When we first meet Sara, she is standing before a judge, who gives her a choice of what kind of punishment she would like for her crime. Having fallen on hard times, she was caught trying to steal food--a rather benign infraction, and one more reminiscent of Jean Valjean than any sort of serious criminal act. The judge tells her that she can take the "typical" punishment of spending 90 days in jail, followed by paying a small fee; or, she may participate as a volunteer in a new form of "community service program," also for 90 days, and with no fee. Desperate and impulsive, Sara chooses the latter without asking for any details. Within moments, she is brought by car to a remote country club in the woods, where this erotic tale really begins.
Shortly after her arrival, inside her spare but comfortable room, Sara gains an inkling as to how this place expects her to offer her "community service": she must not only surrender all of her clothes, but also to constantly wear a unique chastity belt. When worn, a metal phallus remains inside of her, and prevents her from masturbating or getting off. Sara will only be able to get off when permitted to, a boundary which she is surprised to find that she enjoys. As readers are probably already aware, her 90 days of "service" are highly sexual and submissive; this remote estate, lead by the mysterious Scott, offers workshops for men to learn effective techniques to dominate women safely. Sara´s complete and total public nudity is just the beginning: as the book unfolds, she undergoes a series of escalating "training sessions", from spanking and flogging to oral and anal intercourse with multiple partners. While given a number of opportunities to leave and complete her sentence at the so-called "normal" correctional facility, Sara chooses to remain in this place where her previously dormant submissive side is being nurtured and celebrated.
As the title of Victoria Johnson´s erotic novella implies, each chapter of Diary of a Masochist is structured as a journal entry; also, Masochist is the last of the author´s "Kink Diaries", five stand-alone erotic novels each revolving around a different kink or fetish, and each written in the form of a diary. It´s a clever conceit, as the frame of journal allows readers to experience the story from Sara´s perspective as she travels deeper and deeper into this strange new world of sex and power. Sometimes, the convention of this device doesn´t make any sense--she begins her journal while in the car from the prison? and her "keepers" thoroughly take away all of her clothing, but fail to discover her pen and paper?--but those are minor quips. Overall, having each chapter unfold in this almost confessional manner provides a greater degree of intimacy with the protagonist, and readers will gain additional arousal as Sara´s thoughts and feelings evolve.
Some of the most satisfying moments in the book are when Sara questions D/s culture as a whole, particularly in connection with her own feminist beliefs. How can she reconcile finding sexual gratification over being spanked, with her belief in gender equality? Or being passed around as a sexual object by a handful of men during one of these sessions, with her own desire for agency and autonomy? I applaud Johnson for introducing these themes into the book, both in Sara´s journal and in some of her interactions with the other characters. I personally would have welcomed more of these complicated and rich sorts of conversations.
Soon, Sara discovers a mutual attraction with Dean, one of the "workshop leaders", and the pair slowly grow closer together. Diary of a Masochist is all about delayed gratification, and meanwhile she has a number of other activities to "volunteer" for. While there are some typos peppered throughout the book, Johnson definitely knows how to build the heat, creating scenes which are diverse, titillating, arousing, and highly charged in sexual kink. For readers that enjoy The Story of O or Laura Antoniou´s Marketplace series, Diary of a Masochist is one worth diving into.