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Margo's got troubles aplenty in "Margo's Got Money Troubles," a plucky, amusing, somewhat dirty, distinctly un-erotic novel by Rufi Thorpe.

She's 19. She has a baby whose father, her English professor, makes her sign a nondisclosure agreement. Two of her three roommates flee, leaving her in the lurch. Her father, a drug-addicted professional wrestling celebrity, moves in. She loses her waitressing job after missing too many hours. And her mother, a poker-addicted one-time Hooters waitress, is marrying a prim pastor, requiring much dissembling from both mother and daughter.

So you might say that money is the least of her troubles. And you'd be right. It's that baby, of course!

As Margo says, "I didn't understand how not set up the world is for women to have babies. The whole childcare system is unworkable. Like, it ruins your life." But not if you have money. Which is where the real troubles begin. Because Margo's solution is to set up an OnlyFans account and post "pictures of her boobs on the internet," as she so frankly puts it.

This is also where the fun begins, as Thorpe, via Margo, steers us through the mechanics and social politics of online sex work, with detours to Instagram and TikTok, now-nearly-historical references like camgirls, and a slew of WWE and RPG names and memes. Needless to say, complications ensue, as Margo's online antics crash into her IRL world.

Beginning with the baby, "Bodhi, like bodhisattva," the novel quickly tracks back to the circumstances of his conception, which (remember, English professor) give Thorpe an opening to go meta with her literary performance.

The class that Bodhi's father teaches delves into unreliable narrators and first- and third-person points of view, lessons Margo has taken to heart, presenting herself by turns as the storyteller and the storyteller's subject, falling back on third person — ostensibly when the scene is too raw (though this comes to seem a bit arbitrary).

But this occasional focus on technique also dovetails with the novel's underlying theme, about what performance has to do with our place in the world, from the lofty heights of art to sex work online or wildly staged professional wrestling.

Of wrestling, Margo's father says, "It's a bunch of boys from the middle of nowhere, you know, kind of screaming, 'Look at me! Love me! Look at the insane and beautiful things I can do with my body!'" And how different is that from what Margo does? Or what Thorpe is doing? "Because that's all art is, in the end," Margo tells us. "One person trying to get another person they have never met to fall in love with them."

Margo's Got Money Troubles
Margo's Got Money Troubles

Where simulated sex with a vacuum cleaner falls on the vast spectrum of art, it's hard to say — but it's also hard not to love Margo, the character, who's smart, resourceful, goofy and kind, gamely conducting us through what is finally an entertaining plot full of quirky characters, surprising twists, and good old-fashioned suspense (What's to become of baby Bodhi?!).

Give that woman, and her clever author, whatever constitutes a round of applause in this make-believe world.

Ellen Akins is a Wisconsin-based writer and teacher.

Margo's Got Money Troubles

By: Rufi Thorpe.

Publisher: William Morrow, 304 pages, $28.