From Issue 3.4 - May 1997

Meeting the Master

Book review by Anna Bergman

Book: Meeting The Master
Author: Elissa Wald
Publisher: Grove Press, 1995

As I read this book, I found myself rooting for Elissa Wald, rooting for any babe (that's her on the cover) who can sell Grove Press on a collection of old fashioned stories -- when was the last time you read about an orphan getting a job with the circus? Wald even becomes a movie star by the end.

Wald needs to make her characters justify the import she places upon their situations. For example, in "The Illustrating Man," a Nancy Drew-type reporter interviews an incarcerated tattoo artist's canvases. There are some good vignettes here, but the story can't quite sustain the messianic aura ascribed to the artist:

"After about thirty minutes, as he worked on me, this shame -- by far the most overpowering emotion I'd ever experienced -- began to yield to something even stronger. And that was ecstasy. I was alone with this man. Under his hands. I could breathe in the scent of his skin. I was, at that moment, his only concern. And I thought to myself, I could live if only for this. I was overcome. It was like a miracle, a message. I saw what my life could be. I could never go home again, of course, and never go back to the university. It didn't matter. None of that mattered at all."

A wise professor once told me. "with the dawn of cinema, fiction moved to inhabit the internal world." Elissa Wald wants you to care as much as they do about what happens to her characters. Maybe I'm just too steeped in the late millennium to care if a woman throws out her boyfriend for reading her diary, but I want to believe he's interested in it, and her.

The author's note states her interest in slavery and mastery, "not only where it is consciously expressed in bedroom games, but also where I see it sublimated." The best stories in the collection are those in which Wald allows herself to explore that realm without trying to force anything momentous upon the reader.

"The Initiation" wanders through the power dynamics of teenage love, a coming-of-age story for perverts. Wald spends time developing her characters and their relationship. Descriptions of the main character stealing her boyfriend's jacket and tricking him into gagging her are incisive and fun. She also pulls off a good, obsessive tale in "The Houseboy." The schemes and machinations of bottoms are a strong point in Wald's writing.

Meeting the Master is not graphic, and Wald's claim to cover "straight, gay, and everything in between" isn't substantiated. It's a fun read with some engaging people and circumstances -- maybe pro dommes in therapy has been done elsewhere, but I haven't seen it.

According to her bio, Elissa Wald is at work on a novel. I'll be interested to see what she does in a longer session.

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Last updated: 31 May 1997