Writer. Has worked as a performance and recording artist. Record albums include No More Mr. Nice Girl, c. 1994, and Love Is a Dog from Hell, Mouth Almighty Records, c. 1997. Also worked as a maid at a Holiday Inn motel. Appeared on the Music Television (MTV) series Spoken Word.
Diary of an Emotional Idiot (novel), Harmony Books (New York, NY), 1997.
Soft Maniacs (stories), Simon & Schuster (New York, NY), 1999.
The Love Dance of the Mechanical Animals: Confessions, Highly Subjective Journalism, Old Rants, and New Stories (essays and stories), Three Rivers Press (New York, NY), 2003.
(Editor, with Jason Starr) Bloodlines: A Horse Racing Anthology, Vintage Books (New York, NY), 2006.
"RUBY MURPHY" MYSTERIES
Hex, Three Rivers Press (New York, NY), 2003.
Gargantuan, Three Rivers Press (New York, NY), 2004.
Flamethrower, Three Rivers Press (New York, NY), 2006.
Contributor to magazines and newspapers in the United States and Germany, including Village Voice, Spin, Shout, and Harper's Bazaar. Some writings have been published in Italy and Germany.
Performance artist Maggie Estep has extended her opportunities for self-expression into the genres of sound recording and fiction. She has appeared on the MTV series Spoken Word, and released the albums No More Mr. Nice Girl and Love Is a Dog from Hell. In her first novel, the semi-autobiographical Diary of an Emotional Idiot, readers meet protagonist Zoe as she lies in wait for her ex-boyfriend—whom she calls "Satan"—in his closet. She intends to tie him up with a bicycle chain and force him to perform degrading acts, but while Zoe waits for the right moment, she tells the story of her life. Details include her two main present means of earning a living—writing pornographic novels and serving as a receptionist for an agency offering dominatrix services—and incidents from her past. The latter range from her well-traveled childhood with her promiscuous father, to cleaning out her dealer's cat's litter box for free drugs, to whiling away her time in a rehabilitation facility by having sex on the bathroom floor. Zoe also describes her history with "Satan," who apparently broke up with her the day after her father was buried.
Diary of an Emotional Idiot has brought Estep accolades from critics. Though Meg Cohen Ragas, on the Salon.com Web site, labeled the book "yet another tale of love gone wrong too many times," she noted that it "is saved by its fierce irreverence, razor-sharp humor and the simple fact that it doesn't take itself too seriously." Sybil Steinberg, in Publishers Weekly, praised Diary of an Emotional Idiot as "a clever and cynical take on a young woman's life on the edge of urban society." Kevin Grandfield, writing in Booklist, responded favorably to the novel as well, concluding that "Zoe's story reminds the reader just how magical and random every person's journey is."
To a great extent, Estep's second album, 1997's Love Is a Dog from Hell, shares some similarities with Diary of an Emotional Idiot. One track on Love Is a Dog from Hell is labeled "I'm an Emotional Idiot," and in a commentary offered on the Mouth Almighty Records Web site, Estep explained her feelings about various parts of the album. She stated that the first track, "Master of Lunacy" is "also sort of a plot synopsis of my novel." Of the next, "I'm an Emotional Idiot," Estep revealed that a friend told her "it ought to be the theme song for borderline personality disorder. He's right." Another piece, "Scab Maids on Speed," is actually excerpted from Diary of an Emotional Idiot, and stems from Estep's experiences working as a maid at a Holiday Inn. Noting its relation to her novel, she urged her audience to "rush out and buy" the book, "so that my future as an old cantankerous novelist is assured." Yet another track on the album is called "Stalk Me"; of this effort Estep commented: "My friend Jenny is really worried that people are going to follow me around and send me dead animal parts and doll heads as a result of this song but please, if you feel inclined to send me dead animal parts, think it through."
The short story collection Soft Maniacs introduces a new cast of characters living at the margins of the mainstream, nearly lost but not entirely without hope. These include Katie, the daughter of a circus lion tamer, and Jody, the lion tamer's ex-lover. In the story "Horses," Katie has left the circus and moved to New York City, where she works at assorted menial jobs and occupies her free time with photography. Jody is a well-off New York City psychotherapist whose idle time is filled with sexual entertainments. The lives of these women connect only through their relationships with others, particularly the men who impart a male voice to the stories, a perspective that more than one critic found worthy of note. A Publishers Weekly contributor commented on Estep's "fascinating though sometimes disconcerting decision to track her female protagonists … [through] the men in their lives."
In Booklist, Michele Leber wondered about the relationship between this "male point of view" and the sexual obsession that the stories seem to reveal in the female characters. In "The Patient" Jody's lover Rob discovers the therapist having sex with a female patient called Crone, and it is Rob's voice that describes the resulting menage a trois with disgust. The affair ends badly for Rob, but perhaps worse for Crone, as a later story reveals. The story "Teeth" describes Jody's seduction of a male patient named Jack, following his revelation of a previous, unpleasant experience with an intern who turned out to be a sexual predator. Sexual indulgence is a consistent theme in Soft Maniacs, which, a Publishers Weekly contributor warned, is "not a book for the timid." As in earlier writings, Estep does not shy away from graphic depictions of unconventional and varied expressions of sexual desire.
The four primary characters of Soft Maniacs appear throughout the volume in various combinations. In "Monkeys" Jack has developed a relationship with Katie and discarded his work as a scam artist in favor of an honest job. In "One of Us" Jody has married and wants to adopt the child of Crone, an unfortunate result of the earlier threesome involving Rob.
Sex, "often dark and violent," plays a dominant role in most of these stories as a manifestation of despair, suggested Patricia Gulian in a Library Journal review. The exception is "Circus," the story of a young man's lifelong search for someone who will remember his name. It is a story in which Gulian discovered "a gentleness and strength unseen elsewhere." In fact, various reviewers observed redeeming qualities in the characters as they emerge from the sordid circumstances in which the reader first encountered them: Jack, for instance, who finds honest work, and Jody, who reaches out to the illegitimate daughter of Crone and Rob.
Some critics remarked that fans of Estep's earlier work may welcome Soft Maniacs, while others might be disappointed in the preponderance of superficial sex scenes and the apparently aimless lives of the characters. On the other hand, a Publishers Weekly contributor called the collection "wonderfully intense," noting that even the most disturbing characters achieve "a hard-won state of grace."
In The Love Dance of the Mechanical Animals: Confessions, Highly Subjective Journalism, Old Rants, and New Stories, the author presents both journalistic essays and collections of her spoken performance pieces. The journalist essays range from stories about apartment hunting Brooklyn to tales of bikers. The author also includes portraits of notable performers, such as Iggy Pop, and racing notables such as the jockey Chris Antley. Commenting on a story about horse racing, a Publishers Weekly contributor noted: "This is Estep at her best, as her words rush to meet the minimalist and episodic speed of the race."
Estep turns to mystery writing with her book Hex. The plot revolves around Ruby Murphy, a recovering alcoholic and animal lover who works at Coney Island Museum and meets a mysterious woman who asks her to spy on her boyfriend, Frank, who the woman believes is cheating on her and also possibly killing race horses. When Ruby gets a job working as a stable hand at Belmont Park, she begins to investigate the murder of a female apprentice jockey who was infatuated with Frank, which leads to threats on her own life. Marilyn Stasio, writing in the New York Times Book Review, noted: "Although she [Ruby] shares the narrative with several of her bizarre friends and neighbors, Ruby is such a ravishing original that it's love at first sight." In a review in Booklist, Dennis Dodge noted that "the infectiously likable Ruby makes … a great companion." A Publishers Weekly contributor commented that the author "knows horses and aptly describes the folks who build their lives around them."
Ruby returns in Gargantuan, this time becoming involved with a jockey somebody is trying to kill. As a result, Ruby asks her friend Sal to help protect him. Francine Fialkoff, writing in the Library Journal, noted that this sequel has "a stronger plot" than Hex and that readers will enjoy "the truly original Ruby." New York Times Book Review contributor Marilyn Stasio wrote that the author "can get into just about anyone's head, including the horses who are such strong, individualized characters."
In Flamethrower, Ruby finds herself looking for the kidnapped husband of her psychiatrist, after walking into the psychiatrist's office and discovering the missing husband's severed leg in an aquarium. Ruby eventually tracks down the husband, but her doctor winds up missing as well, along with a groom that the psychiatrist was attracted to and who worked at the stables where Ruby helps out part time. A Kirkus Reviews contributor noted that "Ruby's loopy, laconic brand of inconsequence makes her something of a distaff Kinky Friedman." A Publishers Weekly reviewer commented that the author's "wry observations, razorsharp wit and deliciously vivid characters will keep readers turning the pages." Marilyn Stasio wrote in the New York Times Book Review, that "there's lunatic fun to be had in the offbeat adventures" of Ruby.
Estep is also coeditor with Jason Starr of Bloodlines: A Horse Racing Anthology. The book includes twenty works of fiction and nonfiction focusing on horse racing, from gambling stories to a history of the Kentucky Derby. "The literature of horse racing is the richest in all of sport," wrote Dennis Dodge in a review of Bloodlines in Booklist.
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, March 1, 1997, Kevin Grandfield, review of Diary of an Emotional Idiot, pp. 1109-1110; August, 1999, Michele Leber, review of Soft Maniacs, p. 2022; March 1, 2003, Dennis Dodge, review of Hex, p. 1148; September 1, 2006, Dennis Dodge, review of Bloodlines: A Horse Racing Anthology, p. 43.
Entertainment Weekly, April 11, 1997, Margot Mifflin, review of Diary of an Emotional Idiot, p. 81.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2003, review of Hex, p. 186; July 15, 2006, review of Flamethrower, p. 704.
Library Journal, April 15, 1997, Editha Ann Wilberton, review of Diary of an Emotional Idiot, p. 117; July, 1999, Patricia Gulian, review of Soft Maniacs, p. 138; April 15, 2003, Francine Fialkoff, review of Hex, p. 130; July, 2004, Francine Fialkoff, review of Gargantuan, p. 64.
New York Times Book Review, March 23, 2003, Marilyn Stasio, "Crime," includes review of Hex; August 8, 2004, Marilyn Stasio, "Crime," includes review of Gargantuan; October 8, 2006, Marilyn Stasio, "Crime," includes review of Flamethrower.
Publishers Weekly, February 10, 1997, Sybil Steinberg, review of Diary of an Emotional Idiot, p. 68; July 19, 1999, review of Soft Maniacs, p. 182; February 10, 2003, review of Hex, p. 166; July 28, 2003, review of The Love Dance of the Mechanical Animals: Confessions, Highly Subjective Journalism, Old Rants, and New Stories, p. 91; July 24, 2006, review of Flamethrower, p. 40.
Maggie Estep Home Page,http://www.maggieestep.com (March 7, 2007).
Mouth Almighty Records,http://www.mouthalmighty.com/ (March 27, 2007).
Salon.com,http://www.salonmagazine.com/ (March 27, 2007), Meg Cohen Ragas, review of Diary of an Emotional Idiot.