Hippo Manchester
September 22, 2005


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Callgirl spicy, cerebral

Angell memoir will make you rethink prostitution

By Michelle Saturley

Callgirl: Confessions of an Ivy League Lady of Pleasure by Jeannette Angell, Harper Collins Perennial,  256 pages.

True story: when I was a junior in college, I worked as a hostess in a Japanese restaurant/karaoke bar in Southern California. One of the businessmen who frequented the club once offered me $300 to sleep with him. I had to think long and hard about that offer before I turned him down. In the end, my reason wasn’t moral in nature. In fact, it was practical: he was a regular customer at the restaurant, and I didn’t want to run into him every night, causing him to think it was going to be a regular thing.

But what if he hadn’t been a regular customer? What if I’d simply said yes, collected the money, and gone on with my life?

That is the “What if” question author Jeannette Angell answers in her memoir, Callgirl: Confessions of an Ivy League Lady of Pleasure.

Angell begins her recollection (and yes, it is a true story) with a catastrophic event: her live-in boyfriend, whom she refers to throughout the book as Peter the Rat Bastard, skips town on her, but not before cleaning out her life savings. Devastated both emotionally and financially, Angell is hard-pressed to find a way to make enough money to recoup her losses and support herself — fast.

Angell has a master of divinity degree from Yale and a doctorate from Boston University, but this doesn’t help in her frantic search for lucrative employment, as anyone just out of college can tell you. Then, one fateful day, on her way to London for a low-paying lecturing gig, she glances at the help wanted ads in a Boston-area paper. After considering waitressing, childcare and becoming a phone sex operator, she spots an ad for an escort service. This is where her moral dilemma begins and the rest, as they say, is history.  Angell reasons the morality out of the decision to be a prostitute and it becomes a business maneuver — nothing more, nothing less. Angell goes into great detail about her first “call,” and several subsequent ones. There are a few racy sex scenes, but they are told in a straightforward manner rather than a salacious, romance novel-esque tone.

She also describes her teaching job, and how she must keep her nocturnal activities a secret or risk losing her entire career. Hers is the ultimate double life: stuffy academia by day, the illegal sex trade by night. And yet, it seems, for a while, that in spite of the polarity of her two careers, everything is working out. The money she makes as “Tia,” her professional name while working for Peach, is enough to begin digging herself out of financial trouble.

However, the author is careful about not glamorizing the job. Even though she is a callgirl and not a streetwalking drug addict selling her body for drugs, Angell comes into contact with more than her fair share of crack, cocaine, booze and dangerous clients. She sees friends whose lives are totally destroyed by some of the so-called “fringe benefits” of the business. There’s also the constant fear of being arrested to deal with: this is, after all, against the law. And the one time she decides to confide in a close friend about her secret job, he immediately starts to treat her like a hooker, even attempts to pay her to have sex with him.

Overall, this is a fascinating memoir, not just because of the subject matter, but because of the quality of the writing, the storytelling. It raises some solid questions about morality, sexuality, and the empowerment of women that I didn’t expect. And while I may have almost been in the same boat as the author at one time, but chose to say no when my time came, I can certainly understand why some women choose to say yes.  Callgirl is more than a dishy sex tell-all; it’s a social commentary that just might change the way you look at prostitution.

Jeannette Angell lives in Manchester.  An interview with her appears on page 21 of the hippo, or click here for the interview.