By Nicole Fuscia | Books | February 15, 2010 |
By Nicole Fuscia | Books | February 15, 2010 |
One of my favorite memoirs is Koren Zailkas’s Smashed. If you haven’t read it, you should. It’s a moving, sincere, and honest look at a young girl’s battle with alcoholism. My love of that memoir led me to purchase Loose Girl. Kerry Cohen’s account of a lonely girl who becomes a sex addict is troubling and unflinching, and in my opinion, unlikable.
Cohen’s tale begins with the sad story of a young girl just searching for approval and love; she wants a boyfriend but thinks that sex is the only way to attain this Holy Grail. As we know now, looking back as grownups, this is not true, but in Cohen’s mixed-up adolescent mind the two are one and the same and so she pursues boys, then men, relentlessly, giving hand jobs, blowjobs, and eventually her virginity in her quest to find the person who will fill the void in her soul left by loneliness. Lost in the shuffle of her parents’ divorce - her mother goes off to medical school in the Philippines while her father moves to an apartment where he keeps drugs and a gun, and offers no supervision or boundaries because he’s too cool for that - Cohen is a North Jersey rich kid who parties in New York and at other wealthy kids’ houses on school nights and weekends. Equally lost is Cohen’s sister Tyler, living in her own world separate from Cohen and their father but still clinging to their mother, trying desperately to be the latter’s confidante and favorite. Cohen never feels that she belongs anywhere, but in the brief sexual interludes in which she engages over and over and over again, she sometimes finds momentary fulfillment. However, far too often, the opposite is true, and this drives her deeper into a hole of despair, confusion, and self-loathing.
As her tale progresses through high school and college, Cohen racks up the numbers (in her foreword Cohen admits to at least 40 sexual partners, not including those with whom she did not have intercourse) and searches for that one man who will love her, understand her, give her worth, but all she finds is an ever-increasing need. Finally, in college, there is one boy, Eli, with whom she begins an actual relationship. However, something in Cohen, that need, works against her - “Where before I felt tentative with Eli, I’m now fervent. I cling to him like a lifeline…I’ve allowed every other valuable thing to pass through my fingers.” Of course, when the relationship goes south, as college relationships are wont to do, Cohen again turns blame on herself. “I haven’t learned yet that people bring their baggage along and then dump it over their partner’s head.” Eventually it ends, and Cohen goes back to a string of men, any who will have her. Her next boyfriend, Leif, gives her crabs and she finds out that she’s picked up HPV along the way. She has her first HIV test. All the while, she’s finding her voice as a writer, taking classes and attending workshops, but still unable to validate herself in any way unrelated to sex and love. At one point, in a session with a campus therapist, she admits, “I’m sick of spending all my energy trying to get loved.”
Cohen moves to Arizona from Massachusetts after college to pursue a master’s, but continues to sleep around. At this point I just wanted the book over with and considered skipping to the end; I wanted to take a damn shower and quite possibly scrub the book with a Brillo pad while wearing latex gloves. From Arizona, Cohen heads to Portland, Oregon, fucking her way along. I’m sorry, but there’s no kinder way to put it. My God, this girl had so much NEED. More, more, more. More men, more attention, more momentary false intimacy. “Need and sex have always been confused for me.” She graduates with her MFA, teaches, and writes, and still the “parade of boys continues.” This is when I thought, OK, enough, Nicole. Just walk away. But I never walk away from a book. Unless it’s Anna Karenina.
Even while Cohen is in therapy, realizing that she has a serious issue, she’s trying to sleep with a married fellow attendee at a writers’ retreat in Vermont. Jeezy Creezy. Eventually, she finally stops. Do you know why? She gets bored. She declares a moratorium on her vagina, in her own words. She realizes the futility of it all. She meets a nice man who she doesn’t want to fuck on the first date, and she marries him. She almost lapses shortly after her wedding but overcomes the moment of weakness. The end.
Part of me thinks that Cohen is still searching for approval and acceptance, only now it’s through her writing. The latter half of the book just rubbed me the wrong way; it was so very “Look at me! Listen to me! Absorb my stories and feel my hurts!” Maybe I’m a bitch; maybe I just don’t get it. I don’t recommend this book unless you want your brain pummeled with a boxing glove studded with rusty anvils.
Nicole Fuscia is a book critic for Pajiba and the director of the Cannonball Read. She lives in Philadelphia, where she spends her days staring at spreadsheets and her nights reading at least two books at a time.