Saturday, June 2, 2012

Love Sick, by Sue William Silverman

We are quick to label, to diagnose. What to make of this? I often think that if I had a particular struggle, it would be reaffirming to be able to give it a name. On the other hand, why must every detour off the path of "normal" behavior be pathologized? This question has long been on my mind, and is one of the reasons I shook my head when I first heard the term sexual addiction. A convenient excuse for philandering husbands, I smirked. Then I saw that one of my favorite memoirists, Sue William Silverman, had penned a book chronicling her sexual addiction, and I wasn't sure what to think. Well, that's not exactly true. Silverman's memoir "Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You" riveted me. And I love, love, love Silverman's guide to aspiring memoirists, "Fearless Confessions: A Writer's Guide to Memoir." Bottom line? I trusted Silverman. I realized I'd jumped to judgment without understanding what sexual addiction's about.

"Love Sick" had much to teach me.

Writing memoir sounds easy, but it isn't. It's devilishly difficult to craft a cohesive narrative out life's stories. Writing a sexual addiction memoir has got to be the most difficult thing of all. As I expected, Silverman handled this delicate subject deftly. She flashed back on just enough of her background to inform her addiction, and she did this in an even-handed way, not blaming, but explaining. The scenes that show the author with men paint a picture of her yearning without giving too much detail. This feels just right. In general, scene-driven parts of an addiction/recovery story are fun to read and easy to get on the page. In Silverman's case, though, more detail would have distracted from the arc of her story. And what's tough to portray vividly in an addiction memoir are the inner shifts, those invisible yet monumental moments when a person comes up against her demon. Sometimes the demon's the victor, but ultimately healing occurs. It's these rearrangements of the self, by definition tectonic and colossal, that are the carrot in recovery memoir and Silverman's tight, lyric prose conveys this inner-journey.

The word "unflinching" appears so frequently in reviews and blurbs, it has become cliched with overuse. That's a shame. Perhaps there should be a dictionary of terms for reviewers. And if there was, under the term "unflinching" the first listing would be Silverman's "Love Sick."

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