Winner of the The Believer Book Award (2012)
Shortlisted for the Trillium Book Award (2013)
Myra, naive and curious, is on a family vacation to the southernmost tip of Florida – a mangy Key West full of Spring Breakers. Here, suffering through the embarrassments of a family on the verge of splitting up, she meets Elijah, a charismatic Tanzanian musician who seduces her at the edge of the tourist zone. Myra longs to lose her virginity to Elijah, and is shocked to learn he lives with Gayl, a secretive and violent woman with a strange power over him. Myra and her family return to an unnamed, middle-class, grey Canadian city and she falls in with a pot-smoking, intellectual anarchist crowd. When Gayl and Elijah travel north and infiltrate Myra’s life, she walks willingly into their world: Myra continues to experiment sexually with Elijah, while Gayl plays an integral part in the increasingly abject games. Maidenhead traverses the desperate, wild spaces of a teenage girl’s self-consciousness. How does a girl feel scared? What is she scared of? And how does telling yourself not to be scared really work? As Myra enters worlds unfamiliar of sex, porn, race and class, she explores territories unknown in herself.
About the author
Tamara Faith Berger was born in Toronto. Tamara wrote porn stories for a living and attempted to make dirty films before publishing her first book, Lie with Me, in 1999. In 2001, The Way of the Whore, her second book, was published. In 2004, Lie with Me was made into a film starring Lauren Lee Smith. Maidenhead is her third book. Tamara is presently working on a novel about a Russian hired killer and socialist. She is also a graduate student at the University of British Columbia working on her Masters of Fine Arts.
'Tamara Faith Berger has been writing challenging and sexy books for more than a decade, but this novel is her best yet. She handles race and class as deftly as she does the effects of internet pornography on our sex lives and our moral lives — subjects that might be turned into excuses for sermons, but which she renders in original and shocking ways.' – The Believer
'Maidenhead is a mesmerizing and important novel, lying somewhere between the wilds of Judy Blume, Girls Gone Wild and Michel Foucault. It’s a thrilling, enlightening and really hot place to be.'
– Sheila Heti, Globe and Mail
'Maidenhead is a masterpiece: a richly layered, complexly rendered, rhythmically written, and brilliantly executed meditation on power, desire, and consciousness.'
– Quill & Quire
'Maidenhead is by turns creepy and seductive and unlike anything you’ll read this spring.'
– Fashion Magazine
Thoughtful and StickyI liked Maidehead, but I didn't love it.
I thought that often it was disturbing, but in a way that books make you feel something.
I could relate to the young girl, and the struggles we have with our sexuality as teenagers.
It was sometimes hard to follow, the back and forth narrative.
Unsettling and worthwhileI read Maidenhead a week and a half ago and still haven't stopped thinking about it. It's a provocative book destined to have many haters; it is the antithesis of all that feminism stands for because of the female protagonist's masochistic exploits and the upsetting violence she willingly submits to; it is just well-written porn ... and yet. It is also the work of a gifted and bold author writing whatever she wants to, as un-PC as it may be — and isn't that feminism, too? It is an assertion that desire and sex are not always stirred by the dulcet tones of an easy-listening soundtrack, by orchestrated candlelight, or by sweet endearments. It is an argument that women's fantasies can be raw, dangerous, and addictive; that sometimes power is more complicated than who is doing what to whom in the instant, that sometimes we don't even want power (again, I refer to instants); that sometimes our bodies and brains crave different things.
All of this of course is highly problematic, especially in a year (2012) when Fifty Shades of Grey was so popular. It's one thing for a literary novel to raise incendiary questions, and another for a massive bestseller to glorify submission/masochism. It's highly problematic because of how much we owe to feminism (the radicals and the overall movement), and how much our culture is still in the nascent stages of valuing women for their brains and of treating them with respect ... not to mention culture in other parts of the world where women are so often degraded, abused, and even killed for their sex.
I had a visceral reaction to this book, however – the sexual parts at least (I wasn't a fan of the theory bits that seemed forced and pretentious) – and it reminded me how bored I have been with erotica that softens the edges of sex and that removes any element of taboo. I say this from the comfort of a loving and respectful relationship, I should say, which is perhaps why I found Maidenhead provocative rather than deeply disturbing.
In any case, it's worth a read. You will get hot, or mad, or sad, or horrified, or bowled over by Berger's writing. Or maybe all of these. You will not be unmoved.