Strip City: A Stripper's Farewell Journey Across America
by Lily Burana
Published by Hyperion
328 pages, 2001
Buy it online
Reviewed by David Abrams
On the voyage of self-discovery and fulfillment, some people take a year off after grad school and join the Peace Corps. Others go live in an ashram, meditating and harmonizing with their inner gods. Some climb mountains, or sail around the oceans in dinghies, still others bike across America.
Like veterans compelled to revisit a battle scene or refugees who years later sojourn to the homeland, I need to go back in order to move on. That's why the desire for this is so pressing, I realize. It's nothing I can reason away. You don't always choose your journeys in life. Sometimes they choose you.
It appears that Burana had a copy of I Ching propped open on the desk while writing this.
I know the threshold I have crossed, that I have entered a dangerous and possibly damaging world. This is not cosmetic defiance like being a hardcore kid; a very serious taboo has been broken, and there is no turning back. This is scary, but in a small, sleazy way, it's exciting, too. I never would have thought that I'd do something like this, but now that I have, I am full of my own daring. I feel more in control of my life than I have in months.
That same feeling of "gee-I-can't-believe-I'm-doing-this" continues through the rest of the book. When she's not describing the Life with wide-eyed wonder, she takes time out to ponder the real question at the heart of the matter: why do men go to strip clubs?
I'm mystified -- I squint at them contemptuously and try to puzzle it out. Sometimes, if the tips aren't coming fast enough, I corner them: "What are you doing here?" "Is that a wedding ring? Why aren't you home with your wife?"
Don't come to Strip City looking for much more than an often-trite account of the ache of leaving something behind (turning a chapter in your life, so to speak). If you don't mind spending a couple hundred pages doing so, then by all means crack open the book.
Burana at least allows the mannequins to speak, but -- save for a few characters -- we still don't get a sense of the Inner Stripper. Not that I was expecting Bergman, mind you; but I was hoping for something more than Disney. | February 2002
David Abrams has written for Esquire, The Greensboro Review, Fish Stories and other literary magazines.