By Charlotte G. Roche

Black Cat | 2013 | 289 pages

Reviewed by Janet Garber

charlotte roche

Sexual Liberation, 2013

You may want to make yourself a brown paper bag book cover - remember those?  - unless you're reading Wrecked in the original German.  Yes, Virginia, that is a vagina on the cover.

The first 15 pages: up close & personal!  Roche has made sure you will keep on reading.

Then a major shift occurs. Elizabeth, the narrator, finally gets out of bed.  You’ve had a good look at her body; now you’re introduced to her psyche.  And she’s pretty much of a wreck:  knocked down but not out by her free-associating angst, severe post traumatic stress, thrice-weekly Freudian therapy sessions, caring for her daughter and stepson, interspersed with visits to neighborhood brothels with her husband for a little R&R.  In off hours, she and her husband have marathon sessions of watching porn, shaving their privates, and “doing it.”  How surprising then when you discover that at the core of this behavior is the kind of horrific tragedy you hopefully only read about in the tabloids the day after it happens.

Elizabeth is “wrecked” but carries on with the help of a loving well-endowed husband/sex machine and mountains of highly distracting (to her) libidinous activity.  Does it work for her?  Uncertain, but it certainly keeps the audience tuned in.

Whether you will find this book too graphic, too clinical, too titillating, or will applaud its candor, I can’t say. For this reviewer, the crux of the story is about how one survives, puts a life back together, without losing one's mind after a family tragedy of this magnitude.  If Elizabeth’s coping strategy is being the perfect wife, mother, sex partner, catering to her husband's wishes in a decidedly pre-feminist fashion, it mostly works. She gets as good as she gives in that her hubby tolerates her extreme emotional leakage, obsessions and fears and by the end gives in to one of her what’s-good-for-the-goose fantasies.

For the whole of the book, you are inside Elizabeth's mind and see things only from her perspective, reliable or not. There are brief patches of dialog with her husband, daughter and therapist. She controls everything you see, declaring that she has promised her therapist to be 100% honest about all her feelings and actions, no matter how offputting.  There are questions you don’t get to ask her: why she turns her back eventually on surviving family members, for example.  Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that she wills her life to be as boring and predictable (even to some extent in the bedroom) as she can arrange it - she wants no more catastrophic surprises.

A sexual guide to the perplexed and uninitiated? This well-crafted book features a fractured soul trying to choose life over death, but not convinced that is the right choice. She entertains suicidal and even homicidal thoughts and you don’t know how seriously to take them.  She lives on, mainly, she says, to please others. Towards the end, she seems to have made some progress, taking steps to insure that her own desires - to drop a friend, take a lover - have an equal chance of getting satisfied. Sex is the vehicle for getting her where she needs to be. Sex is the life force. Sex is the weapon.  When she’s engaged in sexual activity, for however long that is, she has a respite from her relentless thoughts of death.

Charlotte Roche, the author - is this semi-autobiographical as the book jacket asserts? Sadly, yes. The author has survived by becoming a controversial figure in Germany - actress, singer, shock jock*, author of books some critics see as pornographic and many feminists stridently deplore. In March 2008 her first book, Wetlands, was the world's best seller on Amazon. Who says sex doesn't sell? So take a look - you may be hooked in the first 15 pages!

* She once publicly offered to have sex with the President of Germany if he would veto a bill!

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