Monday, August 13, 2018

Kilgore: M.S. Harkness' Tinderella

For M.S. Harkness, it's all about the angles. She begins her first book, Tinderella, about dating using the infamous Tinder phone app about an encounter in a gym where she eyes a hot guy like a predator, her eyes squinting into laser focus and corners of her mouth curling up to expose her teeth. It's a look of pure, deranged lust that depicts a face drawn in a hardened and jagged manner--not softly focused. The next scene sees her fucking a guy on a running tanning bed, hilariously making only half of her body slightly tan for a few days. In this story, Harkness is a college student who is devoted to her time in the classroom as well as the gym, but she wants something between random gym sex and a devoted relationship that takes up a lot of time. So she reactivates her Tinder account, an app that specifically is aimed at enabling hook-ups.

The arc of this book is interesting. It starts from the most anonymous sex scene possible (we know nothing about her at the beginning) and transitions into a hilarious series of depictions of the kind of sleazebags one finds on a dating app. Harkness makes it clear that while she may be demanding in the kind of guy she wants (cut, full beard, fully employed), she slowly starts to reveal her vulnerability as the book proceeds and she opens up to the reader and those around her. That juxtaposition between Harkness' flinty, sarcastic defense mechanisms and her later vulnerability and loneliness is telling. The fact that there is no easy remedy to this makes the book all the more devastating.

The trail of weirdos and perverts who dog her on Tinder is already funny, but Harkness makes them funnier by depicting the men as ghosts and even fish. When she meets someone semi-sane and had a night date with him, it seems as though she's found what she's looking for. Despite a reasonably nice date and hot sex (depicted in ways both graphic and hilarious), he eventually ghosted her after he offered to help her move. Everything seemed fine even then, but he simply stopped talking to her. That's when Harkness starts heaping bad luck on her character, like getting pink eye and finding herself alone on Christmas Eve.     

That led to the bad decision of succumbing to the seductive powers of the man she nicknamed "Night Call", who only ever called her up for random sex. This is a masterful yet totally ridiculous bit of storytelling, as they watch an old Wrestlemania event that involved a battle between company owner Vince McMahon and his son Shane. With that blaring in the background, Night Call asked about her dad, leading to a horrifying flashback where her mother was trying to change their last names away from their father's who was convicted for molesting children. Suddenly vulnerable, she reached out for emotional support & empathy and got met with a dude who went to sleep ten minutes after he had an orgasm. Things get even more devastating when she goes home, finds herself locked out, finds a way in and defiantly masturbates as she yells about not needing anyone. The final panel where her face is twisted in both agony and ecstasy is particularly telling. At the same time, Harkness mixes her pain with well-timed gags, like her vibrator having a rip cord like a chainsaw.

Harkness bookends things nicely with another lunch with her brother and a knowing look from that same guy at the gym she had fucked before. This time around, the final scene sees her phone flying across the room and breaking. She didn't find love or something even resembling it. She revealed that her emotional needs are far deeper than she wanted to admit. At the same time, she did get over a huge emotional trigger point in Christmas and went back to her regular routine. Tossing that phone meant she wasn't going to waste time chasing something that simply wasn't in the cards for her at that point in time. Harkness made it clear that it was her only inner conflict regarding what she needed (intimacy and connection without commitment) that made it so difficult to find someone, yet she also made it clear that the odds were against her in general with regard to finding someone that she liked. It was a surrender to this reality, one that she made clear wasn't going to change anytime soon. It's a downbeat but not depressing ending that simply acknowledged the way things had to be, but it was still jarring after the series of laughs throughout the book. Harkness shows that whatever solace one takes in being alone also brings about pain, while being with someone can lead to huge compromises and heartbreak. That she approaches both scenarios with a sharply developed wit and an aggressive style of art makes this book a great success.                                                                             

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