Sunday, June 8, 2008

Book Review: Jenny Block's Open

Jenny Block’s book, Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage, is literally a revelation. Published by Seal Press in hardback, it is a memoir of her life as a mainstream bisexual woman who, try as she might, couldn’t find the kind of fairytale fulfillment promised by traditional marriage. She has a supportive husband, Christopher, and a young daughter, Emily, who are the center of her life, as they should be. But still, there were issues in her marriage, the biggest one being that she and Christopher have different needs in terms of frequency of lovemaking. She’d had relationships with women before marriage. She thought she could do without them when she decided to do what everyone thinks they are supposed to do and get married. Despite giving the traditional suburban wife and mother role a solid effort, it left her feeling so dissatisfied that something had to change or her marriage wouldn’t survive.

There is no book on polyamory and open relationships like this one. It takes tremendous courage for a mainstream woman to publicly lay her heart and soul bare as Jenny has does here. She openly shares with us her most intimate thought processes and desires through every stage of her adult life, beginning with her experiences exploring her sexuality in college, up to and including details of her and Christopher’s challenges and experiences opening their marriage.

I especially enjoyed Christopher’s afterword. Jenny is smart for including his perspective and in his words. She has been hotly criticized online for the choices she’s made by people who are convinced that Christopher and Emily are the innocent victims of Jenny’s whorish selfishness. Christopher makes it clear that he is a co-partner in this adventure, even though partnering with others is not as high a priority for him as it is for his wife.

Another of this book’s strengths is Jenny’s point of view on how multi-partnering while raising Emily is a good thing and in no way harmful. That’s because Jenny and Christopher are good parents to begin with, and every decision they’ve made has been made with Emily’s best interests in mind.

Jenny is a writer by profession. She has written for print and electronic media on a wide range of topics. She has a master’s degree in English, taught college-level composition for ten years, and has a gift for eloquently articulating the issues and intricacies with which non-monogamists grapple.

Though this is a memoir, Jenny makes the same arguments against lockstep traditional monogamy we hear from seasoned polyamorists. She cites a variety of sources to support her point of view, many of them familiar to polyamorists. And yes, Jenny uses the word polyamory to describe her marriage and relationships, especially later in the book when her sexually open marriage naturally transitions to make room for love and romance with more than one.

Having come from a mainstream background myself, I believe polyamory is a practice that would greatly benefit a wide variety of people from diverse backgrounds and points of view. For me the most remarkable aspect of Jenny’s book is that it is written from the perspective of a fairly average mainstream woman living a mainstream life, her bisexuality notwithstanding. Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage may well play a pivotal role in the mainstreaming of polyamory. It has gained the attention of two mainstream women’s magazines. The June 2008 issues of Marie Claire and Glamour have interviews or shorter Q&A’s with Jenny about her book and life. The book is available on the non-fiction new release tables at Barnes & Noble and Borders. There is nothing more mainstream than that.

Look for Jenny’s regular advice column in the women’s online love and sex magazine, Tango, and for her blog posts on open marriage on Huffington Post. You can also purchase the book and read her blog on her website. Enjoy!


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the link! It's great to see Jenny's book getting so much great coverage.

Unknown said...

Have you read Tristan Taormino's Opening Up? I'm in the middle of it and it's pretty great. Just looking for someone who can compare the two.

Anita Wagner Illig said...

Actually I'm in the middle of it, too, and was honored to have played a small part in it by helping Tristan find interviewees and compiling the bulk of the resource section. Also, my partner, T, and I are "Lena and Gavin" in the Polyamory section. :)

As soon as I finish it I'll be putting up a review of it as well and will also put up a post comparing them. In the meantime, check out Alan's reviews and comparisons at Polyamory In The News.

Unknown said...

Jenny sent me her book and I'll be writing a review on my site as soon as I've finished it. I'm halfway through and enjoying every minute of it. Jenny expresses so well many of my own thoughts and feelings on monogamy. I really hope she does well with it. It deserves to be a bestseller and required reading for anyone contemplating marriage.