Loose Girl: A Memoir of Promiscuity, Kerry Cohen
Kerry Cohen is eleven years old when she recognizes the power of her body in the leer of a grown man. Her parents are recently divorced and it doesn't take long before their lassitude and Kerry's desire to stand out Ė to be memorable in some way Ė combine to lead her down a path she knows she shouldn't take. Kerry wanted attention. She wanted love. But not really understanding what love was, not really knowing how to get it, she reached for sex instead.
Loose Girl is Kerry Cohen's captivating memoir about her descent into promiscuity and how she gradually found her way toward real intimacy. The story of addiction Ė not just to sex, but to male attention Ė Loose Girl is also the story of a young girl who came to believe that boys and men could give her life meaning. It didn't matter who he was. It was their movement that mattered, their being together. And for a while, that was enough.
From the early rush of exploration to the day she learned to quiet the desperation and allow herself to love and be loved, Kerry's story is never less than riveting. In rich and immediate detail, Loose Girl recreates what it feels like to be in that desperate moment, when a girl tries to control a boy by handing over her body, when the touch of that boy seems to offer proof of something, but ultimately delivers little more than emptiness.
Kerry Cohen's journey from that hopeless place to her current confident and fulfilled existence is a cautionary tale and a revelation for girls young and old. The unforgettable memoir of one young woman who desperately wanted to matter, Loose Girl will speak to countless others with its compassion, understanding, and love.
Kerry Cohenís second novel, following the debut of 2006ís Easy, comes with a tagline so intriguing that it draws attention even before the pages of the book are cracked: ďFor everyone who was that girl. For everyone who knew that girl. For everyone who wondered who that girl was.Ē
This memoir attempts to give us a glimpse of the inner workings of a girl who lost sight of herself and became promiscuous in the process. It is an insight into the heartbreaking world of what many young girls experience during adolescence, even adulthood. And itís a world thatís too painfully pervasive Ė and too common Ė to ignore.
Loose Girl begins when Cohen is eleven and going through puberty. With an emotionally unstable mother and absent father, Kerry longs for attention. When she realizes that she can get this from men twice her age, it sets in motion a life-altering pattern of neediness and self-loathing. There is no flowery prose; Cohen lays it all out in frank terms, rarely glossing over the most cringe-inducing memories of her quests for love. When her mother leaves for the Philippines to become a doctor, Cohen and her older sister are shipped away to her fatherís care. Under a relaxed and carefree household, Cohen sinks deeper into promiscuity, often going into New York to troll for guys and engage in one-night stands long before girls become even remotely interested in make-up and boys.
Of course, it is not Cohenís intention to sleep around. What she longs for and doesnít get is intimacy and a sense of being wanted. She desperately clings to boy after boy in high school, and later, man after man in her twenties. She tries to mold herself into someone else, someone that she stresses is ďeasy to be with,Ē uncomplicated. What this culminates into is a feeling of inadequacy when her relationships ultimately fail. And when they donít fail because of her neediness or clinginess, they fail because Cohen has simply settled for a warm body, not a person that she could fall in love with. Because of these patterns, sheís doomed to pursue all the wrong men.
There are lessons to be gleaned from each of Cohenís encounters, but what stands out the most is the parade of mistreatment that she constantly receives from her hook ups, things that she canít see for herself. What makes matters worse is that even when Cohen becomes aware that sheís fallen prey to her psychological issues, this hardly deters her from moving on. In one incident, she hooks up with her friendís casual fling. Even though she knows this is wrong, a part of her is elated that he would choose her over her friend, who is deemed prettier and more self-assured. Later, her friend would find out and end their friendship. But even with this blow, Cohen canít seem to stop herself from engaging in meaningless flings. Itís this tragic event, and many others like an HIV scare and a case of genital warts, that really show how lost Cohen really is.
Loose Girl reads like a cautionary tale with a silver lining. The story almost plays out like an after school special, but that doesnít negate the fact that the story needs to be told. As predictable as it all turns out to be, the novel has a distinct voice with no sugar to coat the bleak, uncomfortable parts. As an author, Cohen is thoughtful, candid, and direct; each introspective moment is laid out for us in open terms. Sheís not begging us to forgive her actions, but to try to understand them.
And the truth boils down to this: Cohen is not necessarily equating love with sex, but rather using it as a substitute for it. The point is driven home repeatedly throughout the novel. Itís so hammered over our heads that itís hard to not get it. In fact, whole paragraphs could be trimmed and could possibly make for a more interesting read. Cohen visits many psychologists to try to find the root of her problems, but this is glossed over in lieu of more exposition about wanting to be loved. As strange as it sounds to say this about a memoir, there hardly seems to be any character arc or growth. The novel speaks from the heart, but it often finds itself falling into boring territory.
But despite the fact that many of Cohenís revelations may be repetitive, thereís also something so beautifully honest about her confessions of character flaws that you canít look away.
As a reader, you will root for Cohen, but you will also come to despise her destitution and destructive patterns. The book reads like a conversation with a friend, and you will often want to shake her and tell her to snap out of it. But itís precisely this strong response that makes Loose Girl such an effective novel. ¤ C.Ho.
LOOSE GIRL: (out of 5)