Book Review: Daddy, a Memoir


Today I want to talk about Madison Young’s ‘Daddy: a Memoir’. In the interest of full disclosure, I should start this post by mentioning I am one of two literary interns on Team Madison, promoting Young’s memoir ‘Daddy’ and helping with future publishing projects. I cannot be impartial as a reviewer, and I won’t try to be. After all, as any publicist knows, the true pleasure of the work lies in promoting a book you believe in so much, alongside people who inspire you.

‘Daddy’ is the book I have been looking for, for a very, very long time. The academic in me loved the memoir’s introduction, a two page negotiation of consent between Young and the reader. How do we make feminist pornography and erotica? By reinventing the relationship between the consumer and the consumed. “I cannot hear the consenting “yes” seep from your lips,” Young writes, “But by the simple turn of this page you will be physically consenting to this journey, to this scene, between me and you.” She goes on to encourage the reader to listen to their own limits. “If you need to use a safeword, do so, close the book, leave the room, go for a walk, and breathe deeply. I will not take offense. Instead, I will respect you even more for knowing yourself, for communicating your needs and meeting them.” To be blunt, this is just really cool. The well-spoken acknowledgement of consent is due to Young’s career as an educator and performer, but it shows a deft awareness of her responsibility as a sex-positive, feminist author as well. I thought about consent in terms of depicting the consent of characters within erotica while I was writing my thesis, but I never considered the consent of my readers. This preface is both a disclaimer and a poetic political reinvention of consent itself.

The writer in me was drawn to ‘Daddy’s form as an erotic memoir in general, and Young really does bare all in its pages. ‘Daddy’ reminded me of Alison Tyler’s ‘Dark Secret Love’ trilogy, which are a beautifully inventive mixture of fact and fiction. Unlike Tyler’s work, however, Young’s memoir gets truly dark. From discussing her complicated relationship with her Daddy James, to the impact her parents’ divorce had on her childhood, to sparing no details of her rectal prolapse from filming an anal sex scene, Young is not afraid to go there. This mentality is reflected in the motto she offers to a young college student hoping to follow in her footsteps: “Reveal all, fear nothing.” Reveal all Young does, and if she is afraid I certainly can’t see it. And this is should not be mistaken for a trashy porn star tell-all—’Daddy’ is an intimate exploration of self the likes of which I haven’t seen before. It is inspirational and wounded, and feminist at its core.

I say feminist because Young is hyper aware of the seeming contradictions in her story, of being a submissive and a powerful independent artist, of being a mother and a sex worker, of being a feminist and the partner of a not always ideal man. She challenges why these identities are so often dismissed as incompatible at varying levels of her own comfort. “I’m really nervous about finishing this book; my memoir,” she confides in her therapist toward the end of the text. “People are going to hate me. Feminists won’t understand why I stayed, why I believed in Daddy.” That last sentence floored me when I read it, and, obeying the terms of consent Young laid out in the preface, I put the book down while I puzzled out my own reaction. I had been judging her after reading about James’s drug addiction and penchant for flaking. But my judgment was woven through with compassion, with appreciation, with concern as a survivor of an unhealthy relationship with a user myself. True feminism is about recognizing and exploring nuance, in listening before you condemn, and Young seems to know her readers better than they know themselves. That might be the result of working for a decade in an industry most—including many feminists—are quick to denounce.

After all, “We are all just people,” Young concludes. “Beautiful fallible creatures, regardless of the number of superhero capes in our closet, #1 Dad coffee mugs in the kitchen cupboard, or a young girl’s unrealistic expectations. In this realization, through much love and exploration, I found myself.” It was a pleasure to be invited along this journey of self-discovery, and I look forward to working on ‘Daddy’ for the next few months. I encourage you to pick up a copy for yourself from Madison’s website, and there are some odds I’ll be the one sending it to you in the mail.

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Ella Dawson is a sex and culture critic and a digital strategist. She drinks too much Diet Coke.

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