Book Review: The Bitch in the House

Cathi Hanauer, Ed.
William Morrow/HarperCollins, 2002
275 pages
hardcover (library)


This book is a collection of essays in which, as the book's subtitle puts it, "26 women tell the truth about sex, solitude, work, motherhood, and marriage." I don't know about whether these essays tell THE truth, but they do tell SOME truths.

In the way of essay collections, some of these "spoke" to me and some didn't. I could identify with some--sympathize via personal experience, for example--and not with others. Still, I wanted to read this book and be able to revel in my womanhood, but that just wasn't possible. There's nothing in the tone that is cheerleader-like in quality; it's a mostly introspective group of personal experiences. Reading The Bitch in the House was sort of like going to a flea market; some of the stuff you find might be interesting, even tempting, but a lot of it is just someone else's junk.

Maybe I'm just not old enough or experienced enough to see all the gemstones of knowledge embedded in this book. I'll admit that's possible. And even still, a couple of things did grab me. I could identify with "Crossing the Line in the Sand" because I know I have a volatile temper myself, and I do work hard not to take it out on my children. Still, there's that scary notion that one day I'll find myself roaring like a monster and terrify them, and if that does ever happen--and I've come close--will they lose all trust in me? I don't want my kids to be thinking, Which Mommy is it today? Good Mommy or Bad Mommy? And while I had little interest in most of "Erotics 102," one thing in that essay did stand out for me; almost in a throw-away line, the author mentions her "sovereignty." She does so in the context of having the right to buy a sweater she likes, one her husband attempts to force her to return because of the expense. As someone who has a difficult time feeling like I have the right to do much on my own authority (after all, I don't make any money, and I often feel I'm here in my own house on sufferance), this situation caught my attention. I don't know what I'll do with this notion of "sovereignty," but I like it, and it'll swim around in my brain for a while, I'm sure.

Meanwhile, the only essay I had a particular dislike for was "My Marriage. My Affairs." Not because of the open marriage thing. That's not my style, but I don't really care what people choose to do in their own relationships. My problem was with the tone of the piece, in which the author (writing under a pseudonym) seems to come across as feeling as if she's simply more enlightened than most of the world. As if we'd all have open relationships, if we were just evolved enough to follow her lead. Sorry, "Helen Pine," but I'll continue grubbing around in the dirt like an underdeveloped, low-life animal and stick with my monogamous marriage.

As for the rest, most of it is passable. I think any woman who might pick up this book is likely to find something to relate to. Men who attempt it will either (a) find it surprising and illuminating, or (b) run for the hills never to be seen again. Depends on how well they can stomach plain speaking and, in some cases, vitriol from their women folk.

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