Stephanie Zacharak reviews the novel "Footsucker" by Geoff Nicholson.

By Stephanie Zacharek

Published October 25, 1996 7:00PM (EDT)

British novelist Geoff Nicholson's "Footsucker" is your basic boy meets girl/boy loses girl/boy gets girl back kind of story, only this one involves young lovers who do naughty things with the shoes on display in department stores, a mild-mannered shoemaker who delights in making kinky custom creations out of materials ranging from snake skin to medical tubing, and a commercial photographer who ends up mysteriously murdered after shooting the pictures for a foot-cream campaign.

If it all sounds terribly contrived, it is: the appeal of "Footsucker" lies less in plot specifics than in the way its narrator -- we never learn his name -- tries so hard to convince us, with a cub scout's earnestness, that his proclivities aren't really so strange after all. Nicholson has vested his central character with understated wit: he's a decent citizen, he assures us, with a good, normal office job, who just happens to be turned on by certain kinds of feet and footwear (in the latter category, predictably enough, it's stilettos and ankle straps that usually do the trick; the turnoffs include "the clog, the trainer, the flip-flop, the Dr. Scholl exercise sandal"). The narrator doesn't waste much time loathing himself for his bizarre sexual preferences: he's much more interested in rooting out historical precedents for them, and you have to admit, he's got a point: "You know those old movies where they're in a nightclub and the men are wearing evening dress and they have tiny spiv-like moustaches, and they're with some good-time girls, and then one of the guys pulls a shoe off one of the girl's feet and drinks champagne out of it? Well, come on, what's that all about?"

But despite one final depraved plot twist, "Footsucker" isn't as weird and erotic as Nicholson obviously tried to make it, and its supposedly wicked black humor is so dry and understated, it ends up being weightless and ineffectual. Instead, Nicholson may have given us the first utterly winsome little novel about foot and shoe fetishism. It may not be enough to knock you off your Manolo Blahniks, but it might make you think twice about leaving the house in those flip-flops.

Stephanie Zacharek

Stephanie Zacharek is a senior writer for Salon Arts & Entertainment.

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