Reviewed by Toni Bartlett
I recently nursed a suspicion that I might be one of those new-fangled ‘love addicts’—you know, one of those ladies (and gentlemen) who’ll do anything—anything—for love. But that was before reading Love Junkie by US writer Rachel Resnick. Her ‘leave no mattress unrumpled’ personal account of love and sex addiction—a titillating read, but in the most traumatic way—certainly cleared up that misconception. Me? Love addict? No way, man, that was romantic hypochondria; I’m a recreational dabbler, at best. Turns out I’m more of a Meatloaf—I would do anything for love, perhaps, but as the song goes, ‘I won’t do that.’
Ms Resnick, on the other hand—she’ll do that and then some. Let a guy jerk off in her car the fourth time she’s met him? Sure. Sleep with a Thai prostitute for her boyfriend’s gratification? Okay. Turn a blind eye while the same boyfriend has sex with her yoga instructor? Why not? Apparently, Resnick will show up for almost any degradation, desperate for approval from creatures so ‘ugly-on-the-inside’ they make ole Meatloaf look like George Clooney. Love Junkie details Resnick’s descent into sex and relationship hell—a rattling ride she willingly pursues with all the frantic intensity of a broken elevator. Watching the humiliations pile up as she charts her confusion of “sex with love… emotional pain with more love… rejection as an invitation to come back asking, sometimes begging, for more” (33) makes for compelling, disturbing, and often very sad reading.
In her quest for the dizzying ‘love-like-heroin’ high, self-abnegation is the asking price—and Resnick pays and pays. At the height of her habit, the poor author’s need for a fix is such that she’ll take the lowest quality gear in the hope of a hit, cut with the worst kind of cruelty and misogyny. Exhibit A—Spencer Wozniak. A steroidal, critical control freak—with his own marrow spoon—given to hideous rages, Spencer nicknames her ‘Tits’, destroys her computer (read: her livelihood) and forces her to drink turtle blood. Not just a black-belt in emotional abuse, Spencer is funny too! I mean, who can resist charming dinner-date banter like this:
“I’ve got a joke,” says Spencer. “What makes a strawberry milkshake?”
“When a man punches a woman in the mouth then comes on her face.”
I’m silent. “That’s not funny,” I say. But I don’t move. If I get up, if I tell him his joke’s warped and juvenile, that his humor disturbs me, he might leave. Please don’t leave me. I can’t take another one leaving. (174)
Oh Rachel, Rachel, Rachel.
Believe it or not, Spencer is not nearly the bottom of Ms Resnick’s suitor barrel. Equally appalling company is Exhibit B, Winchester Grandview Harrington (not the first): the ex-underwear model with an ego bigger than his… er… who, according to Resnick’s skewed logic, must love her ’cause he has unprotected sex with her—the height of intimacy!—even though he’s withholding in every other way. But the Really Bad Beau award goes easily to Exhibit C, Eddie Vaughan, her two year-steady: a man with so many red flags you have to wonder if Resnick is resolutely stupid (no, just very, very damaged). A convicted crim who did time for a smack-habit-inspired armed robbery, Eddie is the proud ex-employee of a paedophilic porn mag full of “Beautiful naked kids… until the Feds found it and stamped it out” (84). Not one to print without practicing, Eddie once impregnated, then abducted, a fourteen-year-old girl—a particularly frightening resume tidbit he coolly offers Resnick on their first date. How hot (not). But like a bunny mesmerised by the lights of a massive oncoming truck, Resnick is “powerless to resist this man” (75). And you thought your taste in men was bad.
Taking the reader on an appropriately skittish and non-linear tour of her fractured jigsaw world, Resnick attempts to make sense of the senselessness; and while the random puzzle pieces she invites us to examine are seldom pretty, her writing itself often is. (Well… there is a slightly embarrassing paragraph toward the end about an imagined field of phalluses, swaying beatifically in the breeze, but we’ll forgive her this slip; she is writing about heterosexual detox by this point—perhaps this was but a jittery side effect.) An evocative writer—at times too evocative—it takes a while to lose the stench of urine after a sex-(and-that’s-not-all)-soaked scene on page 102; what makes Resnick’s work particularly engaging is not only her illicit tale and the sometimes cringe-inducing honesty with which she tells it, but her insights into her own collusion and culpability. As you may have deduced already, Resnick behaves like a complete psycho/masochist for most of the memoir—what saves things is that, as a narrator at least, she knows it. Taking responsibility where others might have played the blame game (her parents certainly have a lot to answer for—she may have forgiven her father, but I haven’t), Resnick saves her most scathing criticisms for herself: the blameworthy engineer of her own worst nightmares. In a different writer’s hands, Love Junkie might have been little more than a pornographic whinge-fest. It’s pornographic alright, but rarely self-pitying. And its insights are, well… penetrating.
Fortunately—let us pray—Resnick’s bad love days are now behind her. After losing herself in so many bogus and detrimental dreams, wallpapered with “rose-colored rationalizations” (183), the writer does eventually haul her shattered psyche up the twelve steps to recovery—with the help of a Californian support group for those with troubles in the sex, love, romance and fantasy departments. And no, she doesn’t meet David Duchovny there.
Much better – she meets herself.