Getting Off, by Lawrence Block

Article published on February 12, 2012.

It appears Ronseal have gone into the business of book cover design.  At least, that’s the conclusion one could reach from checking out Getting Off: A Novel of Sex and Violence.  I defy anyone to glance at this book without expecting anything but 300 pages of murderous, porno filth.  It’s certainly not one to whip out and peruse while on public transport.

In many ways, Getting Off is a return to the 1950s, and Lawrence Block’s early days as a writer of pseudonymous paperback porn.  While Block’s name looms largest on the cover, Getting Off is officially written as Jill Emerson, the name that adorned seven lesbian erotica novels penned by the MWA Grand Master in days of literary yore.
The hook is as simple as it is trashy; Kit Tolliver is an over-sexed sociopath with a penchant for murdering her sexual partners.  She travels extensively within the US, picking up men in bars, casinos and restaurants, and offing them shortly after the sexual act, before cleaning out their wallets to subsidise her itinerant, homicidal lifestyle.  However, during a conversation with strangers over drinks, Kit realises five of her former lovers have survived a night with her.  After an application of the most perverse logic, she sets about hunting them down and killing them too.

The murders are conducted without mercy or malice.  Indeed, there is something almost jaunty about Kit’s quest for blood.  Block never really fleshes out the characters of Kit’s victims, except where they are deserving of their fate.  Indeed, the exclusive focus on Kit leaves no room for morality.  Even when she kills a reformed sex addict turned husband and father, the act is seen almost as a mercy killing, Kit apparently seeing his slide into self-denial and weakness as being a fate worse than death.

Of course, Getting Off is less concerned with murder than it is with sex.  The murders are a twist which bring a finality to the sexual encounters, but they aren’t described in half as much detail.  Kit is a character that usually exists only in the smuttiest fantasies of adolescent self-abusers.  She is aroused by almost every type of man, and in every type of situation, and acts upon her urges with absolute shamelessness.  Like Blackadder’s Bishop of Bath and Wells, she will do anything to anything.  This isn’t an attempt to be provocative on any high-brow level though, instead, this is Block revelling in sleaze.

Indeed, the sex is apparently the only thing that drives Getting Off.  Leaping back and forth chronologically between encounters, the plot is wafer thin.  Ironically, though there are ceaseless climaxes throughout the book, none are of the dramatic variety.  As such, Getting Off is best enjoyed according to the advice of Greg Anderson; “focus on the journey, not the destination.”  Block’s laconic dialogue and sharp phrasing make that an easy enough ask, and fans of sex and violence will find their tastes amply catered for.

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