by Rachel Resnick
Bloomsbury USA, 2008
Review by Christian Perring on Aug 25th 2009
Rachel Resnick has a history of bad relationships with men. She identifies a pattern. First, she finds a man who is bound to be a poor candidate for a partner and they date: when it starts it is ecstatic, but it does not take long for arguments to start. She clings to the relationship long after it should have ended, and lets him treat her very badly. Her memoir opens as many other addiction memoirs do, with an event revealing how things can get. This one is from 2006 when her estranged partner Spencer broke into her apartment and poured water into her computer to ruin all the work she has been doing. Then, following the standard form of the addiction memoir, she goes back to her childhood to trace how the craziness started. We go to 1974 when she was a girl living with her younger brother and her deeply troubled mother. Her mother could not sustain a relationship with a man, and kept on hooking up with losers in the hope that they would treat her right. But her mother had terrible judgment, and just got involved with men who used her or who were paranoid and violent. Eventually her mother lost custody of her children, and not long after that, she killed herself.
Most of the book is devoted to telling the story of her unhappy self-destructive relationships intercut with flashbacks to her miserable childhood, connecting the two. Near the end of the book, she briefly describes how she started going to self help groups and then twelve step plans for love and sex addiction, reconnected with her brother and father, and made a better life for herself in her mid-forties.
Other readers of the book seem to find her story moving and compelling. Many other reviews highlight how Resnick has enormous honesty in baring her soul and revealing some of the messed up things she has done. A review by Elizabeth Bachner in Bookslut mentions that the book is hard to read and hard to put down. So maybe my reaction was unusual, but I found the book impossible to read from start to finish. After struggling with the first hundred pages, I gave up and skipped around the book, starting at the end and dipping in at various points. It's partly the writing: there's too much detail, and reading the book feels like being stuck in a corner at a party with a stranger telling you way too much about their personal life. The sentences are short and are full of dialog, yet the words never flow. The narrative skips from one time period to another frequently, sometimes several times within a few pages. The text has a staccato rhythm that jars and makes the reading difficult. The scrutiny of pain and bad decisions goes on and on. The story of recovery is given short shrift; it would have been interesting to get more perspective on the value of the twelve-step process to Resnick, especially as she worked through the steps and made amends to those she had hurt along the way, if that was part of the process. It would also be informative to know how much of a struggle Resnick finds it to avoid returning to her old ways of seeking inappropriate people to love and hook up with, and to what extent she feels that she has put that part of her life behind her.
For people wondering whether the label of addiction is appropriate when applied to people who have a great deal of random sex and get into many bad relationships, Resnick's memoir gives the impression that the fundamental cause of her problems was her experience as a child. She had bad role models and she learned to seek for affection from boys and men as a way to get a sense of her own worth. She also learned to make bad choices. It is also entirely possible that she was genetically predisposed to emotional problems given her family history. So to label her problem as "love and sex addiction" would be reductionist and simplistic. Despite the "love junkie" title of the memoir, this is not a theme that Resnick herself presses; one of the virtues of her investigation of her past is that it does give a sense of the complexity of her family history, in a strong American Jewish cultural context, and it is clear that it all contributes to the creation of her life story. Singling out particular causes of her problems and suggesting that any particular event or treatment cured her of her problems would be obviously ridiculous. Addiction here appears more as a compelling metaphor than a literal truth. The rules that Resnick follows as a way to get herself to break out of her old behaviors are quite simple, and they seem effective: no contact with Spencer her crazy ex-boyfriend, no sex, no "intriguing," no contact with men who trigger, minimum one recovery group meeting per week, no conversations with men over one minute. She also finds herself a sponsor. She finds that meetings with other "love junkies" is useful and she thanks the people she has met in twelve-step rooms for inspiring her.
So despite the challenges this memoir presents to some readers, it is still a valuable resource in thinking about people who get into a series of destructive relationships. I'd recommend that potential readers browse through a few pages first though in order to see how well Resnick's writing style suits them.
Link: Author website
© 2009 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.