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Evening Standard

Book review: 'Love Junkie'
Christina Eng, Special to The Chronicle Friday, December 12, 2008 [Online Version]

There are two kinds of men, Rachel Resnick says, the ones who remind her of her father, and the ones who remind her of her brother.

"Those who remind me of my father tend to be the ones I fall in love with - the dangerous ones. The ones who can't commit, who abandon, who betray. Of course, they arrive in charming, gifted packages. Those who remind me of my brother fill me with sisterly love, a protectiveness, an urge to tease, a deep and abiding affection."

In "Love Junkie: A Memoir," Resnick recalls her tumultuous relationships with both types of men. She confesses to decades of bad boyfriends and even worse breakups, and berates herself for trying so hard, for holding on when she should ultimately let go, for caring.

She compares her need for men to an addict's need for drugs. She talks of Winchester, for example, a stunning "hard-bodied, full-lipped, and fine" man she dated during her late 30s.

"Not only is the sex mind-blowing, cataclysmic, and ecstatic," she says, gushing of her encounters with him, "it's deliciously unsustainable over time. Nirvana touched - then torn away. Because as giving and godlike as he is during sex, he is equally withholding in every other way. For me, Winchester is like pure heroin."

And, unfortunately, as Resnick does with men before and after him, she mistakes sex for love. She confuses emotional pain for something sacred and sees rejection as "an invitation to come back asking, sometimes begging, for more." She deludes herself.

The author, whose earlier work includes the irreverently titled "Go West Young F-Up Chick: A Novel of Separation," writes also of Eddie, a convicted felon-turned-abstract artist she dated during her early 30s.

She is mesmerized by him. He had been an armed robber. He had been short-listed for the Venice Biennale painting prize. He collected scars and tattoos, and fathered a child with a teenager. What we would easily consider red flags Resnick finds appealing. When he demeans her with harsh criticisms or outrageous requests, she blames herself. She acquiesces.

Her stories are both horrifying and compelling, the way pileups on freeways can be horrifying and compelling. We want to mind our own business, yes, to simply continue driving, but we need to find out what happens to the victims, too. The voyeurs in us emerge.

What empathy we might have originally for Resnick turns to pity, however, when she describes her excruciating breakup with Spencer, an amateur chef and "seasoned street fighter" she dated during her early 40s.

The relationship they have proves toxic, their e-mail exchanges difficult to bear. He scolds her, for example: "You have a tendency to be late." "You don't answer questions; you're squirrelly." "Every single little thing is an opportunity for more grief and conflict and strife when placed in your over-reactive, over-sensitive hands."

Shortly before they split, Resnick sends Spencer 64 messages in the span of two nights, then apologizes profusely: "Very very sorry my e-mails were overwhelming and off-putting. Very sorry about that. Seems I can't do it right - so sorry." The emotional abuse is palpable; her desperation becomes undeniable.

That Resnick gets the professional help she needs to finally save herself is admirable. She meets at least once a week with a support group for recovering sex and love addicts. Hindsight is 20/20. And we trust that she is better now than she was then.

But the reassurance does not make her narrative any more pleasant to read. It does not negate the humiliation and degradation to which she repeatedly subjects herself over the years, insane and destructive experiences we would not wish on anybody.

Christina Eng is a writer in Oakland.

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