Smoking Hopes, press

DMN1SMThe Dallas Morning News Sunday, February 11, 1996
‘No trade deficit for Charlie: Hostess has her own import plan for rich Japanese swain’

Smoking Hopes Victoria N. Alexander, The Permanent Press, $22
By Clay Reynolds

‘Hopes’ is the name of a Japanese brand of cigarettes favored by the customers of Manhattan’s Club Kiki, where the novel’s narrator and main character, Charlie Dean, works. The men who come there enjoy the company of a rotating cadre of beautiful American women. The hostesses sit with them and light their Hopes in more ways than one.

Neither Charlie . . . nor her co-hostesses are prostitutes. Indeed private liaisons with the clientele are strongly discouraged by the Mama-san, who runs the club with an iron hand. Nevertheless, many of the girls succumb to the temptation represented by the wealthy and free-spending Japanese, each of whom seems to want his own personal American mistress as a symbol of his status in the most status-conscious of all countries.

Charlie herself succumbs, but she does so deliberately. She has ulterior motives. She plans a sea voyage to Japan to find her estranged husband, also her best friend’s estranged lover, and to recapture him with her newly learned charms. Accordingly, she takes up with a foolish Japanese executive, Hiro, who becomes so enthralled with his tall American blonde beauty that he loses his reason and eventually much, much more.

The most remarkable achievement of this often funny and highly sensual novel, though, is not the plot or setting, though both of these elements are handled with alacrity and grace. A dark comedy with cunning observations on society and culture, it avoids political correctness by employing a sometimes brutal honesty.

But it is the character of Charlie Dean herself that makes this novel work. Few narrators in my experience have been presented with such uncompromising honesty, such deep and deliberate introspection.

To understand the mind-set of women who work in such clubs, Ms. Alexander worked as a [hostess] in a Japanese men’s club in Manhattan. She apparently was successful in her research, for Charlie emerges as a completely believeable product of 1990’s femininity, a woman whose ultra-sensitivity is knitted through the narrative.

Charlie tells her tale with integrity and intense circumspection, never apologizing for her proclivities, for her excesses . . . Although she is not moralistic, she does set hard standards for herself and guards against falling into the role of victim. . .

Charlie is an intensely self-conscious character. She is constantly performing, if not for an audience of paying customers, then for people on the street, her neighbors in her almost surrealistic Manhattan neighborhood, ‘Thirteenth Alley.’

Smoking Hopes is a sometimes funny, sometimes reflective and ironic tale . . . I have no doubt that more, much more, will be heard from author Victoria N. Alexander.

Page 6
New York Post
May 23, 1996
by Neal Travis

Readers have been asking Victoria Alexander to sign the back cover of her first novel, “Smoking Hopes.” That’s because the blond author appears there nude, but for a pair of high heels. It’s all old hat to Alexander, who stripped her way through college (Hunter) and work ed as a hostess in private Japanese clubs on the East Side to research the book.

“It was a strange experience,” she says of working the clubs. “No one put the make on me–it was mostly just boring conversations. And when they learned I was an English teacher, they’d ask me for private lessons.”

The novel, from The Permanent Press, is getting good reviews. Alexander will read from it and sign those cheeky copies 5 p.m. Saturday at Posman Books on University Place.

Publishers Weekly
 February 16, 1995
Victoria Alexander, Permanent Press
$22 (208p) ISBN 1-877946-69-9
As a bleached blonde bombshell whose excessive plastic surgery has rendered her ‘as unreal as animation,’ Charlie Dean, narrator of most of the richly written first novel, relates her life  as a ‘hostess’ in a Japanese geisha house in Manhattan. The strength of Charlie’s voice and character renders her story continually surprising: a bookworm who enjoys George Eliot and James Joyce, she brings a wryly intelligent eye to her sordid employment, and particularly to customers’ ever-constant hope that sex is part of her job description (it isn’t).  Alexander’s subtly threaded explorations of love and hope, her sensuous, distilled prose and her incisive wit make this a sophisticated, resonant debut. (Apr.)
FYI: In order to write Smoking Hopes, which won the Washington Prize for Fiction, Alexander  worked part-time as a hostess.

metcvrSMTHE MET (Dallas, TX)


In Smoking Hopes (Permanent Press, $22), narrator Charlie Dean is living in New York, making money largely based on her looks, and hoping one day to be reunited with her ex-husband Gottlieb. In this excerpt, Dean is meeting her friend Lola in a bar near her New York City apartment.

“The day-to-day existence of Charlie Dean is punctuated with interruptions to the tune of: Your tits are nice. That this is a self-imposed handicap raises questions to be dealt with; the answer to this figures largely into the understanding of the heart of Charlie Dean. Why do I need to project my features well beyond the footlights?

As I make my way to the rear [of the bar]…I shout up to Lola, finding her at the end. She’s going on a trip to Japan! she announces. Can you believe it?

I try to get to her. We are still separated by the crowd. Someone pulls my wrist, that black dancer [she had just left behind], and whispers, “Why do you dress like that if you don’t want it?”

Why do I dress like a fille de joie? Actually, I’m making a fashion statement, poor me, not a sexual one. Why, this outfit describes the kind of music I listen to. Psychofunk and hiphop house. Sometimes, I even dream that out of a slavish dedication to some new fashion I’d seen in an advertisement, I go grocery shopping bare-breasted, or sometimes without pants. In the fresh vegetable section, I begin to get the feeling that some shoppers aren’t aware of that particular style. I begin to suspect I’ve gone too far, and I feel really silly, but I conceal my shame, trying to act naturally.

Or is it shortsightedness? The optimum beauty is the traffic-stopping kind. As a topless dancer, I learned that if every customer didn’t gasp and hand me a 20 the moment I walked on stage, I was not beautiful enough. Conspicuousness, that’s beauty. If blonde is pretty, blonder must be prettier…If a mini-skirt is sexy, a micromini is even sexier. But when does it stop being beautiful, become theatrical, and then finally ridiculous? When you see that showy image of yourself alone, with no one watching, without an audience.

So there you have it. I’m caught, a child in her mother’s make-up kit–red lips, perfectly round and garish circles of rouge on her cheeks, neon blue eye shadow. Naively, I believe I look beautiful, but Mother, who knows better, says I look like a little whore, and I squirm giggling as she wipes the mess from my face.

But I’ve learned that kind of girl gets all the attention, and wanting to be one is probably not merely a taste for the illicit. There must be some objective reason why we like whorish looks, some staid sound value, or chemical reaction, or something undeniably true and real, something unworthy of contempt.

That kind of girl gets to sail to Japan to Gottlieb.”

Carrollton native Victoria Alexander bares it all to make a literary name for herself. But is she exposing too much to be taken seriously? JOSEPH GUINTO reports.

I am waiting. Waiting like the tramps for Godot and like the characters in Carrollton-born author Victoria Alexander’s new book, Smoking Hopes, are always, always waiting. They wait for love, for fulfillment, for purpose.

Myself, I’m just waiting for Victoria, and she is 10 minutes late for our interview. I’m sitting in a Lower Greenville coffee-house. Not unlike the people who populate Smoking Hopes, who hope they will get what they wait for, I also have hope. I’m hoping Victoria won’t show.

Judging from her press clippings, including good reviews in publications as disparate as Paper magazine and the Dallas Morning News, Victoria is an excellent writer. Judging from the photos in her press kit, Victoria is, well, hot. On top of that, I’ve already seen her naked. The back cover of Smoking Hopes features a picture of Victoria in puris naturalibus, sans vêtements. A nude photo on the back of a book being touted as “literary fiction” makes me wonder if Victoria has wrought an artistic work or simply cranked out some smut.

She’s now 15 minutes late, and I’m wondering if Victoria isn’t just a flighty stripper who got lucky on a publisher’s couch – a dumb blonde with a laptop, some time on her hands, and good grades from English class. The only thing keeping me here is the mention in her press kit that Smoking Hopes – whose main protagonist is a cosmetically enhanced former stripper who now works at a modern-day geisha club where women pour drinks, light cigarettes, and flirt with Japanese men – has won the Washington Prize for

fiction. Then I realize that, without much journalistic diligence on my part, I have no idea what the Washington Prize for fiction is.

The instant I decide to leave, the coffeehouse door swings open, and a cool woman with long, blonde hair walks in. It’s obviously Victoria. I can tell from her leg muscles. They’re stripper’s legs–the sort you might develop from dancing in high heels for hours at a time. And she is wearing just such high heels, a blue, pleated miniskirt, and a blue half shirt that exposes a hint of a navel.

My first impression says Victoria is exactly what I worried she’d be. But, as we sit down and talk, I will regret having judged a book by its backside.

Victoria Alexander is the kind of women other women love to hate. She looks good in micro-miniskirts – or nothing at all. Because her writing and eloquent manner of speech make her impossible to dismiss as a dumb blonde, she has run headlong into feminists.

If Victoria Alexander is the kind of woman other women love to hate, then Smoking Hopes’ main character is the kind of woman men love to hate. Charlie Dean is beautiful, if a bit surgically enhanced.

In reviewing her book, the Dallas Morning News said of Dean, also the book’s narrator, that she “tells her tale with integrity and intense circumspection, never apologizing for her proclivities, for her excesses, her calculated use of her beauty and sexuality to achieve her goals, whatever they may be: a free cab ride Up Town, an emerald ring, an extension on her overdue electric bill or income taxes.”

Dean works in the Japanese hostess club, as Victoria did while researching the book, making up to $200 a night by simply lighting cigarettes, pouring drinks, and talking to Japanese buisnessmen. The patrons pay $100 per hour for the girl’s company.

“There’s really no American version of the hostess club,” Victoria says. “You can’t compare them to a topless club or anything like that. The Japanese are very polite, very indirect. The highlight of the night comes if they can get a girl to waltz with them, and they can get close. But they’re very bad dancers.”

The hostess clubs are essentially a Japanese way of playing the traditional dating game: the flirting, the maneuvering to the dance floor, the hope on the man’s part that the woman might actually like him.

Though dating clients is strongly discouraged, hostesses have been known to take up with some of the men outside of the club, even to find a husband among the patrons. For her part, Victoria always explained to the men that she was working at the club as research for her book. But that didn’t lessen their hopes that she would take an interest in them.

She pushes her empty iced coffee aside and leans forward again on the table. She whispers, “You know what? That didn’t make a bit of difference. They’d want to be in the book, of course, but they didn’t get it: That was the only reason I was there.”

One client even traced her down at Hunter College, where she was teaching. “He had bought a gold bracelet from Tiffany’s,” she recalls. “By the time he found me, he handed me the bracelet, said he was late for a meeting, and left.”

Another client paid her $3,000 for four meetings in which she taught him Mark Twain.

Those events all find their way, in small pieces, into Smoking Hopes. It is a solid, moving and funny work. The title stands both for Hopes, a brand of Japanese cigarette, and hope, what drives the characters in the book. They all hope to find love in the strangest places and people.

Hopes is a black comedy to be sure. The lives of the characters are laughable – but they’re also pitable. Most of all, they’re real. Regarding the hostess clubs, Victoria provides keen insight into a world that most Americans know nothing about. Regarding her main character, Charlie Dean, she provides insight into the life of a woman on her own in the modern world, with the gawking men, credit-card debt, bugs in the apartment, and noisy neighbors that go along with it.

“What I write is literary fiction,” Victoria says with an arched brow that asks if I know what literary fiction is. “It’s not Danielle Steele, not John Grisham, not . . .” She stops herself and smiles playfully, pleased that I am shaking my head head in agreement. “I don’t want to become famous off this. I don’t want to make a movie based on the book. I don’t want to make a million dollars. I want to be taught on college campuses when I’m dead.”

Well, I tell her, you have to have hope.

Now Victoria Alexander and I are both waiting. We are hoping her husband will arrive to pick her up.

Victoria has made me rethink my first impression of her. She is intelligent, funny, and very engaging. (A few weeks later, when I have completed Smoking Hopes, I also realize that she’s a deft young writer.)

I sit back in my chair, which I believe has actually shrunk over the course of our conversation, and make an effort to appear calm, cool, relaxed – and fail. I find myself clicking my pen cap, opening and closing my notebook, and sweating. Not perspiring, sweating. I consider excusing myself to go to the bathroom and slipping out the back door. Now that Victoria Alexander has earned my respect, I’m desperately hoping she doesn’t know what kind of woman I at first thought she was – and, more to the point, what kind of man I am.

But then Victoria’s husband shows up and saves me. “He’s here,” she says, pointing to a minivan parked across the street. “We unhooked the bike trailer.” They have a Harley. A fitting contradiction – the family vehicle towing the rebel bike. I meet him and he hands me a copy of Smoking Hopes, which Victoria signs. She hands it back, looking at me with a shyness I have not seen in her before. She looks hopeful that I care for her autograph, I act honored, then say my goodbyes, receiving a handshake that is distant, perfunctory. She knows, I think.

A few weeks later, I receive a letter from Victoria. She says she enjoyed our interview and hopes to see me again when she returns to Dallas. Hmm. Maybe she doesn’t know. You have to have hope.

SanAntonioSMSan Antonio Express-News

Art imitates (sometimes ugly) life
Sunday, January 21, 1996
Reviewed by Clay Reynolds

‘Hopes’ is the name of a Japanese brand of cigarettes favored by the customers of Manhattan’s Club Kiki, where the novel’s narrator of this stunning first novel, Charlie Dean, works. The men who come there enjoy the company of a rotating crew of beautiful women, many of whom have worked as exotic dancers, strippers or prostitutes in the past. They are chosen for their beauty, and they are paid well for their work.

But they are not prostitutes. Private contact is discouraged by the Mama-san, who runs “the piano bar,” although she requires each girl to call former customers who tipped well, inviting them back with a personal note.

The hostesses sit with the mean, listen to their small talk, occasionally dance with them, and light their Hopes in more ways than one. It is, perhaps, a less than honorable profession, but it pays well. Charlie and her best friend, Lola, are experts at it.

Many of the girls succumb to the temptation represented by the wealthy and free-spending Japanese, each of whom seems to want his own personal American mistress. Charlie herself succumbs, taking up with a hapless fertilizer company executive, Hiro; but she does so deliberately. She has ulterior motives. She plans a sea voyage to Japan to find her estranged husband, who is also Lola’s estranged lover, to try to recapture him with her newly learned charms.

The most remarkable achievement of this highly literate dark comedy, though, is the character of Charlie Dean herself. She tells her tale with integrity and circumspection, never apologizing for her proclivities, for her excesses, for her intense awareness of her own femininity.

Charlie is a highly self-conscious woman. With plastic surgery, hair extensions and other cosmetic devices, she has altered her physical appearance to manufacture a ravishing beauty, an irresistible creature to men, the target of envy to women.

She has also altered her psychology, her mind. the books she reads are chosen as much for their effect on her mood as the are for how much they might interest her. A student of philosophy, of art, of literature, and of human nature, she is haughtily superior to all around her, revelling in her ability to manipulate others’ emotion, others’ actions.

Charle is alert that every move she makes, every gesture, no matter how small, is observed, admired. Hence, she stages each move with care, sensitive to tis effects on those around her. She is in a constant state of performance, even when she is alone, even when she is asleep. She is watched, even if only by herself, and she is aware that she is watched. Such awareness gives her power.

Unfortunately, there are also victims, and in a bitterly ironic ending, Charlie ultimately becomes a victim of her own devices.

An intense and intelligent narrator, Charlie captivates the reader with her self-awareness, with her almost programmed sense of constant performance, and with her deeper nature, which seeks the meaning if not the actuality of hope.

Alexander, herself a native of Dallas, is a graduate student at City University, New York. In order to gather material for this story, she worked as a stripper and hostess in Japanese men’s clubs in New York City and Tokyo. Her manuscript was award the Washington Prize for Fiction and, one hopes, it will be the first in a long line of highly stylized, well-crafted stories of the bittersweet pain of living in a confusing and modern world.

Clay Reynolds of Denton is the author of three novels. 
that makes this novel work. Few narrators in my experience have been presented with such uncompromising honesty, such deep and deliberate introspection.

Alexander Paper 96


Author Victoria Alexander’s naked truths.

1996 Julie Besonen Paper Magazine Summer

“A naked woman is a very powerful thing,” says Victoria Alexander, whose recently released first novel, Smoking Hopes (The Permanent Press), chronicles the comic adventures of a professional hostess in a Japanese men’s club.

Over coffee at Chez Bernard on West Broadway, Alexander, who posed nude for the back cover of Smoking Hopes (Hope is a Japanese cigarette) … has a slight Southern accent retained her Dallas, Texas, childhood. She is introspective and intellectual and not your typical idea of a showgirl. Blonde and petite (”Five-foot-two, and five nine in heels”), with limpid green eyes and translucent skin, she is currently at work on a doctorate in English literature at CUNY.


Nudity was not part of Alexander’s job in the Japanese hostess clubs of N.Y.C. Women wore conservative cocktail dresses, and no sex was involved.

“It’s a holdover from the geisha days,” she explains. About 35 such clubs exist on the Upper East Side, where businessmen pay as much as $100 an hour simply to come in and talk and have their cigarettes lit and drinks poured by beautiful women. To be admitted, men must be able to read a sign in Japanese that says “Ring three times.” Alexander made anywhere from $75 to $200 a night just showing interest in what her male customers had to say (a short stint in the Tokyo clubs netted her $400 a night). “Working as a teacher I learned how to ask questions and really dig. I’m a good listener.”

Columbus DispatchColumbus Dispatch Sunday, July 21, 1996

Hostess’s story told with wry insight o Victoria Alexander practiced the profession to prepare for her writing.

“Conspicuousness, that’s beauty,” says Charlie Dean, “hostess” at a private Japanese club in Manhattan. When she strolls down the avenue a blind man whistles and cabbies offer her free rides.

Victoria N. Alexander’s first novel, which won the Washington Prize for Fiction, follows the surgically enhanced Charlie through her days in an apartment decorated in off-Broadway props and nights of offering false hopes to her clients at the Club Kiki, where the customer is king and the conversation is sex.

Charlie may be a bimbo, but she is a literate bimbo who reads George Eliot, St. Augustine’s Confessions and, significant to this story, Beckett’s Waiting for Godot.

Charlie is waiting too, for Gottlieb, her ex-husband. She hopes to find him by taking a trip to Japan, where she thinks he has fled. In the meantime, she meets a cast of characters who include Lola, Gottlieb’s ex-mistress, and the Japanese businessmen who smoke Hope cigarettes and offer her money for the outside chance at love.

Seemingly in a state of low-grade depression, Charlie takes advantage of Hiro, a businessman who frequents the club. Alexander’s portrayal of Hiro and the other clients shows them in the cruel light of pity and ridicule. They are seen as cartoonlike characters, which deepens the novel’s negativity.

The beauty and humor of Alexander’s writing in other parts of the story are appealing.

“Hiro shrunk into sleep and I have expanded into the unused night,” is one example of here powerful prose. Delightful twists and tweaks jump out in sentences like this: “We gulp down our crustaceans, clams, scrod and scram.”

Ever brightening the dark corners, though, Alexander wins the day and elevates the book with Charlie’s character. A scene in which Charlie kills roaches in her apartment is a scream. Her letter to the Internal Revenue Service asking officials to “be a dear” and ease up on her overdue payment provokes giggles. Her entrances and fashion choices are hilariously explained with rare insight into a woman’s sexual radar.

Alexander writes of the human need for hope: “…that is what makes the human the darling, the inexplicable pet of the universe.” We hang on to this hope as Charlie proceeds with life while everything around her is crumbling. By the end, however, our own hope goes up in smoke and the disturbing ashes are left in our afterthoughts.

Daily New Hampshire Gazette


 nuanced novel exposes more than just flesh

Nancy Picks

Let’s start with the jacket photo. Everyone does.
It shows author Victoria N. Alexander from the back, naked, with the light playing off her splendidly rounded derriere. When you put such a photo on your book jacket, Alexander said, you invite three kinds of reaction. Some people (myself included) think the book will be stupid. Some people think the book insults women. And some people are simply curious to read a book by the owner of this lovely bottom.

The main character of “Smoking Hopes” (the Permanent Press, $22, 207 pp.) turns out to be a beautiful woman nicknamed Angel who works in a Japanese men’s club in New York. Happily, this is not a stupid novel. It offers some memorable glimpses into the world of women who sells their charms, if not their bodies. In a Japanese club, men pay big bucks to converse with attractive women, have their drinks poured and their cigarettes lit. They are paying not for sex but, in Alexander’s version, for hope. (Hope is also the name of a popular brand of Japanese cigarette.) In the novel, a customer named Hiro does, for a time, have his hopes fulfilled. Angel, desperate for funds and companionship, becomes his mistress.

I was fascinated by Alexander’s description of the way hostesses play the game at Club Kiki: “That the hostess’s vision of the future differs wildly from that of her customers does not make the present reality a lie. For example, ‘I enjoyed speaking with you tonight. Please come back real soon,’ when said by a waving hostess at the door, does not mean: ‘I like you; let’s date,’ particularly if she’s said it in memorized Japanese.

“However, it does represent a Club Kiki Truth. She really does enjoy talking with him (because she is paid well for it), and she really would like him to come back (so she can draw ten bucks’ commission). Hostesses simply do not lie.”

Hiro is always seen through the eyes of Angel, and he grows increasingly complex. Alexander doesn’t prepare us, however, for the cruelty he exhibits at the novel’s end.

Her next novel, which she’s finishing up, is a more light-hearted look at strippers.

“Smoking Hopes” has nearly sold out its 3000-copy first printing. Victoria N. Alexander will sign copies of “Smoking Hopes” on Saturday from 3 to 5 p.m. at Media Play in the Hampshire Mall, Route 9, Hadley.

travis2smNew York Post

August 14, 1996

Mary, Joseph. . . and Brad? 

by Neal Travis 

So what’s it like being landlord to the couple-of-the-moment, Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow? ‘I feel like the owner of the manger must have felt when he rented out his place to Mary and Joseph,’ says novelist Victoria Alexander. ‘Sort of important, but I can’t really take any kind of credit for anything.’

Alexander owns the SoHo loft with artist Neil Grayson. They were going on the road for five months to promote her new book, ‘Smoking Hopes,’ and heard through a mutual friend that Pitt and Paltrow were looking for a quiet place to stay. She says she firmly had to discourage friends who wanted to drop by, pretending not to know she and Grayson were away. In the end, the glamour couple were pretty much undisturbed.

The hefty rental income will be used to finance the renovation of another SoHo property, which is home to the Dactyl Foundation, which offers grants to artists and writers.


The Dallas Morning News

June 25
, 1996

 Now the Nudes

by Helen Bryant

You may have read this paper’s review of ex-Dallasite Victoria N. Alexander’s book, Smoking Hopes. Victoria, now a New Yorker pursuing a doctorate in English literature, worked part time as a hostess to gather material for this work of fiction. On the back cover of her novel, she is pictured unclad, save for a pair of tasteful high heels. The shot has sold a good many tomes, according to a note in the New York Post.

Victoria’s husband, artist Neil Grayson, was recently nabbed by the New York cops for unlawfully pasting up posters for her book. But after he explained that his wife made him do it–and after he presented NYPD’s finest with a copy of the book–they let him go. Apparently they were too busy looking at the back cover to run him in.

To meet the object of all this attention, you can attend one of Victoria’s local signings.

InsiderSMDowntown Resident’s Insider (NY)

Aug 1996,

By Stephen Pitalo

It’s not something you see every day.

A photograph of author Victoria Alexander’s fully nude backside graces the back cover of her first novel, “Smoking Hopes” (The Permanent Press, 1996), a warped tale of female strength and issues of power in the world of strippers and hostesses. Considering the book’s acute perceptions and wit, the purpose behind the picture couldn’t be as simple as intentional titilation. Could it? What’s the statement, Ms. Alexander?

“I would like to see nudity become passe,” Alexander told a group gathered to soak in her thoughts and readings at Posman Books in Washington Square. “Also, you’ve probably seen advertisement posters around with the picture from the front f the book, the one with a model’s face. I saw one of these posters on the way here, and it had a mustache painted on it. It makes me glad they didn’t put that picture of me on the posters. Someone might have tried to draw clothes on me.”

Although Alexander rather deftly avoids giving a straight answer, her publisher Martin Shepard of the Permanent Press, will go as far as revealing the marketing strategy behind the …er…behind. “the photo of Victoria leads (readers) to think that she is writing from experience. The photo, shot by Alexander’s husband, Neil Grayson, is a bald-faced (or rather … oh, nevermind) attempt to “draw the attention of a larger, more general audience that ‘literary’ books usually get.”

To further that end (okay, okay, no more. I promise), enter our main character, Charlie Dean, a hostess at a Japanese nightclub. A complex package of self-conscious observation and denial, Charlie spends her days pouring drinks and lighting cigarettes for Japanese businessmen, listening to them blather on about whatever. Tricks are not encouraged, although Charlie ends up become the regular mistress of an Asian fertilizer salesman. She examines most everything about her life–her plastic surgery, her mental state, her manipulation of others–but never seems to reach any conclusions.

Alexander’s writing folds sharpness, fluidity and attention to detail into a salacious feast for the senses, but we still feel a sense of tragedy in her detached tone. The book jacket mirrors the contradictions of the book’s main character Charlie Dean–we see the naked backside, but never look into her eyes.

A first person narrative with a third person consciousness is hard to pull off, but readers sympathize nonetheless, and credit Alexander with a deft hand.The Author does give the heroine a strength of will that adamantly forgoes victimization issues. Charlie Dean does what Charlie Dean wants to do, even though she doesn’t seem to know or care where.

Alexander, a Hunter College alumna and a Ph.D. candidate at CUNY in English, worked in some Japanese clubs in New York and Tokyo to research the work, and has worked as a stripper in the past. The book title comes from a brand of Japanese cigarettes called “Hopes,” capturing the double meaning of the character’s simultaneous wishes for a better life and her willingness to let them wisp away.

Alexander was awarded the Washington Prize for Fiction her manuscript of this book. She’s finished the follow-up, a tabloid tale of life as a stripper, and she is currently writing “The Birdgirl.”

“In many ways, the novel is a continuation of ‘Waiting for Godot,'” Alexander said, “these girls are waiting for Charlie’s husband Gottlieb to return.” When fielding a question on whether she found what Beckett’s nothingness was, she replied, “What I confront was what nothingness is not. More along the lines of the hope for somethingness.”

More question. More smiles. No answers. Good book. I may never get to write these words again, so I apologize in advance: the author has a nice ass. Charlie Dean would agree, and probably pout me a drink, never letting me know what she really thinks.


MAY 16, 1996

Novelist Victoria N. Alexander bursts onto the scene
(Meet her at a book signing)

By: Harriet Hiller

There is nothing ordinary about the brilliant, blond literary bombshell, Victoria N. Alexander, whose first novel, “Smoking Hopes,” winner of The Washington Prize for Fiction, is arriving at bookstores as we speak. She will be signing copies at Barnes & Noble in Westport on Saturday at 5 pm.

There is nothing ordinary about Alexander’s accomplishments-her literary criticism has been published in the Antioch Review; she teaches expository writing and is a Ph.D. candidate, English Literature, at the City College of New York, and is the wife of painter, Neil Grayson.

There is nothing ordinary about her first novel, “Smoking Hopes,” that tells the story of a young woman’s obsession with illicit liaisons that takes her on a highly erotic and very dangerous journey through a New York and Japanese world you may not have known existed.

Alexander researched the character of her heroine, Charlie Dean, by working as one of the very few Americans permitted to work as a hostess in a Japanese private club in New York.

Although born in Dallas, Victoria N. Alexander’s roots are in Westport. Her greatgrandfather emigrated here from Poland at the turn of the century; here grandmother, Amelia Nichols, lives here to this day.

At 17, Alexander, knowing she was destined to become a writer since the age of 10, left Texas for the East Village to write songs and play keyboard in a punk band.

At 19, she enrolled at Hunter College, majoring in English literature. She supported herself by working as a bird trainer in Queens, in a German pastry shop, and as a marine operator.

To earn the money needed to pay for her master’s degree, Alexander tutored at Hunter and had an outside job as a strip-o-gramer.

Alexander says, “I did little lingerie routines in restaurants where you strip down to lingerie, give the birthday boy a kiss and a little present and read a poem. Sometimes I had to write the poems myself. “It was a pretty silly, but it was fun. I never had any unpleasant experiences.”

In 1991, Alexander moved back to Westport to help take care of her aging grandmother and to begin writing “Smoking Hopes.” She lived in the small cottage next to her grandmother’s house until she married three years ago.

“The book, which took about a year to write,” Alexander explains, “is really a revision of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot,” that explores the fear that there is no such thing as God and basically life on earth is a hopeless situation where you sit around waiting for someone who is not coming.

“I don’t like to think that this is what literature is about today. There is still plenty of reason to see meaning in being alive, and trying to be good and to lead as meaningful a life as you possibly can.

“Although, in my book, the heroine, like Godot, is waiting, she tries to take responsibility for her own actions and tries not to depend on anyone else for here own happiness. Her life is up to her.”

The process of getting “Smoking Hopes” published took about five years. A top New York agent represented the novel for a while. “All sorts of interest,” Alexander says, “but nothing happened.” Alexander put the novel on a back burner, started another novel and commuted to New York six days a week, teaching at Hunter College, finishing her master’s degree, and working as a stripper in New York and then at Beamers in Stamford. She corrected her students’ papers in the dressing room and on the train.

“Dancing in a cabaret setting is one of the nicest things you can do, getting up there on stage with soft lights making you look lovely, dressed in the most attractive way, and just dancing to music,” she explains. “I never thought there was anything ugly about it.”

When Alexander married, a new life began. Dancing ended, she began her doctoral work, and decided to move “Smoking Hopes” into prime time, without an agent.

Three weeks after sending out a synopsis of the book, her bio and a photo, The Permanent Press picked up the book. Her life is changing now that “Smoking Hopes” is a reality. “It is very strange to have written alone for all these years and no one really reading it. Now, all of a sudden I have a public life and my work has a public life, and it’s kind of scary. It’s strange to share my work with other people. But, it’s thrilling.”

Victoria N. Alexander is just at the beginning of her career and raring to go. Her second novel is in the hands of an agent. She is on the move, and certainly very much worth watching. And, reading.

vnabackRevolt in Style

April 1996

by Brian Taraz

I’m a treasure hunter at heart. I pegged Stone Temple Pilots before anyone else. I was digging Jim Carroll a long time, and I know one day y’all will know about the World Entertainment War something for the future). for now though, I found Victoria N. Alexander and her first novel SMOKING HOPES. Found out through a friend of a friend. It’s nice to find, after much literary dis-amusement, something good to read and, more exciting yet, someone with so much promise for the years to come. A keeper. And what a keeper!

‘Kay. An attempted quick synopsis; Charlie Dean, heroine, has surgically built herself into the ultimate object of desire. After her lover Gottlieb left her for a whore named Lola, Charlie entered the world of illicit sexuality, to try to understand the dark appeal that stole her man. We find her in the world of Japanese Hostess bars in NYC. Events happen; she meets Hiro (Japanese Businessman-san), she crosses Hiro, she crosses the Pacific, she gets to Japan, she meets Sexy Death. (I was never a good synopsizer but I think this adequately does the task.)

HOPES are the name of a Japanese cigarette. And by the names Gottlieb and Hiro one quickly gets the sense that the writer is playing with her literature. It is quite clear that this is very much like the early work of a Saul Bellow or Martin Amis. It is a first novel that says; here is a writer with a powerful skill daring to flaunt in the popular forum.

Not making sense too much. Hold on. Interview snippet.

Revolt – so you had an idea about a story in this environment. Did you then actually go work in a Japanese Hostess bar?

VA – “I worked at two in New York and one in Tokyo. It wasn’t as if I was working there first and then thought ‘Oh, my life is interesting. I think I’ll write a book about it.’ Writing is an excuse to have adventures. I never told the Mama San what I was there to do, but, when I sat down with the customers, within 5 minutes, I’d tell them I was there because I was researching a book.”

R – Did that turn them on?

VA – “Well, they all volunteered to be in the book. They were all very enthusiastic. ‘Oh I can tell you, I can explain to you what the Japanese are like. Why we’re here, what we’re doing’ which wasn’t really what I was after. They thought I was going to define the relationship between Japanese with Americans or something like that. And they were quite willing to help me with that. They didn’t know that they were helping me, just not in the way in which they thought.”

There’s a definite Japanese flavor in the book. Even some tricky writing in a Japanese accent. Rike so. But it’s not about Japanese men. Or American hostess girls. It’s about men and how some of them see the process of “getting” a woman. A satire about men in hopes of getting the gal to want them. To get over. And it’s a satire about the women who cultivate hope.

It’s a very sexy book, but there’s not hardly any sex in it. It’s steeped with the eroticism of unfulfilled yearning. It’s about the jones of desire. And, to me anyway, it’s about the almost hopeless struggle for honest love. It would have been easy enough to have taken the context and setting and turned the story into standard American pulp. Alexander pumps through the pulp and plays with the literary pimpishness that so thoroughly permeates popular literature to, in a sense, exploit the prurient sensibility with the intent of raising the BIG questions which are normally the substance of great literature.

A book excerpt. Charlie’s accidentally been hauled into the audience of an off-broadway play:

“When my eyes adjust to the dim light, I read the back of the program with fascinated glee-because it’s so obnoxiously trite and yet so oracular, sound and staid. BAD GIRLS GO EVERYWHERE is the name of the play, intellectualized pornography. The ambitious playwright, who does not realize theories are deadly to art, contends that a preference for wanton women is quite natural. I myself had spent a great deal of time wondering about the undefinable connection between sexual desire and the forbidden, the lewd and shameful- the almost certain physical link between the gonads and the funky cerebral wrinkles in the naughty side streets of Greymatter, USA. With the mirth of a child who has just ‘discovered’ some elemental law of nature and rushed in among grown-ups mad with her wisdom. I’m overjoyed, as if the same thought, the same revelation were spontaneously germinating everywhere. Too bad the revelation should be found among such untalented players.”

I’ll admit it. Typing this out, having talked to the author today, I’m getting a little hot right now.

The book reads like you’re inside a sexual experience. You can feel the characters, the ideas, the environments. The Lower East side of New York is rich with the smells, sounds, details, the cultures, the vibrant displays of pointless aliveness among rubble. The hostess bar is alive with nuances, longing, motions and sequences of activity that can’t be just simply imagined. Later, as Dean crosses the ocean in a rickety, sad excuse for a floating casino the intricate yet spare details give passage to the reader as well. At times you can smell Charlie Dean. Know what I mean?

The crux of the matter is this. Alexander’s book won’t be out till May. And when it comes out it’ll be in hardback. And I remember once lamenting about the sea of books at Barnes and Noble in NYC, which makes me think how easy it would be for this little gem to get lost in the flood of hack publications. But the good part is, it’ll be easy to remember Alexander’s book; hers will be the one with the nude author photo on the back. This gal’s pretty friggin’ smart, not to mention beautiful to look at.

Maybe Alexander’s too smart. On the phone we talked about hope, about desire, love, God, etc. And one thing she said is just making sense now. Her favorite book is Lolita; Nabokov her favorite and most influential writer. And that’s how SMOKING HOPES feels; like Lolita writing with the mind of Nabokov. Is it innocent? Is it evil? My guess is that not so many women will be crazy about this first novel, but it’s almost like a sacrificial lamb to an industry that almost uncategorically demands of women either trite fantasy and gossip or else relegates great female writing talent to the narrow domain of women’s issues or lesbian tales.

Alexander’s got a great man’s mind filled with great male concerns. She’s also a hard body, stripper that teaches at the university level and has crticism published by the top literary journals. Underneath it all bubbles the furious energy which has been patiently disciplined and harnessed with the intent of unleashing on the print world an intellectual, erotic, female powerhouse author. This author intends to play hardball with the big boys and this is just her first pitch; fastball, straight down the middle.

A final thought:

In SMOKING HOPES you get the feeling that the author is watching you watch her do her writing dance. It seems she is narrating your experience much like Charlie Dean lives her first-person narrative reality with a third-person consciousness. Alexander slowly brings you in beyond the book, offering you an invitation to closeness. Perhaps her last words in our interview regarding the masochistic attraction of the strip and hostess bar tease that makes them so successful are applicable to understand why Alexander will be so big.

PIF Magazine Oct 1997

Winning the Washington Prize for Fiction for your first novel shows incredible talent, of which, admittedly, author Victoria Alexander possesses a lion?s share. She is a seemingly brash and witty woman, not entirely unlike Smoking Hopes? heroine, Charlie Dean, who worked part-time as a stripper and a ?hostess? to collect material for her first novel. In many ways, while reading Hopes you can?t help but wonder where the boundary between autobiography and fiction lies.

The heroine of this story is a bleached blonde bombshell who’s had more body work done on her than Michael Jackson. From the nose, “sculpted into a work of art, minuscule, dainty,” to the collagen injections, the enhanced cheekbones and chin, the initial breast enlargement, the ribs that were removed to give her a “Barbie waist,” the additional breast enlargement, then the follow-up ? and, whew! There is a point where art becomes abomination, though it is oftentimes mistaken for extreme beauty, a barely discernible difference. The point is, the physical structure of the character is in direct antithesis to the plotting, scheming, articulate, and self-aware creature that we find in Charlie Dean. And this, if nothing else, is where the beauty of the story lies.

Charlie is an intelligent woman; an intellectual who enjoys Eliot and Joyce. She spends the majority of her days dreaming of an old lover named Gottlieb, and works at night as a ?hostess? in the Club Kiki, a Japanese hostess bar where the Mama-san works behind the scenes to see that her customers are not offered more than just a beautiful woman to dance with. Hopes is a brand of Japanese cigarette, and the air at Club Kiki is filled with their smoke, and hope of another kind. Prostitution is not allowed by the Mama-san, and neither Charlie or her compatriots dare cross their employer. But the good life beckons. The Japanese customers offer many of the women gifts of jewelry, vacations, apartments on Central Park West. Money is a powerful aphrodisiac, and eventually Charlie succumbs.

His name is (how phonetically fitting) Hiro. He?s a very wealthy man with extensive business in the States who is only too happy to throw large, expensive gifts in Charlie?s direction. In one instance she is severely sunburned while sunbathing at a beach hotel she has accompanied Hiro to and, when he asks if there is anything he can get her, she tells him yes: A bottle of Aloe Vera and an emerald ring. He returns, dutifully, with both items, never a word said. Throughout the beginning of their ? well, courtship, she regales in telling herself tales about how Hiro pines away for her, ever penitent, ever patient. At one point she even admits that she loves the man, albeit in a financial way. She charges him $500 the first night she has sex with him.

Charlie is a woman caught between two elements: the customers?, then Hiro?s expectations of the physical person she has become, and the romantic aspirations of a little girl lost. Her soulful moments of introspection are rare, most deal with the superfluous daily goings-on of her life and trade, but when they do come ? when Charlie dreams and sees herself sitting in the rooms of her past, waiting for her lover, Gottlieb ? they are explosive. Alexander’s ability to weave the thread of Charlie?s explorations of love and hope leave your breathless at times. This book quivers with a sense of the unspoken, while at the same time resonating with the clatter of needless conversation; that chatter that people who have nothing to say, say to avoid the silence.

All in all, it?s a wonderful read, and I recommend the book highly to anyone who’s been looking for something a little different than that offered on Border?s Selection-of-the-Week shelf.

2003 Asian American Bookview
1998 The Whole Wired World (TW3) April 13
1997 P.I.F. October
1996 Skip Sheffield The News (Boca Raton) June 14
1996 Shannon Warmann Metrocrest News (Dallas) June 13
1996 Transpacific Magazine May
1996 Rose Sung Hunter Envoy May 7
2003 D Magazine: Front Burner Dallas, TX