Prisoner of X: 20 Years in the Hole at Hustler Magazine
Allan MacDonell at Elliott Bay Book Co. 101 S. Main St., 206-624-6600, www.elliottbaybook.com. Free. 4:30 p.m. Sat., Aug. 12.
By Allan MacDonell (Feral House, $16.95) This porn-world exposé could have easily veered into lewd territory and probably still ended up an engaging read. Much like Hustler itself, the opportunity to peek beneath the panties of hillbilly porn impresario Larry Flynt's hard-core empire is darn near irresistible. Yet Allan MacDonell spends his 300 pages chest deep in self-deprecation, earnest introspection, colorful characters, and telling anecdotes. His unexpected approach yields nothing short of memoir bliss. The wire-to-wire structure of X is hardly revolutionary: It's organized chronologically, from MacDonell opening his first skin mag as a horny adolescent to his ascent (descent?) to editor in chief of Hustler (he worked there from 1983 to 2002). He relates how the magazine helped him land his first wife (who later ditched him shortly after he began working for Flynt as a lowly proofreader), and goes on to reveal that his sole ambition in life was "to be a big shot." Too bad, because MacDonell's one hell of a storyteller. One wonders whether he could have achieved more legitimate stature had he plied his craft with, say, Esquire. His scene setting is vivid, his story consistently clever, and his characters are fully developed and detailed with the care of a skilled Hollywood screenwriter. In fact, X reads like a literary companion to Permanent Midnight. But the fact remains that MacDonell spent his creative prime locked in a co- dependent cesspool of a relationship with a sicko-genius whom he and his co-workers refer to as Humpty Dumpty. Why? Because he never quite shakes his tongue-wagging admiration for the pinup queens that dominated his fantasy life as a gangly youth. Throughout the book, MacDonell casts himself as the smartest guy at the peep show, and he never moralizes about its appeal. Instead, he simply and efficiently depicts sex, drugs, and debauchery—never letting them overpower his ongoing self-analysis. Just what makes a guy this bright commit the better part of his adult life to something so many people find utterly crass? MacDonell gives us a keen, witty, and unflinching look inside his psyche, without resorting to money shots.