Let’s Not Just Talk About Sex

Image Credit: Periel Achenbrand
Image Credit: Periel Achenbrand

Remember when Hannah Horvath’s manuscript was rejected because no one cares about female friendship? Her editor told her that she should instead write a book called A Year on My Back featuring tales of bad sex with college kids. So that’s exactly what came to mind when I saw that Periel Aschenbrand had published a book called On My Knees. It’s pretty much the same title. And then Salon published a chapter of the book wherein the buxom young memoirist talks about wanting to screw that legendary bag of douche known as Phillip Roth. And, I was like, yay male fantasy? Now, I’m very pro-sex. In fact, I’m pro-promiscuous sex. So I’m completely in favor of women writing about their sexual adventures with as much detail and aplomb as generations of literary manwhores. But when I look at a shelf of recent female memoirs and every single one is about either sex, eating, or walking, I can’t help but wonder if women are allowed to write about anything that’s not a basic bodily function.

But then I actually read Aschenbrand’s book—in about two hours because it’s REALLY short—and I realized that it’s not just about sex. In fact, there’s almost no actual sex in this book—unless you count her unfortunate encounter with a hairy Canadian who ejaculates on her couch (i.e., the worst type of Canadian). The book’s title isn’t even a BJ reference. It’s the universe that brings her to her knees after she endures a particularly rough breakup. So this isn’t a tale of lusty conquest so much as an account of one woman getting her shit together—with the help of her emotionally-scarred friend and her pushy mother. Point being, this is basically a book about female relationships marketed as Tropic of Cancer. Point being, publishing is the worst.Although this memoir is structured around the two most significant romantic relationships in Aschenbrand’s life, it’s the connections with her mother and her best friend—incidentally named Hanna—that make this bauble worth reading. Aschenbrand and her mother are curious specimens who exhibit that rare maternal bonding ritual—seemingly only found in New York—where  women display their love by screaming at one another. I’m the product of a Protestant family in the Midwest, so I have no experience with this type of behavior, but it’s hilarious, oddly touching—and we’re introduced to their particular brand of nutso as mother and daughter argue about the definition of a rim job. I’m cool with all of that.

Although Ashenbrand’s best friend Hanna is only in a few chapters of the book, she’s the narrative quirk that makes the book more than one brash, pretty girl’s adventures being brash and pretty. Hanna is a neurotic, sensitive young thing who can’t understand why her virtual sex with strangers isn’t leading to a lifetime of happiness and shared assets. Aschenbrand, on the other hand, is the most confident woman you’ll ever read. Granted, she’s an attractive, funny, intelligent lady. But she actually says this…about herself…out loud. She’s like Kanye West in a thong. So, on the surface, these women couldn’t be more different. Yet, by sheer force of female self-destructiveness, they both end up in the same romantic pit—unable to climb out until each one sees her sorry self mirrored in the other’s haggard face. And this is why there should be more books about female friendship.

Now, this book isn’t without its issues. There’s some serious hipster privilege going on—especially in a chapter involving Hispanic women that made me profoundly uncomfortable. I don’t care if Aschenbrand grew up in Queens. She’s white, and there are certain things you don’t get to think or say. And the ending is also a tad too rom-com tidy for my taste. But at least the book highlights the fact that a relationship alone will not make you happy. Maybe for a few months, but then you’re going to run out of condoms and need to find something else to do. And, you know what’s the first thing you should probably do? Go call some lady friends.

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