The Washingtonienne, by Jessica Cutler. Hyperion, 304 pages, $24.98
“Sex: in America, an obsession. In other parts of the world, a fact,” said Marlene Dietrich. And in that vein, The Washingtonienne arrives this month, to celebrate the beginning of the summer-intern season and the fact that we’ve only managed to regress further into the abyss of American prurience.
Jessica Cutler, the comely former envelope-stuffer, staffer to Senator Mike DeWine and Twilo aficionado now turned blogtastic authoress, delivers an account of her brief sojourn in Washington, D.C., as a professional mattress. Aided by her alter ego, Jacqueline Turner, Ms. Cutler explores the barely washed underbelly of our nation’s capital-and finds a few hotel bars, many middle-aged lobbyists, lawyers, medium-weight bureaucrats, a bike messenger and a nightclub named after a Japanese wine.
There are about three girls living in Washington, D.C., as well-an insalubrious triumvirate composed of our protagonist and her two friends, April and Laura. They take friendship lightly, choosing instead to undermine one another as though their lives depended on it. As provincial 24-year-olds might, they consider nothing sacred, except perhaps their (post-)post-feminist right to have sex wherever, however and whenever they please. There is, after all, nothing better to do as they waft through their jobs and relationships with as much purpose as a tiger in a tofu factory. What these young bored things discover is that everyone in D.C.-which is, after all, “the Hollywood for the Ugly”-is horny as hell, unapologetically disloyal and driven by all sorts of unsurprising sexual urges: spanking, Astroglide, mirrors ….
Monica Lewinsky was clearly no anomaly.
The difference is that Ms. Lewinsky turned, post-cigar, to handbag design and insignificance, while Ms. Cutler cashed in-on a scandal that wasn’t one. “She’s not even that hot!” the blogosphere yammered after she’d shagged her way through the Men’s Warehouse of Washington politicos; spread the news online; pocketed an estimated 300-grand advance on her “novel”; and sauntered into her very own Playboy shoot. (The props? Laptops and cardigans.) Ms. Cutler was hot, all right, mussing glossy sheets, spreading her legs, smiling lasciviously. She was a good concubine, and the capital was crowded with a surplus of entitled and willful men with just enough power and money to command her services.
A 300-page e-mail, The Washingtonienne is insufficiently hair-raising and occasionally entertaining, a plodding narrative of the ” … and then … and then … ” sort. It descends, predictably, into platitude: “Right now I was hardly the trash-talking bitch on wheels who wrote the blog. I was a frightened, lonely girl who was all dressed up with nowhere to go.” For charm, Ms. Cutler throws in some flirty self-effacement-very plausible when you’ve made your career from turning other people’s private lives into public fodder without ever having the courage to accept the implications: “Women! I don’t know how men put up with us. Oh, that’s right: sex, otherwise what good were we?” Or: “Girls like us would never be fat cats. In this town, we were nothing but pussy.” She’s right: Girls who engage passively in demeaning sex out of boredom are indeed good for little else. On the other hand, Ms. Cutler thinks she’s the master puppeteer, destined for bigger and better things than her partners, co-workers and friends. It’s easy to claim (as she did recently in Roll Call) that “it wasn’t all that interesting”-especially when you’ve got your face on the cover of magazines and your book on display at Barnes & Noble.
Most of Ms. Cutler’s observations reinforce the notion that the highest form of morality is amorality. Her alter ego is ostentatiously nonjudgmental: “Of course I had reservations about letting someone from work butt-fuck me, but if he was game, so was I.” She thinks she’s endowed with the freedom of choice, and it suits her well: “Obviously, I was being rewarded for my behavior, and while my life wasn’t perfect, I was getting what I wanted. Maybe I wanted all the wrong things, but I was so busy chasing after all of this shit that I forgot what the difference between right and wrong was in the first place.” Plagued by this convenient forgetfulness, she continues to accept money for sex, encourage flagrant infidelity, allow herself to be exploited by co-workers, parade her knickerless crotch in public and so on. She’s perfectly aware of her wrongdoings, of the harm she inflicts on herself and others. Her excuse? “If you want to be rich you have to be bitch.” And this: “We were … going to rot in hell anyway, right?”
Read as fiction, Jessica Cutler’s book barely stands up to potboiler erotica; it’s only interesting insofar as it resembles a memoir. Thanks to various blogs and some well-timed lawsuits, we now know the identities of some of her suitors (but not her clients), and even though none of them is a public figure, we find ourselves hooked by the details of these debauched lives. But are the details accurate and true? Perhaps not: “Wasn’t everyone in politics a goddamn fucking liar anyway? Perhaps that was my niche. I told lies all the time. Hell I was good at it, a real bullshit artist.” Well-at least she’s some kind of artist.
Jessica Joffe is a reporter at The Observer.