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I read this book for several reasons. One is that I was interviewed for it by the author (well, online, and it was a survey, but I did fill it out, and you get the idea). Another is that I try to stay current with new books on open relationships, since I have them and not many books get written about them. Those two are the reasons I started reading the book. The third reason came later, and I am not proud of it. I wanted to finish the book so that I could tell you all that it was bad and why I thought so.*

Open is basically an annotated memoir. Author Jenny Block tells the long and meandering story of how she came to be in an open marriage, with many asides and quotes criticizing monogamy and praising "openness" along the way. The introduction is the short version of the story, and each chapter is then introduced with another short paragraph from the introduction which summarizes it.

This book has four main problems, in my opinion.
One True Way-ism. Block argues that the only choices we can make about our relationships are to cheat, to be miserable, or to be open. Despite the fact that open relationships are the kind that work for me, I just don't agree. It seems like plenty of people are happy to be monogamous, that it comes naturally to them. I think that Block is trying to make her own experience universal (cheating and unhappiness in her marriage until opening the relationship) when I don't believe it truly is. She tries to justify it, mostly with out-of-context quotes from non-mainstream media. It would all be so much more convincing if she said instead, "This really works for me. Maybe if you're unhappy being monogamous it would work for you too."
Contradiction. Open marriage is great, and not just about the sex. But you shouldn't tell your kids; it's none of their business because it's a sexual thing and therefore they don't have to know about it. My girlfriend doesn't live with us because we are too concerned about what others would think. No, actually, it's because none of us want her to live with us. I could go on, but I won't - you should just trust me that there a lot of places in the book where Block contradicts herself, sometimes in different chapters, other times on the same darned page.
Who is the audience? Block seems to be assuming that the people who are reading her book are interested in open marriage but know nothing about it and don't believe it can really work. Um, am I the only one using the Internet here? What about those of us who are in happy open relationships already? What about people who have tried open relationships and concluded they're not the best fit? How about those who are happily monogamous but want to better understand friends or family with open relationships? (This group in particular should NOT read this book, they'd be insulted by it.) None of these people seem to exist in her world.
Editing. Who thought of the repeating a paragraph of the introduction at the beginning of every chapter thing? I found it incredibly annoying. Also, occaisionally the word "Timer" appeared in the middle of a sentence, apparently as a replacement for the word "matter".

My favorite examples, which are sort of funny now, but were mostly confusing when I was reading the book:

"And I had trouble blaming him entirely, because my attitude certainly wasn't helping the Timer." (p 70)
"It doesn't Timer that the kids are miserable, or that the mom is exhausted, or that the father would rather watch the game than eat the meal his wife slaved over all day." (p 88)
"This is how it's done, and it doesn't Timer that not many people are happy, or that the human body and mind aren't suited to monogamous marriage." (p 89)

Finally, I feel that a good editor could have finessed the balance between the memoir parts and the other parts, made her sound less like a fanatic, but did not.

I wanted to like this book. The prose was good in places, and I did enjoy somewhat Block's story of how she got into an open marriage. But unless you feel you have been sitting around for years just waiting for someone to write another book on open marriage, I think you should give this one a miss. I'm glad she didn't wind up using any of the quotes I gave her. Two stars. (In the new system I would give this book a D+. I rolled my eyes a lot but I did finish it without throwing it once.)

*I don't really feel right saying, "This book is really bad but I didn't bother to finish it so I don't know for certain that it is bad all the way through." Strange, perhaps, but true.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Oct. 15th, 2008 12:43 am (UTC)
Informative review.
I'm not in an open relationship and can't say I want to be in one. I am interested in learning about why people enjoy them, aside from the obvious reasons. Going by your review, this Miss Block sounds like the last person I want to hear about it from.
Thanks for this.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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