I must admit, I was initially drawn to read the memoir, CHICKEN: SELF-PORTRAIT OF A YOUNG MAN FOR RENT because I met David Henry Sterry at a Pitchapalooza in Montclair, NJ. He is one half of the infamous duo, THE BOOK DOCOTORS, who run the event.
I was also drawn to read CHICKEN because of the description on the back of the book. A male prostitute for women? Hollywood’s fleshy underbelly? Juicy. What sordid women would hire a prostitute anyway? Wouldn’t it be much different for a male prostitute than it is for a female? Maybe I was just being naïve but wouldn’t it be just like the TV show, HUNG?
A few pages into the memoir, I realized that I was getting a lot more than I’d imagined. CHICKEN is a coming of age story about a boy without choices. He was found by a “chicken hawk” when he was desperately hungry and eating out of a dumpster. CHICKEN is the story of a victim who, just like a female prostitute, is desperate.
Sterry’s life was not cool or glamorous because he bedded women for money. It was sad – prostitution was Sterry’s job and even though he treated it as such he was still scarred by the lifestyle.
Through the course of the memoir, I met many colorful characters, albeit flawed, who hired Sterry for complex reasons (not just for sex). Sterry is adept at painting humorous and vivid pictures of these characters. Underneath their layers, however, these were sad and eccentric people who exploited a boy. Sterry, who started out innocent, took a piece of each person with him until he finally broke.
CHICKEN is told from the point of view of a teenage boy and with language so musical that at times it distanced me from the disturbing subject matter. A wise choice by the author. For instance, Sterry spoke of a drug-saturated orgy in luscious metaphors that made me feel like the ecstasy-impaired teenager who was living the event.
Cleary, Sterry fought demons from childhood that stemmed from his parents. I wanted to learn even more about this part of his life. Issues were touched upon as the novel weaved back and forth between his childhood and days chickening in Hollywood. I think the childhood story would make for another interesting memoir.
I rooted for Sterry to make it out and live happily ever after with his “normal” girlfriend, Kristy. I don’t want to spoil the ending so I won’t say whether or not this happened. I will highly recommend reading this memoir. It is a page turner and shines a light on an industry that many of us know very little about. It is also a wonderful story about a teenager’s offbeat journey toward manhood.