cover image Tongue First

Tongue First

Emily Jenkins. Holt McDougal, $14.95 (256pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-5701-0

""Adventures"" is not a misnomer: trying everything from sleep deprivation to sniffing heroin, Jenkins, a graduate student and author of a children's novel titled The Secret Life of Billy's Uncle Myron, serves as her own lab rat, all in the interest of exploring ""how the body is both a prison and a vehicle for adventure."" Can it be escaped, or at least briefly transcended? An unpretentious guide who doesn't indulge in fashionable bad-girl posturing or pat herself on the back for her daring, the author explores posh spas and grimy strip joints with sharp wit and a good dose of common sense. She tries to follow sex manuals, gets a tattoo, gets Rolfed, goes to a nude beach--she draws a line, however, at colonic irrigation. Strangely, Jenkins finds one of the simplest experiments--shaving her head--proves to be the most disturbing: it forces her to ""look down in shame when an acquaintance passes me on the street, to hesitate going to a party because I feel so ugly, to choose clothes that render me invisible."" While the book comes to no conclusions and settles on no single method of self-knowledge (""I am no convert, only a dabbler,"" the author admits), it closes with a wry--and characteristically ambiguous--vision of everyone's ultimate destiny at a Florida retirement community: ""the invisible scarring caused by the sun reminds me of its presence with a persistent itch. Here is a taste of the physical changes that will come with age. My tan is telling me the future."" (Aug.)