Sunday, November 16, 2008

No Previous Experience

No Previous Experience: A Memoir of Love and Change
By Elspeth Cameron

This autobiographical book tells how academic Elspeth Cameron, a woman who describes herself as "the thinking man's Barbie Doll," who unexpectedly falls in love with another woman. It gets off to an awkward start in the first few pages. I didn't think I would be able to handle a book of oblique references to female sexually couched in terms like "the lush damp valley you never suspected was there" or "a double rainbow arches in front of you, so close you can see the iridescent droplets suspended in midair." I nearly abandoned the book after the first chapter. Fortunately, Cameron quickly drops the metaphors and gets on with the story, which is told with painful honesty. The book doesn't cease to be uncomfortable. Cameron's writing style is confessional and justificatory, as if she is trying to convince herself about the reasons why she fell in love with another woman. She certainly has reason enough in her physically and emotionally abusive husband. It is uncomfortable to witness his abusive behavior, and to watch her stay with him. It is embarrassing to witness that kind of humiliation and not be able to turn away. Maybe I was uncomfortable because the story hit too close to home. I knew that physically and verbally abuse husband, and I know that sense of longing to make love to someone the way I would want to be made to love myself. Cameron's writing about the gradual unfolding of her love and sexuality with another woman rings entirely true: it is uncharted territory, something that she was never prepared for, had never contemplated, and her explorations are tentative, hesitant, wanting and fearful at the same time. As the title states, it is a situation in which she has no previous experience.

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