My review of...
Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy
Seal Press, 2013
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If I told you I was reading a memoir by an NPR personality who hosts a tame gameshow, and I asked you to guess the book’s title, you’d probably venture suggestions like, I don’t know... The Road to Character, This I Believe, or Life Among the Lutherans. But no. Ophira Eisenberg may have a prototypical NPR name, but she hardly has the stereotypical NPR personal history, as evidenced by her memoir’s actual title, Screw Everyone: Sleeping My Way to Monogamy.
It’s not as hyperbolic as it seems. I tried tracking how many sexual interludes Eisenberg has over the course of the book, but I lost count after a dozen—and that only includes the men she describes sleeping with. It leaves out a couple half-hearted trysts with women; it ignores her trips to first, second, or third base, counting only the homeruns. And it bypasses hints that there are many one-night-stands with men who didn’t even warrant a pseudonym.
In other words, if I were the sort of person to pass judgment on others’ sex lives, the verdict would be pretty clear here. Eisenberg’s “offenses” are many; her acts are premeditated and she shows no remorse.
The narrative is chronological, and it starts early in her life: halfway through high school she successfully plots to lose her virginity, though the success is anticlimactic in every sense. She keeps up the pace from there, taking whatever action she can get both in and out of relationships as she heads to college and gets her first few jobs. But what starts out as an adventure, a light-hearted quest for pleasure, takes on a new tone through her twenties. By the time she hits thirty, her modus operandi is to assuage boredom and loneliness by scoping out men in bars, and the excitement of sex warps into something ominous: “I was desperate for connection, even if it was fraying, tenuous, or located in Queens. Like a junkie, when my narcotic of choice wasn’t available, I took what I could get” (204).
No, I don’t judge adults who engage in consensual sex, whatever the form or frequency. But by the book’s midpoint I was downright anxious for Eisenberg’s well-being, cringing every time her distaste for the word “no” leads her not just back to the bedroom but to bathrooms to drop acid or to lounges to smoke gravity bongs. The drugs aren’t typically to her liking, but alcohol certainly is; sexual conquest and substance abuse eventually go hand-in-hand.
In case this sounds like a book’s worth of tabloid-level drama—scandalous misbehavior and its consequences, recounted to satisfy a taste for schadenfreude—let me assure you: Screw Everyone is not just a list of raunchy encounters and naughty behavior. It’s not even titillating. Funny as it is (and her voice is bitingly funny throughout), the humor is aware of its own growing darkness. What else would we expect from someone whose background is in stand-up comedy? This memoir isn’t exactly about sex, it’s about Eisenberg’s halting development into a self-respecting adult over the years. Like any memoir, it’s an examination of the self. Eisenberg just happens to examine herself through the lens of her extensive sexual history.
When it comes to recounting that history, she doesn’t brag and she doesn’t apologize. It is what it is, dear reader—sometimes thrilling, sometimes depressing, take it or leave it. But even if you’re more judgmental then I am, or as distressed by the arc of her alcoholism as I was, do still allow yourself to laugh along the way. Eisenberg is terribly witty. And clearly she writes this book with the intention not to bring us down but to entertain us. Are we not entertained?