This memoir (ostensibly the true-life tale of a successful late-twenties attorney who bravely decides to throw away stability and acclaim in pursuit of a more true-to-herself life of sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll) basically had me at hello. I mean, who can resist this line:
I occasionally considered going back to work as a lawyer, but I had hated law school, it took several tries to pass the bar, I had worked for sadists, and the day I left that world was one of the happiest of my life. I detested the legal profession and it seemed the feeling was mutual. So there I sat, sliding into thirty, with an unused law degree, soon to be unemployed, and in a mildly geriatric marriage that had become as predictable as my morning oatmeal.
Regrettably, this paragraph appears on page 2. And it is pretty much a steep downhill train wreck from there.
Within just a few more pages, Dorfman Jones successfully establishes herself as the perhaps least sympathetic character in all of literature. And there is no coming back.
For one thing, she was never, as near as I can tell from the book, really an attorney. I mean, sure, technically, on some level, if you graduate from a law school, and eventually pass a bar exam, you are one. But she didn’t practice, or at the very least wasn’t practicing at any point in the story. At the time she “throws” it all away, she is the director of business development at some sinking ship “dot com,” which sounded like a total joke of a job. So having been sold the book on the foundational premise that this was a story about a stressed out, hardworking lawyer, I felt lied to. It wouldn’t be the last time.
Basically, there is nothing laudable or brave about what happened next. Long story short, Dorfman Jones has a mid-life crisis in her late twenties, and proceeds to ruin the lives of everyone around her. The story comes to us from her perspective, and what bothers me most is that there does not appear to be a single shred of sorrow or genuine remorse. She’s telling this story almost as if she is proud of what she has done (more cynically, I would add, almost as though she had aspirations of creating and getting the story published before she did any of the horrible things that follow).
She’s married, to a guy who by all accounts seems to be a sweet, loving, great guy, in no way deserving of what is about to happen to him. In fact, the only criticism she is able to articulate about him is that he really likes reading Confederacy of Dunces (which, I will grant you, isn’t necessarily for everyone; but it’s not something to destroy a poor guy’s life over).
Struggling for meaning (i.e. bored), she falls in uncontrollable lust with a high school dropout guitar salesman/amateur musician with what turns out to be less than impeccable hygiene and a not-to-shake-a-stick-at appetite for significant quantities of narcotics. Yummy! At least from where I was sitting, who this other guy was was pretty much irrelevant. She was basically a torrid affair waiting for a place to happen, from the outset.
Inexplicably, this “musician” guy turns her into a “sex maniac on the same order as the average fifteen-year-old boy” (p. 53) and it’s off to the races. But she wants to have her cake and eat it too, so in between sessions, she actually has him teach her how to play the guitar so she can go on to, yeah, never really get very good or perform anywhere. That she would supposedly go on to become a successful or recognized musician in any form or fashion quickly revealed itself to be big lie number two.
To make up for it, there is eventually a lot of sex (which isn’t as exciting as it would maybe seem). She describes everything that is going down in almost medical detail, and has very curious ideas about what constitutes cheating. The way I read it, she had cheated long before her technical definition kicked in, but who am I to judge?
There also ends up being a lot of drugs, which comes across more terrifying and kind of disgusting than it does glamorous in any way. I realize that criticizing these behaviors may make me seem somewhat of a stern, prudish square. It’s not the behavior, per se, but her attitude. Addictions and predilections are one thing; making a conscientious, circumspect decision to completely disregard the needs of someone you, at least at one time, loved enough to marry is quite another.
After I finished the book, I read some other reviews. They were all over the place, but many seemed to have a reaction similar to mine (her book appears #8 on a Goodreads list of “Books you wish you wouldn’t have wasted your time on” (full disclosure, also appearing on the list were Gone Girl, The Great Gatsby, Blood Meridian, and The Phantom Tollbooth (and, yeah, different strokes and whatever, but if you can read and not love The Phantom Tollbooth, you have no business reading))). On the whole, she appears to come across just about universally as a selfish, rationalizing, pampered, whiny, narcissistic skank.
Some reviews did praise her as a “really good” writer. Just purely on a writing level, I have certainly seen worse. But I feel a lot of these reviews mistake “big words” for good writing. Someone clearly had a thesaurus at the ready at some point during the writing/editing process, but the liberal use of polysyllabic verbiage does not, alone, a praiseworthy writer make. She also does that thing where she uses short, choppy, heavily punctuated sentences for emphasis. And not just sometimes. I’m talking like: All. The. Time. I have a hard time stomaching that particular device in less formal social media; in supposedly literary prose, I find it insufferable.
All that being said, I was entertained. And read it quickly. If it still has any appeal for you after my descriptions, then by all means, read on. I would relish any follow-up discussion or other opinions.