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Notes on a Scandalous Novel

Jessa Crispin
"So what if Wetlands is a total failure as a novel? "
04/20/09 at 07:27

I was trying to think of a female writer to answer your DeLillo quotation, Sam, but came up empty. There was the crabs scene in Michelle Tea’s Rent Girl, and some stories from the Sister Spit girls, but they don’t begin to compare. I know about the various secretions of male writers like DeLillo, Palahniuk, and Ames, but chick writers are mostly silent about their mucus. Instead, I was reminded of a section from W. Somerset Maugham’s Cakes & Ale:

“We know of course that women are habitually constipated, but to represent them in fiction as being altogether devoid of a back passage seems to me really an excess of chivalry. I am surprised they care to see themselves thus limned.”

I think that’s why Wetlands keeps getting compared to Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch—it’s the only book anyone can think of that mentions menstrual blood. This is unfortunate for Charlotte Roche, as Greer is absolutely bonkers. It’s a ridiculous comparison anyway. Helen is not some sort of feminist heroine, and she does not treat her period like some sort of life-affirming, moon-worshipping rite of passage, thank Gaia. Helen is nasty to nearly every other woman she comes across, so this is not a girl who believes in the Sisterhood.

I don’t think that the opposite of poor crazy Helen is a fifties housewife, though. I would say it’s the Sex and the City–watching, Brazilian-waxing, strip-aerobics-taking modern-day woman. Like the carefully styled nurses Helen calls “unfuckable.” Occasionally I’ll be drinking and decide to open some of the dating manuals that get sent here for review, and all I really learn is that it’s rude to take off your clothes in front of a man if you have any body hair. So what if Wetlands is a total failure as a novel? I didn’t care about the parents, and no one in the book is slightly believable. Even Roche herself has said she doesn’t read books, and the whole thing started off as a nonfiction guide, something to tell women it’s okay if they sweat or have pubic hair—men will still want to fuck you. Maybe that would have been a better book. Honestly, I’m very glad Wetlands exists. I hope I never have to read it again, but it made me nostalgic for the days of working at the women’s health clinic when we’d sit around, trying to outdo one another with stories of sex gone wrong or gynecological mishaps, and then the nurses would come in with a tale of a patient with a long untreated STD, complete with pictures, and we’d be reaching for the wastebaskets. No one ever admitted to eating their own smegma, but Wetlands reminded me of that gleeful grossness.

What I really want is for someone here to admit that after reading this they found themselves in the produce aisle, eyeing the avocados and thinking, “You know, that just might work…” Come on, I love a good overshare.


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