Sex is such a weird topic to talk about. Not the “who is doing what with whom” aspect of it, but rather how society approaches topics surrounding sex. Issues of consent, masturbation, sexuality spectrums, sex work, and a whole host of other topics often get left behind, leaving people to struggle with processing it later in life. Sometimes unsuccessfully.
Talk Dirty To Me by Luke Howard is a book about one of those unsuccessful moments, where the views on sex of the main character are tied up in how she’s currently processing her life.
The book follows Emma Barns, a young woman who has moved to a new city from St. Louis with her husband. Not really sure what direction to take her life, Emma ends up applying to work at a phone sex hotline unbeknownst to him. Which leads to a lot of internal thoughts about her relationship with sex and how it plays into the kind of person she is now.
Emma’s story is probably one that will be familiar to a lot of readers of a particular age range, especially women. Discovering pornography through erotic manga and hentai fan art, discouraged from masturbation at a young age without her elders ever explaining what it actually was, her friends in high school encouraging her to perform oral sex on a boy she was interested in only to turn around and call her a slut after she did so, and processing her emotions towards that via over the top fantasy. While the story is nowhere near a one for one of my own, I hadn’t been so affected by a book talking about sex so honestly since reading Sex Criminals for the first time. The scene where Emma imagines talking about her future book about being a phone sex operator to Terry Gross and the gamut of late night hosts was especially relatable.
However, the book isn’t just immersed in Emma’s fantasies and her past, but rather how it all culminates in a cruel reality where Emma’s struggles with sex play directly into her struggles with a future uncertainty. The way Howard writes this compare and contrast is stark and heartbreaking, but again, all too familiar. Instead of being the bold woman who uses being a phone sex operator to come to terms with her sexuality and launch her future, she ends up being on the receiving end of one man’s addiction and breakdown, which causes her to retreat further back into her shell and stay afraid of the risks. It never feels shameful of sex work, but rather how this one particular character realizes that she may not be cut out for it for a myriad of reasons.
Howard’s art for the book walks that border between minimalistic and surreal, with no borders between panels, the linework and color being done only in pinks and blues, and no real designation of when the book trips from reality to fantasy. It feels natural, like a story being relayed back from the person who lived through it, all mushed together that even the fictions seem real and that the thought processes were all spoken aloud. The way Howard uses the pinks and blues to tell the story is especially beautiful and vibrant to the point it can sometimes be easy to forget that there are only two colors involved in the entire story.
Talk Dirty to Me is a story that even with the minimal colors and surreal art feels painfully real. Between the very honest and real way Emma correlates her relationship with sex with how she moves through life and how Howard uses the art to convey that, Talk Dirty to Me is resonant, even with how quickly the book reads.
Story: Luke Howard Art: Luke Howard
Story: 9.0 Art: 8.5 Overall: 8.75 Recommendation: Buy