Friday, January 28, 2011

Book Review: Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity, by Kerry Cohen

High on Sex, Low on Love: A Book Review of Loose Girl by Kerry Cohen

This book is basically the true story of a young woman who slept with quite a few random guys, without really giving two diddly-doos about what (or whom) she was doing or why. The title term "Loose Girl" provides a negative connotation for this behavior, and I guess the book could have been just as easily called "Slut" or some other provocative term. As a preliminary matter, then, I didn't really agree with the author's assumed notion that someone who has commitmentless sex is worthy of name-calling or necessarily lacking in self-esteem. To me there was really nothing new or shocking in the book and I think a lot of women (and men) have had experiences similar to those of the author. In fact I think people have done way worse (at one point she feels particularly worthless for doing it "doggy style" -- why doing the dirty in this position with a near-stranger is supposed to be any more slut-worthy than it is in regular ole missionary position was lost on me).

What made the story unique, though, and almost a little annoying sometimes, was the level of self-awareness and honesty with which the narrator told it. I think she only acquired this level of self-awareness after she had lived the story, perhaps while she was writing it, instead of having it all along, but that is something I wish would have been clarified more. I think the author (or her editor or whomever makes these important decisions nowadays) may have chosen to call it "Loose Girl" instead of some other derogatory name for "woman who has unattached sex" because she was in many senses floating around without a connection, without an anchor, just looking for something to hold onto. I wish she would have explored this metaphor more throughout the book, but, then again, there are only so many metaphors one can explore--no pun intended--when it comes to sex, and Kerry pretty much touches--no pun intended yet again--on all of them. To me, though, it didn't seem that the narrator was trying to fill her empty void with sex per se but instead with men. She wanted "boys" (as she calls them) to like her and think she's pretty and want to be in a realtionship with her. To me she was more of a relationship junkie or wanna-be junkie than a "slut."

Although I did have some issues with the book, it was a fast and gripping read for me, and definitely kept me interested. Kerry describes growing up in a well-to-do house with parents who were unable to connect with her or with anyone else for that matter. After her parents divorce when she is eleven, her self-absorbed and dramatic mother ends up going off to medical school in the Philipines, and she and her reserved and goth-like sister go to live with their emotionally distant father who exemplifies the empitomy of the term "boundary issues" and who is also just plain odd. Kerry doesn't have any role models or anyone to really connect to, so she turns to boys to fill her emptiness and to look for love.

I could really relate to how she hated that she needed other people so much. Again, I was wondering if she really knew this at the time or if a lot of it was reflection learned while looking back on everything. She seemed so self-aware throughout the book, to the point where at times the tone of her writing made her seem as distant and unsympathetic as the parents she hated. I can see how she learned a lot about herself looking back, and if I read the book in this vein, I liked it a lot more. But most of the time I just plowed through it--no pun intended--without analyzing it, because I liked the theme and the style.

I admired Kerry's straight-forward and honest telling of her story. It didn't seem like she held anything back and it in fact seemed like she was a bit disconnected from who she was or had been--which is something else I can relate to--so that she could tell her story as if she was talking about someone else. I could also relate to the way she wanted to be loved and accepted, without having the capacity to really love or accept someone back in the right way, therefore perpetuating her continuous cycle of bad relationships.

And that leads me to the next segment, which is, my disappointments about the book. As I mentioned at the beginning of my review, I don't necessarily like the notion this book seems to put out--no pun intended--there that there is something "wrong" with a girl who likes to have sex. I do get that Kerry thought, or now thinks, there was something wrong with her because of it, and I get that in her case she was searching to fill a void, and she felt she was too needy. Still, I thought she missed a lot of opportunities to stress her bigger issue, which was wanting an emotional connection, and that she down hard on herself in the places she did write about it, as if wanting to be emotionally close with someone you're physically close with is such a horribly wrong thing. I get that for her a lot of it was about wanting and not being able to connect to someone, like her parents. And I was totally aghast that she took absolutely no precautions to protect herself against things like rape, pregnancy or disease, even after many of these things happened to her or almost happened to her! To me that was the biggest sign of her lack of self-esteem and her totally out-of-controlness. I also get that she gave up a lot of other life pursuits because she was obsessed with "boys," and that for her it was like an addiction.

Still, I don't think she emphasized quite enough that her issue was actually with her desire to feel loved by someone else and to have boys like her--which is no different than a relationship addict or someone who stays in a bad relationship for the wrong reasons--and not really with the physical act of sex. She certainly seemed to get enjoyment out of sex in that she mentioned things like pleasure and orgasm, which to me (and hopefully to anyone?!) are good things, so I found myself thinking that her issue was far more emotional. Perhaps she heaped the emphasis on "sex" to glamorize the book and make it more trendy, when she was really just a girl wanting to be loved. I was more worried about her relationship problems--wanting a guy to love her, only to break his heart rather callously (yes, I can relate, sadly)--than about the fact that she liked the occasional or daily romp in the hay (don't we all?!). I guess her job wasn't to psychoanalyze all of this stuff, but, since she did do a lot more telling than showing (which was another one of my gripes with the book -- I kept wanting to scream "more scenes, please!"), and a lot of self-reflection which is another supposed no-no in memoir writing, I would have expected her to make these distinctions a bit more clearly.

I was disappointed with the ending (and this isn't really a spoiler if you read the author's brief bio on the back and realize she's married with kids now, and she's a therapist), not because I wanted some pat, cut and dry ending but because Kerry wrote that she loved her husband and was happy to be getting married and I just wasn't convinced. It made me sad for her because I felt like she was still searching for fulfillment outside of herself, except now she had resigned herself to settling down with one guy because she no longer wanted to be a "slut." She says that as a therapist now she doesn't believe people can change and she still deals with many of the same issues, but now she is just more self-aware. I really think that if she had spent more time single/alone, she would have continued her self-growth and perhaps changed for the better even more. Of course that's just my opinion, but her writing style about her husband was not convincing. There was little to no description, emotion or action that showed me why she loved him. And when she glossed over being a traditional bride all of a sudden and caring so much about invitation font and wedding dress styles, I wanted to scream at her, this isn't who you are either, you are fooling yourself. (Okay, maybe I was projecting after having fairly recently gone through the same wedding-planning-frenzy only to end up canceling my own wedding... so sue me.) It seemed to me that she wrote about her husband much the same way as she wrote about the other men she had been with -- disconnected, distant, blase -- and that made me sad because it was like nothing much had changed.

Other than those quibbles, I really enjoyed the book and it caused me to think a lot about the relationship between "promiscuity" and self-esteem, and other related issues such as the inability to truly love oneself or someone else. It's definitely a "sexy" topic (yeah, I said it) and I read in the author interview section at the end of the book that Kerry said she was surprised that no one else had written this book first, and I agree with her. I guess there are some others like it (the nonchalant tone reminded me somewhat of "Bare," that stripping memoir, which I didn't enjoy nearly as much as "Loose Girl") but this is a very candid expose which I'm sure it took guts to write and for which I admire the author. I give this book 3.5 stars and would recommend it to just about anyone, especially someone who has struggled to find love and fulfillment externally instead of internally. (By the way, I think other writers would enjoy reading this book because Kerry writes a lot about how writing changed her life and also about her experience in her MFA program.)

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Don't Save Yourself/ No Te Salve

It's been quite awhile since I've posted. Happy 2011. I have been reading and writing, and plan to post more often again. Here's a poem I find very inspiring and beautiful.

Don't Save Yourself
(Translated from the Spanish “No Te Salves”)

by Mario Benedetti

Don't stay motionless by the roadside,
don't freeze joy or love halfheartedly.
Don't save yourself
or ever.
Don't save yourself,
don't become
Don't keep only a still corner in this world,
don't let your eyelids droop heavy
like judgments.
Don't stay without lips,
don't sleep without dreams,
imagine you're bloodless
or judge yourself in haste.

But if
after all
you can't help it
and you freeze joy
and you love halfheartedly
and you save yourself,
become serene,
keep a still corner in the world
let your eyelids drop heavy as judgments
and stay without lips
and sleep without dreams,
imagine yourself bloodless,
judge yourself in haste and
stay motionless by the side of the road,

and you save yourself
don't stay with me.