This is an irritatingly difficult challenge. Since I began blogging, I’ve asserted that you can’t write about yourself with complete accuracy, no matter how hard you try. When we tell our own life stories, we portray ourselves as we imagine we are and have been, and it’s inevitably subject to all our biases, the self-protective and the self-destructive ones. No one is merciless and/or fearless enough to do it. That’s why I’ve always said I’m writing here about a character based on me. To be COMPLETELY honest will bore any audience. The thing to strive for is truth, not the whole truth, but the parts that will make a good story. We all know that much of life is spent doing housework, waiting in lines and picking up poop. It’s not interesting enough for others to read about. I do have enormous admiration for anyone willing to try this hard to “tell-all” about themselves.
My fellow blogger Jennie Ketcham is a woman I’ve never met in person. Like others on my Blogroll, and many of you who read and comment regularly, I have respect for the important relationship we do share. We enjoy each other’s work, and we write messages of encouragement to each other. I’m game for that kind of friendship as long as she is, and that goes for the rest of you too. I learn something from every comment, positive or negative, and I appreciate them all.
Jennie set for herself the daunting goal of writing the story of her former career as a porn star, why she began and why she left. She says she wrote it to help herself, and to help others, and I believe that’s true. Of course there’s also another dynamic in play outside of Jennie’s healing process. She gained an audience (as herself) by appearing on reality-TV shows about recovery. Those shows are over, and will be forgotten soon. If there’s money to be made from a book (and maybe movie) about her redemption, it has to be now while those audiences still remember.
It’s a good story, but not unusual except for the character of Jennie herself. The book works because you care about the heroine. But the story arc is fairly predictable. Girl from broken home acts out by becoming promiscuous at a young age. Girl walls herself off from pain by any means available; drugs, booze, lying and cheating. She tries to shut off negative emotions and begins losing the ability to feel in general. In that state of numbness, porn is relatively easy money, at least until those pesky addictions catch up to you. Jennie lives for eight years as Penny Flame, an alter ego invulnerable and in control, but incapable of emotional intimacy.
This memoir includes some extremely funny stories, and some weird ones, and there’s also more degradation to read about than I prefer. Jennie apparently felt an obligation to confess every interpersonal act of indiscretion or betrayal she could recall having committed. As a reader, I got a bit weary of the soap opera middle of the book, the part where she expends so much energy running away from real love. If this story does end up onscreen, I expect many of these characters will be combined or dropped. It is, however, hard not to like someone who is so sorry for having been a bad girlfriend.
As in Dickens’ or Jane Austen’s stories, Jennie’s innate good qualities ensure an uplifting conclusion, an honorable life earned through hard effort. The energy picks up at the end, when Jennie gets sober and works to make amends and re-establish relationships with her estranged family members. She also begins a normal, supportive, romantic relationship. Jennie has always referred to him as “Mr. Man” on her blog. If you buy the book, you get to find out his name.
The origin of lasting compassion, empathy and love is pain. You can’t get to that golden sunset without embracing it. And you can’t tell real from fake if you’re always trying to perceive it through drugs and alcohol. When Jennie went on the rehab show, that’s what she learned. She began her blog right after the first rehab stint, and has been working her sobriety program and building an honest life ever since. She’s also nearly completed a Bachelors in Psychology. Because she’s worked so hard to understand her own struggles, I think Jennie is gaining important insights into family dynamics, trauma, addictions and compulsive thinking. If she doesn’t decide to concentrate solely on writing, she might become a therapist. I would trust her.
Overall Verdict: Highly readable, informative, amusing and inspiring. Too explicit for children, but acceptable for teens or older. Three ½ out of Four Stars.
(I discussed the cover in a previous post, entitled “Jenniconography”.)