For every Donald Glover who excels at acting and comedy and music and just about everything they do, there’re dozens of other celebrities who get famous working in one medium, then end up making complete asses of themselves when they shift directions. Despite the low expectations we might set for a product like pornstar Joanna Angel’s debut novel Night Shift, the alt-porn crossover star has certainly managed exceed them.
The fact that she went to school to do stuff like this couldn’t have hurt. Angel snagged an English lit degree from Rutgers before co-founding the Burning Angel website in 2002, so she’s always had a career in fiction writing to fall back on if porn didn’t pan out.
I’m struggling a bit to figure out how to review this book, because my only other encounter with erotica that I remember is the time I read maybe five pages of a Fifty Shades of Grey paperback when I pulled it off a grocery store magazine rack to kill time. The experience caused me to doubt that E L James is, in fact, the mammal she claims to be. No human being who’s ever experienced hormonal attraction to another, would ever write about the sensation in the manner of sexless wet garbage that is Fifty Shades of Grey.
What I’m saying is I’m pretty sure Night Shift — recently released via Cleis Press — is vastly superior to Fifty Shades.
The choose-your-own adventure romp follows Taryn Joyner — a temporarily-inhibited college grad paying her bills jockeying the cash register at an after-hours sex shop called Dreamz. As is customary for choose your owns, the story can unfold a few different ways. In the narrative rabbit hole I tumbled down, Taryn hooks up with Billy — a big burly truck driver-type dude struggling to come out as a transvestite. It’s a tender love story, albeit a tender love story with a surprise three-way under a restaurant table and substantially more fisting than is typically associated with paperback romance.
Judging from its Billy portion, Night Shift leans pretty hard on plot without concerning itself too much with character. [Light spoilers ahead]. Taryn’s introduced as a relative sexual neophyte, but her inexperience mostly winds up a talking point for her inner-monologue; it never preempts or interferes with anybody’s fucking. And it’s rad that everybody, including Taryn, can fuck without Taryn getting hung up about it, but it means one of her few defining personality traits serves little purpose beyond adding an “Wowee, I’ve never done this before!”-type giddiness to her narration.
Eventually, we find out Billy’s fiance and parents from his former life banished his truck driver-type dude half when they found out about his cross-dressing half, so at least he’s got a bit of backstory and, therefore, an actual character arc. The supporting cast — Jimmy the douchey DJ and Sandy the septuagenarian proprietor of Dreamz — are proportionately one-dimensional comic relief.
But an author can’t worry too much about turning their characters into fully-realized imaginary people when the priority is moving them around so they can fuck in different ways and in different places. Which they certainly do. (Although not the septuagenarian, ‘cos that’d be a little too weird, I’m presuming.) Despite the emphasis on description, Angel manages to convey genuine affection between the two leads, and it’s probably thanks to that emotional core that the Billy side of Night Shift doesn’t crumble into exploitation or tawdry “shock” fiction.
We’re not saying this book is for everyone, but Night Shift definitely succeeds as a low-impact novelty read.