October 2008

Elizabeth Bachner

nonfiction

Love Junkie: A Memoir by Rachel Resnick

Reading Love Junkie is like going on a road trip with that wrong friend, the pretty bleached-blond tattoo girl who has an unhinged, crazy sort of energy. You can almost see the parts of her psyche peeling off and flying out onto the freeway. She gets crowded by men the way you used to when you were thirteen, before you learned to say “No.” If you spend enough time with her, if you drive through enough states and stay in enough cheap motels, you start to see yourself in her. It’s like drinking too much of something cheap and sweet, something that gives you a headache before Happy Hour is even over. Then, of course, there’s the other side of her. She’s compelling and funny. There’s a way she talks about these sick, wrong things -- her mother’s suicide, her abusive, rejecting father -- and gives them a twisted humor. She screeches with laughter until she cries, or vice-versa. Finally, you do too.

Love Junkie sounds like it’s going to be a juicy memoir about a wild ride through sex addiction. But it turns out to be a broader demonstration of how abusive childhoods can destroy people irrevocably. Even though, like every other misery-porn memoir, it has an ostensibly happy-ish ending filled with hard-won healing -- and even though the author’s friends will write reviews talking about how it “inspires hope” -- it’s actually just like that wrong friend. You eventually have to stop hanging out with her, because there’s something contagious about her missing boundaries, about her particular sickness. She’s stuck in a loop, and her memoir-writing, which probably masks itself as catharsis for her, is just more obsession and repetition. It starts to feel like this kind of exposure is one of the author’s symptoms, a way that the cleansing of shame turns in on itself.

Zeroing in on love and sex addiction as the problem raked in a splendid book deal for Rachel Resnick, but actually, that syndrome is barely a blip on the screen. The real problem is that Resnick’s alcoholic mother went nuts and lost custody of her children, then hanged herself, and that her father posted a personal ad for a foster family to come take her away, after his new wife accused him of being incestuous and banned the preteen girl from the house. Understandably, Resnick didn’t come out of that childhood unscathed. She gets involved with a series of repulsive, controlling, demeaning men and does things (like peeing on them or making out with teen prostitutes or drinking warm blood from a turtle’s slit throat) that make her feel sick. Finally, she discovers twelve-step programs for sex addicts, gets sexually involved with Catherine, a nice girl she meets in a meeting (um… isn’t this supposed to not happen at these meetings?), and gets back in touch with her brother and her dad. Catherine leaves her because she seems to be “addicted to misery.” It’s a terrible truth, all the harder to bear because (as a reader), it’s impossible to see how Resnick could ever possibly spring herself.

Rachel Resnick writes about all of this with raw honesty, although, since names and details are changed to protect everyone’s privacy, only the particulars of the abuse are true. It’s hard to read, and hard to put down. There may be a dark value to this literary nakedness, but it’s not actually healing, at all. In fact, for people working through abuse -- for that wrong friend you wished you could help -- this genre is probably more triggering than anything else, an incitement to plunge back into the stew of childhood fear and shame, to relive it again and again. Writers like Elfriede Jelinek and Michelle Tea probe how and why ordinary, middle-class people destroy their children and create twisted, perverse little worlds of rape, violation and misery in their own safe homes. In contrast, works like Love Junkie, and the other lucrative misery memoirs that are sweeping the bestseller lists, don’t really get at why. They’re purely, compulsively confessional. And it may be that the burning need to tell these stories, or to read them, is less part of the solution than part of the problem.

Love Junkie: A Memoir by Rachel Resnick
Bloomsbury
ISBN: 1596914947
256 Pages