Acts of Service is a novel set in Brooklyn, New York, centring around Eve, a New Yorker in her twenties who is finding her own sense of sexual freedom and queer identity. This was a fascinating book, exploring a variety of somewhat philosophical themes, from sexual identity and exploration to the ideas surrounding personal freedom. Amid a landscape of polyamory, Fishman unpicks the intricacies of sexuality and the interplay of power and dominance – does one need to be dominant to feel powerful?
Being on the autistic spectrum myself, I find human sexual behaviour both foreign and intriguing. Hence the decision to pick up this book – a unique genre/ topic to me. I did enjoy the book, as my interest was sustained by the slightly unusual narrative style where the story unfolds within a very small geographical space, namely a few bedrooms and coffee shops. Yet Fishman purposefully uses this set-up to create room for the human physical intimacies to inspire the very story itself. Thus, reinforcing the power of body language as a powerful method of communication.
A further question Fishman explores is the definition of love. Juxtaposing romantic love and its accompanying emotions, many of which we may see in the public sphere, with intimate love, a more private affair, where hidden desires and sexual fires are unearthed, along with emotions of passion, desire, and lust. Fishman prompts the reader to consider if both romance and intimacy can be considered under this umbrella of love.
By featuring such weighty topics, Fishman creates a subtly philosophical landscape, using the central characters of Eve, Nathan and Olivia as a vehicle from which to consider wider ideas such as dual identity and the varying personas people portray within public and personal spaces. As someone who finds vulnerability and human behaviour challenging, it was even more interesting to read about how the trio of main characters each deciphered their partners’ attitudes and level of confidence through the feeling of their body.
My one criticism is that the ending felt a little rushed and disconnected to the main story line. I felt Fishman was trying to increase the tempo near the end by including a slight plot twist and subversion of expectations, yet I don’t feel she fully integrated this into the prior storyline, resulting in a slightly disjointed ending. Regardless, this was certainly not a regrettable read, since it is important to bring to light the topic of vulnerability, as I believe it is a gift to find someone with whom you can feel free with and take down all personal defences. This may be easier said than done, but not out of the realm of possibility…