Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Review: Losing It by Emma Rathbone

Yes, yes, you're probably starting to wonder about my reading for 2017 if you've followed the rest of the reviews so far. A book about a woman trying to have an orgasm, then one with a suggestively punny title, and now one about a young woman obsessed with losing her virginity. At least some of you (probably my mom) are wondering what gives. The premise for this novel, a 26 year old woman who is still a virgin and wondering why moves in with her maiden aunt for the summer, discovers that said aunt is truly a maiden (ie also a virgin), and wants to figure out why even as she actively tries to shed herself of her own long standing virginity, sounded weird and interesting to me. Unfortunately, it wasn't as intriguing as I'd hoped.

Julia, the aforementioned 26 year old virgin, is completely adrift and lonely in her life. She hasn't had a purpose since she quit swimming in college, having been almost Olympic caliber. Finally tiring of the soul sucking life she's merely enduring, she quits her job and decides to move home again to regroup. But her parents have rented out her childhood home and are going on their own adventure for the summer so her only option is to go to North Carolina and move in with her father's sister, her Aunt Viv, who she barely knows at all. Her only decent relationship thus far seems to be with her parents as she has no good friends in whom she confides and certainly (obviously?) no significant other.

Taking a part time receptionist job in Durham, she decides it is finally time to lose her virginity and she spends much time wondering just how it is that she has gotten to her age without having sex. What she's really asking is why she has never found the intimacy and commitment that everyone else she knows started finding long ago. In order to help her on her quest, she tries everything: online dating, taking a painting class, flirting with a coworker, even trying to seduce a grieving son at a funeral. She is obsessed with not only figuring out what is wrong with her but also with rectifying it. However, as she goes about trying to connect with a man, she is quite condescending about those around her and she doesn't seem to see that she doesn't have a leg to stand on in her criticisms. She is quietly dismissive of her aunt's decorative plate painting and her general style. She describes the men she meets in less than flattering terms, criticizing their clothing or homes or offices. She is rather self-centered and bratty and it is hard throughout the novel to remember that she is in fact 26, not 16, because her immaturity shines in many of her (ill-advised) decisions.

The first three quarters of the book are very slow moving and the frustration of the reader mirrors Julia's frustrations. The novel is first person narration so the reader spends all of their time in Julia's head, seeing her wonder why she is still untouched. She looks at her past romantic history and tries to tease out where she's gone wrong, why she is so lonely and unconnected to others. She wonders about her aunt, snooping in the house and looking for parallels between them, especially once she discovers that her aunt is also a virgin. But even with all of her internal mental examinations, Julia doesn't see herself as she truly is, nor does she grow and learn from her experiences as the novel goes on. The final quarter of the novel has much more action in it than the previous three quarters, giving it an oddly uneven narrative tension. A disaffected main character, lack of action (no pun intended), and not as much insight into connection and intimacy as promised, in the end, this was not the reading experience I'd hoped.

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