The Absinthe Literary Review, Book Reviews Spring 2002
B O O K   R E V I E W 

Eros and Thanatos  2002

Have You Seen Me? by Laura Denham

Have You Seen Me?
Laura Denham
Carroll & Graf Publishers, New York
Publication date: 2002
245 pp.  $12.00



It’s easy to see why Have You Seen Me?,  the debut novel by San Francisco writer Laura Denham, has been chosen as an autumn 2002 pick for Barnes and Noble’s Discover Great New Writers series. Though the actions, characters and accoutrements of the story tend towards the seedy and vile, the writing itself is clean, effective and unpretentious. The first person protagonist, Juliet (yes, Juliet), remains a compelling and sympathetic character throughout, despite tramping through the various climes of erotic dance, pornography, prostitution, and worst of all, hippy-style commune living. (I know—you can almost feel the collective shudder.)

The wicked spiral starts early for Juliet. At sixteen, a somewhat voluntary deflowering at the hands of her father’s best friend leads to an involuntary case of Hepatitis B, but it also infects her with a sense of the power dynamic inherent in the sexual act. Leaving her Santa Cruz home for a deathtrap apartment in the “groin” of Frisco, she embarks on a journey of inverted empowerment—read: sex, drugs, very little rock and roll. Yet through all the endless hotel rooms, money shots and opportunities for mercenary abasement, the character of Juliet remains largely unstained thanks to the extraordinary control of the author. Denham’s laconic prose flows dry and biting as a Sapphire martini sans vermouth, lulling and intoxicating the reader until he/she is incapable of holding Juliet accountable to any sort of common moral standard. Yes, she looks at the world through a pair of self-centered, irony-tinged spectacles, but her gaze is most scathing when she directs it towards the mirror, and it is the unsentimental realism of the reflection that engages our sympathy without ever stooping to beg for it. (How can you not feel a tug for a twenty-three-year-old whose cheesecake shots are so pallid and appalling they’re sold to a porn magazine entitled Over Forty? This is funny, human stuff.)  Have You Seen Me? is rife with stark humor and masterful perceptions about the human animal. Given that this is only her debut novel, the wise among us would be well advised to be on the lookout in the future for some truly amazing things from Laura Denham.

Perhaps a better title would have been Have You Read Me?—because you really should read this book. Highly recommended.


– CAW –