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Jane Boon Gives Capitalism and the Patriarchy a Spanking in Her Debut Novel ‘Edge Play’
The industrial engineer's book draws on her '90s friendship with a professional dominatrix and creates a world where sex workers have more ethics and business acumen than the architects of the financial crisis / BY Jane Boon / February 9th, 2021
Putting on a latex dress is a struggle. Wearing one is a challenge. As I stood inside the tiny dressing room at Deadly Couture in Vancouver’s Gastown, I carefully arranged my 50-year-old breasts into something resembling cleavage. Then I had one of those out-of-body moments. How did a high school nerd wind up at the Vancouver Fetish Weekend?
Growing up in Ottawa, I was a studious teen determined to get into the best engineering program possible. I’d grown up around cars, so I was thrilled to be accepted by General Motors Institute in Flint, Mich. (now Kettering University). My evenings were spent doing calculus; my weekends were filled with physics. Writing wasn’t a priority, and I didn’t miss it. There was a class in drafting business reports, but there was no class called “The Novel.” Sure, I wrote. I was on the staff of the school newspaper, and later in my career I generated footnote-filled technical papers and the occasional magazine and newspaper article, but fiction was for wild, creative people – like humanities grads.
In my twenties, not long after I got my Master’s degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and had begun my career as an industrial engineer, I discovered Boston’s BDSM scene. I was taken by the outrageous acts and the awesome clothes. And when you’re a cute and curious 20-something, you are welcome anywhere – including the most secret rooms where the most intimate things occur. I became friendly with an elite professional dominatrix who often let me watch and help as she worked with her clients. I often wondered what it would take for a “serious” engineer like me to become a sexy outlaw like her.
During the financial crisis in 2008, I was living in Tribeca with my husband. Norm, a former top editor at The Wall Street Journal, was then working as the chief content officer at Bloomberg L.P., so our pillow talk was about financial scandal. And when I got up in the morning, I’d go to my local gym and wonder who all the fresh faces were in my spinning class, only to learn they were newly laid off from Wall Street. I’d stare at them, wondering what it was like to get up in the morning, knowing they had almost cratered the economy. I grew fascinated by the worst excesses. The Big Short scenarios, in particular, captivated me. The thought that some hedge fund schemers had basically engineered sophisticated financial instruments to fail so they could profit off the insurance staggered me. Sure, they came out OK, but the bulk of the investors lost everything. I wondered about the poor saps who inadvertently sold those doomed things. What would their lives be like when it dawned on them that they’d been out-manoeuvered by some hedge funds and while the executives got rich, they had to clean up the wreckage?
Thanks to my background in engineering, I am familiar with male-dominated workplaces and the challenges women face in them. As a 19-year-old co-op student in Toronto in the mid ’80s, long before #MeToo, I had a 54-year-old CEO proposition me at a corporate event. Male colleagues came on to me. I even had condoms left in my desk. Banking has a similar “bro” culture, and to advance as a woman, it was often necessary to play along and ignore the bad behaviour of the men around you. The New York Post was filled with stories of bankers behaving badly, and I collected them.
I’d been dabbling in short stories about these financial miscreants, but there was so much juicy material that it dawned on me I might have a novel. I bought several “how to” books, and applied my engineering brain to learning about story structure and character development. It was thrilling to take on something so alien to my schooling, that allowed me to stretch my skills. My PhD is in industrial engineering, which is all about managing constraints. Fiction is about exploding them.
Edge Play let me merge these fascinations. My fictional banker is trapped by a misogynistic boss, and some unusual deals he’s orchestrated begin to crater with the crash. Her work is a shambles, and when she begins to investigate, she is fired at the same time Wall Street is flooded with bankers. The only job offer she gets is from her girlfriend, who has a secret sideline as a professional dominatrix and who is willing to train her. And not unlike what happened to me in the ’90s, a staid, professional woman is drawn into a world she doesn’t know, but one she finds exciting and satisfying. Because matters of consent are central to any ethical BDSM practice, I was able to contrast the consensual, artful “cruelty’” of the dungeon with the non-consensual, capitalistic “cruelty” of banking. It was very satisfying to portray the sex workers as businesswomen with savvy and ethics compared with the sleazy, sloppy, finance “bros.” And it felt delicious and subversive to upend gender norms by putting the ladies in charge and making the men grovel and beg.
Because it had been so long since I had spent time in the BDSM demi-monde, I revisited it. At 50, I braved the Vancouver Fetish Weekend. Fetish wear looks and feels different when your body is lumpy and your breasts sag, but I still managed to dance with men half my age and watch the scenes. I was also welcomed at Cris et Chuchotements, the premier BDSM club in Paris, for an evening of look but don’t touch. I checked out a Shibari lounge in Antwerp, but perhaps due to the passage of time, I didn’t need to fend off any requests to tie me up. Instead, I watched the rope-bondage experts bind their counterparts. There were also hours upon hours of kink-filled videos on YouTube and Pornhub. I have a PhD, so no one questions my deep commitment to research!
As for what’s next, I’m reading up on the contemporary art world. There’s plenty of wealth, seduction and sleaze there, which seems perfect for a sequel.
Jane Boon grew up in Ottawa where, at 17, she became the youngest licensed pilot in Canada. An industrial engineer by training, she has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Business Week and Time.com. She splits her time between New York and Vancouver. You can find Jane at JaneBoon.com, or follow her on Twitter @JaneEBoon.