Detailed Review

Because of the way Amazon promotes items, books especially, any review by a reader is a wonderful thing.  Reviews don’t even have to be long to count in Amazon’s algorithms.  But The “Volunteer” did recently receive a very detailed four star review that I would like to highlight here.  The review is by Silver Screen Videos, although he also, obviously, reviews books.  The interesting thing is that he makes a comparison to Allen Funt’s What Do You Say to a Naked Lady?, something I never even considered even though I remember the movie.

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Here is the complete review:

Back in 1970, Allen Funt, creator of the popular TV series “Candid Camera,” took his show to the big screen in a way that network censors would never have allowed. The result was “What Do You Say to a Naked Lady,” a film that featured average people in typical public situations (on an elevator or in a business office) being confronted by women (and occasionally men) in their birthday suits, all the while unaware that Funt was recording the entire encounter. Author D.H. Jonathan has taken that concept and updated it for the 21st century in “The Volunteer,” a book that’s far more of a musing on people’s attitudes towards public nudity than an exercise in eroticism.

The title character of “The Volunteer” is Danielle Keaton, a rather reserved college sophomore at a large (fictional) college somewhere near Palm Springs, CA. When she gets caught stealing another student’s work and submitting it for a term paper, she is given a choice: either face suspension, loss of scholarship, and humiliation for her transgression or agree to participate in a highly unconventional study that involves a different type of humiliation. A sociology professor and proponent of public nudism wants to conduct a study and needs the appropriate subject, a student willing to go around in public for an extended period of time without any clothes (supposedly the professor has determined that such exhibitionism is legal under California law). Danielle reluctantly agrees to participate in order to expunge her record and begins walking around campus and attending classes au naturel.

As you might guess, Danielle, soon dubbed “naked Dani,” becomes an instant sensation on campus and, with the aid of social media and the ever present cell phone cameras, word of her exploits spreads rapidly. The reactions of those who see her range from shock and surprise to amusement and excitement. And, as Dani finds herself the focus of large crowds whenever she walks around on campus, her predictable initial emotional reactions of fear and shame gradually give way to acceptance and other more surprising feelings.

Although “The Volunteer” is classified by Amazon as erotica, it’s far from the typical Amazon erotica. Instead of a series of rather graphic descriptions of sexual behavior, “The Volunteer” is an actual novel, with a storyline that examines the ramifications, both internal and external, of Dani’s actions. The book is written in the first person, and, although Dani describes her various nude body parts on a number of occasions, author Jonathan generally eschews four-letter-word graphic slang in favor of more clinical language. Make no mistake; “Volunteer” does contain some erotic material (Dani’s new world isn’t all work and no play), but Jonathan is more interested in describing Dani’s new life in general than fixating on the sexual aspects.

Indeed, “The Volunteer” is actually an example of the philosophy of nudism put to the test in a far more public forum. The author has apparently done some research on the subject and talks about Andrew Martinez, an actual campus activist from the early 1990’s who wound up doing just what the fictional Dani does here (he is supposedly the inspiration for the sociology professor behind Dani’s study). The conclusion the book reaches is that this type of activity, and the public acceptance of it, can be healthy and beneficial. Jonathan could have written the book as an extended essay and had it wind up in the philosophy or social science sections of bookstores, where it would likely have sold in the neighborhood of three copies. Instead, by presenting his arguments in a fictional forum, he can reach a much wider audience.

Judge solely on its literary value, as opposed to its erotic or philosophical content, “The Volunteer” is fairly entertaining. The author spent a good bit of time working out the details of the preparation involved in this type of study and how Dani’s sojoun might really progress, and some of the details, although fictional, are quite interesting (hint: she carries a bottle of spray-on sunscreen to deal with the California sun). Moreover, readers will identify with Dani as her thought processes throughout the book continually change and evolve, sometimes in unusual fashion. As might be expected, the supporting characters are a bit sketchy and the author gets a bit preachy at times, but he usually strikes the right notes, at least as far as keeping readers interested is concerned.

“The Volunteer” isn’t a book for everyone; it easily earns the literary equivalent of an R-rating. But for those for whom the subject matter isn’t an immediate turnoff (or who expect non-stop sex in every chapter), it is a breezy, entertaining read with a likable heroine who winds up and works her way through some highly unusual situations. Neither Dani nor the author has anything to hide here; “The Volunteer” lets it all hang out.

Thanks Silver Screen Videos!

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