl back home. He didn’t understand her.
What was he doing being so presumptuous as to name her butt mole? (He did love her ass.) How dare he, though. He deserved a slap that she wasn’t even capable of giving him. She might as well have been dead, he thought.
He’d been all but defiling her moribund body as though she had been some reclaimed toy he’d pilfered from the junkyard. Who was she? Feeling like a ghost, he wondered who Oliver Maxwell was, anyway. He didn’t know.
He wondered if she knew.
He didn’t even know her name. Maybe it wasn’t his fucking business.
His hands tensing up, plunging deeper into the alpaca-fur lining of his mackinaw pockets, colder now for sure. The steam threaded out from his mouth more quickly and in longer, curling trails into the crescent-moon-lit sky that hung above him.
A rustle in the void of the forest to the left of him. He turned his head, indolent. There was no one. Perhaps a raccoon. No one goes out at night to a lake like this.
He was fucking nuts, that’s what he was. And all the wild shenanigans of late, proof of his sick insanity. He needed help, but from whom? No medical insurance. The folks at the club wouldn’t have coughed up the dough even if he had gotten AIDS or cancer, or god-knows-what.
He continued onward toward the lake ahead, hearing the crunching gravel of the dirt path under his dirty white sneakers. A veneer of stringy, gray clouds nearly covered the bright crescent in the perfectly black sky.
He sniffed the ardent pine smell that chilled the back of his throat. He knew he loved her and there was nothing he could do about that. The night was so tranquil. Oliver felt a phantom vibration in his pants, remembered at once that he had left his cell phone back home so as not to be bothered by those private number text messages. “I know what you’re doing.”
But what was he doing? The girl back home, he had to admit, was not only skinnier, but was turning downright peaked. Her skin had changed from tortilla-chip Indian princess to that of an anemic goth girl.
Then again, this he preferred. Perhaps she would, too? Maybe she wasn’t turning sickly, only more milky fresh?
He slipped on a round rock beneath his shoe and caught himself before falling forward. The glaucous moon above him emerged from behind the gray, stringy clouds. His hands loosened up in his mackinaw pocket. He sniffed the pine scent again, which for the moment assuaged his anxieties.
The cold was refreshing, revitalizing. The nature. He needed this. The lake, the creek. The forest. The sky. The pebbly pathway upon which he perambulated. He felt so much better. He thought of how much he had been helping her, “feeding” her with the IV, cleaning her, handling her feminine whatnots.
Resisting the mad temptation of doing far more to her than he had. The yoga stretches he’d learned about online that he had done with her to keep her muscles from fatiguing. Ignoring the pop-up tantra ads that came along with the site, even.
He was helping her, god damn it! Oliver Maxwell, committed nurse.
His eyes involuntarily shifted from his stepping sneakers to the onyx lake, which opened up before him, stretching out its welcoming arms on either side and widening into vacant infinity. It was a mirror of the ether weighing down on him as a velvet tarp sparkling with white, blurry stars.
Oliver felt satisfied, relieved. To see the lake and, beneath his rubber soles, the beige and gray-colored pebbly beach shore that led up to these gently rippling waters. He’d made it. In the night and in the cold. No one else could have, but he did.
It reminded him of the long, meditative road trips he’d taken with his father (long divorced from mummy, of course) as a pubescent boy. The long-ago days of being a kid, of spending as much time in his father’s car and in the various roadside motels as anything else they did on their truncated summer sojourns.
After late lunches or early dinners, the sun just setting, Oliver would leave his bare-chested, bare-backed bear of a father in his holey gray sweatpants, lying back on the motel bed, watching TV perhaps.
Oliver would go explore wherever they were and oftentimes end up on a similar walking path he had just now traversed, leading to a selfsame lake or river. Then, as with now, he would wonder if he was the only person to have ever ventured all the way along the path.
When he was younger in those barefoot daisy days, he would be optimistic at first. A red-blooded American teenage male, there was the fantasy forever in his head that maybe he’d discover some “lost” girl who too had found reprieve from her parents at a hidden treasure spot such as this.
Awaiting his arrival through some form of providential kismet. Finding her. What took him so long? There he was! There she was! Both so bright in the effulgent West Coast setting sun…
… But she was not there waiting for him. There never was any girl waiting for him with anticipatory beaming smile, having located the same clandestine spot as he in splendid synchronicity. He would be alone then, as alone now.
No single shred of evidence that another human being had traipsed through those lakeside shores. Nor this one here upon which he was meandering with morose resignation.
He craned his neck upward and saw the crescent bright moon, thought of how even on the lunar surface, one could find proof of human life having crossed its potholed plane. But, here, the wind had washed away any such evidence…if there’d ever been any to begin with.
He stopped short, crackling the pebbles underneath his shoes.
“Hey,” he couldn’t help but repeat, spying the girl who he’d been waiting for on trips immemorial, journeys to identical places up and down the national coasts.
She was small, which is why he hadn’t noticed her before. She wore vintage 1950s librarian glasses and had evenly cropped, shoulder-length auburn hair that gave off a special red radiance in the moonlight reflecting off of the obsidian lake’s soothingly rippling water.
There was a tiny, glittery-blue butterfly barrette (no, a horsefly) on the right side of her priggish schoolgirl hair. She wore a denim jacket— what a friend of his would refer to as a “Canadian tuxedo”—a flash of Lily’s OshKosh B’Gosh’s. Underneath that, she wore a gray sweater whose hood poked out of the back of her denim collar. Both the sweater and the jacket could easily have belonged to her father, her brother, her…boyfriend.
No, Oliver reasoned. The jacket and sweater would have been too small—fitting tightly enough around the girl’s pocket-sized petite body—for any man. Contrarily, she wore black parachute pants that were so large that she was practically swimming in them…The same as she would be in the freezing lake, were he to impetuously toss her in.
The image flashing before his mind: Punishing her for breaking his solace, for arriving years too late. Damn her, where had she been? How different would his life have been if he’d found her at age fifteen? (The age of the girl back home, perhaps…No, stop…)
Maybe he would have ended up healthy, normal. A house, a family, a real job that paid him more money for something he could actually understand and to which he could actually contribute. A real person with a partner in life to keep him from being so woebegone, so hopelessly lost.
He saw her sitting at the waterline, her legs stretched out before her—she wore white tennis shoes similar to his own, much cleaner—and her head turned to him. Her lilting, sprightly voice still whispering in his head—“Hey”—and he knew at once that this would be the final distraction that he needed to keep him honest. Perhaps this magical sylph plucked from the innocence of his damaged nonage would be something far more powerful…
He sat down next to her on the cool, pebbly shore of the dark, limpid water.
They looked not at each other as they spoke, but only out into the lake leading off into the forever distant horizon irradiating at the farthest edge as though a great industrial city lay just beyond its impossible limits.
The girl hurled a pebble at the water, skipping it (or so he could only hear, not being able to see it, once launched from the grasp of her small, delicate, clear-fingernailed hand). She leaned back on her left elbow, still not turning her head to say to him in her soft feminine voice, “It’s nice here.”
“Yeah,” he said, sitting in a sloppy Indian-style, his cold hands delving deeply into his mackinaw pockets on either side of his waist.
“You from around here?” she asked, seemingly indifferent but making polite conversation.
“Not really,” he replied with matching diffidence. “I don’t live too far from here, but it was a bit of a ride. I needed to get away for a minute. Out of the loud city.”
And they sat.
Oliver felt himself stiffening up, his muscles tensing for some reason. He was uncomfortable, physically and emotionally. Something about this gal…
She pitched another skipping stone across the black-marble surface of the water.
“How…long have you been here?” he braved before immediately being cut off by her own inquiry of, “How old are you?”
He told her, and she revealed she was nearly the same age.
This might be it, he thought.
The girl back home was far too young—who was he kidding? Even beyond any legality—while here was this true-blue woman who was not merely a specter of his purest childhood fantasies come to haunt him. She was sitting next to him, his knee so close to her extended left thigh that he could almost feel the heat pulsing off from her…were it not so damn cold, were her crinkly black pants not so loose.
She could maybe become his.
He leaned back on his right elbow, mirroring her in style and comfort. He inhaled a deep, icy-chilled breath through his nose, slowly letting it out as misty steam through his shivery lips pursed as though he was about to whistle a silly tune.
“What?” she asked, turning to him, leaning toward him, repositioning herself atop her blue-denim elbow.
He remained as he had been, but twisted his head toward her gaze, her light-brown eyes through those dark-brown framed secretarial glasses. “What what?” he asked.
“It sounded like you were sighing just then. Is everything okay?” Her expression stayed flat and her nose was a button that he wanted to twist playfully. She blinked behind those glasses of hers.
“It’s been a long few weeks is all,” he rejoined.
“Good?” she asked, seemingly interested now. Perhaps even secretly fascinated, edging closer to him.
“I guess,” he said. “Definitely different, that’s for sure.”
“Different is good,” she said, smiling, revealing tiny Chiclet teeth that glimmered in the sidereal moonlight.
His eyebrows rose in plaintive perplexity. It was as though that new grin of hers—clearly born of a diabolical sensibility—ignited in him the awareness that…
“You ever try to drown someone before?”
She asked the question as though nothing had changed between them, as though this was part of her deadpan series of earlier queries. She turned back to the lake before them.
“What do you mean?” he asked, doing his best to remain calm despite the trembling from the cold and his growing anxiety. No, not her too?
She chucked another rock at the lake—this time much harder, as though attempting to break through the rippling surface—which smacked the water with a clattering splash.
“Not really drowning,” she revised. “I mean, like, you know. Sexually. Like a fetish thing.”
His heart raced. His hands were growing hot, and he pulled them out of the side pockets of his mackinaw. He straightened up where he sat, off of his elbow. His fingers and the palm of his clammy hands were met with the cold shock of the frigid air encysting him.
Nowhere near the shock, though, of what the girl was all but suggesting.
“I…I’ve never thought about it before,” he spluttered through chattering teeth.
“Oh, come on,” she taunted. “Never? You’ve never seen it in a movie or heard about it in a song or something?”
“Uh, no,” he stammered. “I usually stick with the classic stuff.”
“You wanna try it? With me? Right now?”
She lifted herself off of her elbow, turned to him with an expression that evinced child-like malice, like she knew she had done wrong and was awaiting her comeuppance. Her gimlet brown eyes widened with a frenzy that frightened him.
“Wait, wait, wait,” he said, scooting away from her without rising off of the gritty-gravelly ground.
“You don’t want to at least try it?” she stretched toward him, button-nose first.
His penis was, of course, growing erect. The rest of him was nevertheless fearful and, truthfully, a little disappointed. She would be only another distraction, no more everlasting than the grocery store women, and the polio girl. Specters living only in his mind.
This girl was not salvation. Only further torment.