There is just way too much Driving in Cars with Boys sluttiness in the actual book, but this review gets to something important:
Life is lived forward, but can only be understood backward, said Kierkegaard. To put it another way, midlife reckonings revise the events of the past to make the present comprehensible. But Dederer, refreshingly unwilling to impersonate a billiard ball, dismisses as “a bullshit narrative construct” the idea that a single event can change your life. She even ups the ante: Maybe that teenage sexual encroachment was, at some level, desired? There’s no way to know, but reversing the causal arrows lets her do some hard thinking about the erotics of violation stories and how much pleasure they’ve yielded, and still do, in her psyche. Indeed, female masochism is a gift that keeps giving in Dederer’s hands. She gets as much mileage from it as Philip Roth did from Newark.
Some of us prefer to cast ourselves as the victim of events, using stories of injuries and affronts to dodge tougher issues, including the deep, intransigent weirdness of simply being female. At some point I realized (epiphany!) that the promiscuities of Love and Trouble were rather heroic: a case of stomping down the temptation to tell an easier story and look pretty in the world’s eyes. Would that we all managed to stomp down such temptations.
I struggled with this almost 25 years ago when writing about lupus. I felt enormous pressure (internal? external?) to fit the Disease of the Week TV Movie mold, to be a plucky heroine who Learns Something — specifically, compassion.
That didn’t happen.
I wrote about loathing the whining women at the one and only lupus support group meeting I ever attended, and my revulsion for the people I encountered in a government disability office.
When, years later, my mother and grandmother were both dying at the same time, and I had to go back and forth to my hated hometown — which nearly obliterated my career, bank account, sobriety and already tenuous mental health — I had not, alas, been magically transformed by my own painful experience into Florence Nightingale. I remained Nurse Ratched.
Of course, if we all did, the world would go to hell, or so I’ve been told. Most of what I’ve been told all my life turned out to be crap. (Maybe that’s the point?)
Anyway, this review also made me think about some things I don’t feel like thinking about right now.