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Desire: Where Sex Meets Addictionby Susan Cheever
Synopses & Reviews
We've all felt the giddy flutter of excitement when our new lover walks into the room. Waited by the phone, changed our plans...But are we in love, or is there something darker at work? In Desire: Where Sex Meets Addiction, Susan Cheever explores the shifting boundaries between the feelings of passion and addiction, desire and need, and she raises provocative and important questions about who we love and why.
Elegantly written and thoughtfully composed, Cheever's book combines unsparing and intimate memoir, interviews and stories, hard science and psychology to explore the difference between falling in love and falling prey to an addiction. Part one defines what addiction is and how it works — the obsession, the betrayals, the broken promises to oneself and others. Part two explores the possible causes of addiction — is it nature or nurture, a permanent condition or a temporary derangement? Part three considers what we can do about it, including a provocative suggestion about how we describe and treat addiction, and a look at the importance of community and storytelling.
In the end, there are no easy answers. "A straight look about some crooked feelings," Desire shows us the difference between the addiction that cripples our emotions, and healthy, empowering love that enhances our lives.
"'We are a nation of puritanical love junkies,' proclaims Cheever (My Name Is Bill) in her inquiry into the growing scientific and psychological evidence that suggests a chemical basis for sex addiction. Drawing on a hodge-podge of addiction literature, neurobiological studies and her more informal (but most persuasive) role as a seasoned battler of her own obsessions, Cheever believes that American idealism taints our expectations of relationships: 'In our world, addiction to other people... is the only addiction that is applauded and embraced.... ' But for Cheever, a lover's destructive behavior can be just as traumatizing as that of an alcoholic, a bulimic or a compulsive gambler. Cheever is best when writing personally; her candid memories of emotionally abusive parents, repeated adultery and consuming love drive an otherwise meandering text. Her cultural subjects are titillating enough and range from the voyeurism of To Catch a Predator to speculation that Bill Wilson, founder of Alcoholics Anonymous, struggled to hide a sex addiction. But the reader strains to connect slim narrative threads of this unstructured meditation on obsession." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
For a book about an activity most of us consider pleasurable, this is a remarkably grinding read. Susan Cheever first attracted attention with a memoir in which she revealed that her famous father, the author John Cheever, was bisexual. She got the idea for "Desire" while researching her biography of Alcoholics Anonymous founder Bill Wilson; once Wilson had his alcoholism under control, apparently,... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) he turned to sex. Cheever sets out to prove that there's a difference between being a sex addict and just liking a lot of sex, but after 172 pages she has neither defined addiction nor clinched the argument. Or rather, she has defined, asked, argued and sort-of clinched over and over again. She tells the story of her long affair with a journalist — the book begins with their marriage, which occurred some 17 years and many betrayals after they met — and she alludes to a lifetime of promiscuity but provides very little insight or detail. So what do we get? Not an engrossing tell-all. But also, nothing deeper. Not the musings on the cultural meaning of sickness we discovered in Susan Sontag's "Illness As Metaphor" or the illuminations found in the addiction memoirs of other, more self-aware authors. Not a self-help book, despite the sections titled "what is it?" "what causes it?" and "what can we do about it?" Just a compilation — well-written though never vivid — of various people's theories about addiction, interspersed with Cheever's own musings. She doesn't seem to favor one particular theory over another, citing authors as different as surgeon-author Sherwin Nuland, writer bell hooks, evolutionary psychologist David Buss and Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard without ever coming up with a coherent theory or indicating whose insights strike her as most pertinent. Juliet Wittman teaches writing at the University of Colorado. Reviewed by Juliet Wittman, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[N]ot so much a nitty-gritty tell-all as it is a series of free-form musings on what addiction is and why it affects people so powerfully....Insightful and often engaging, but also aimless and occasionally trite." Kirkus Reviews
"[P]rovocative and deeply personal....Such clinical investigation...is secondary to the intimate revelations Cheever shares about her own troubled past and addictive behavior." Booklist
Cheever presents an intimate, provocative meditation on love, sex, and addiction; explores the boundaries between passion and addiction, desire and need; and raises important questions about how people love and why.
About the Author
Susan Cheever is the bestselling author of eleven previous books, including five novels and the memoirs Note Found in a Bottle and Home Before Dark. Her work has been nominated for the National Book Critics Circle Award and won the Boston Globe Winship Medal. She is a Guggenheim Fellow, a member of the Corporation of Yaddo, and a member of the Author's Guild Council. She writes a weekly column for Newsday and teaches in the Bennington College M.F.A. program. She lives in New York City with her family.
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