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Thursday, February 19 2009

Book Review: The Other Side of Desire

What do a guy who loves feet, a girl who has none, the Baroness and a pedophile all have in common?

They all appear as characters in Daniel Bergner’s interesting and easy-to-read new book, The Other Side of Desire.  Bergner, who recently wrote a really fascinating NY Times article on female sexuality and its malleable nature (as opposed to male sexuality), immerses himself both in his subject’s lives, and in their desires. He’s appears to be your average, middle-aged man, with a wife and two kids, who’s inquisitive nature takes him to places that not everybody would be willing to go.

The first section brings us close to a man who loves feet, but never brings us to one of those foot fetish parties that I know used to happen in this city. It’s a good read, but not, by any means, the strongest section of the book.

As the book progresses, so does the writing, and the second chapter, this one on the Baroness, explores the desire of a true sadist. For those of you who don’t know the Baroness, she’s one of NY’s underground celebrities, not to mention a well-respected fashion designer. But what I find so amazing about the Baroness is that she really gets off on inflicting pain on those who love receiving it..and she lives this part of her life almost every minute of every day. And this is where I thought the book got really good, but again, Bergner doesn’t dive into the experience himself (although I guess that’s how a journalist should do it). Still, I’d like to know if he ever got sucked into her sucky bed?

Section three delves into what will be, for most readers, the least comfortable part of the book (although a guy being roasted like a pig on a spit was probably one of the hardest parts for me to digest). This is a section on pedophiles. Here we follow Roy, a man who’s flirtation with his teenage stepdaughter has gone awry. I appreciate how Bergner shares his own thoughts about this, about what its like to have his own daughter and how he humanizes the men and their process of discovery and recovery. In this chapter I also learned a new phrase:

Masturbatory reconditioning.

“The basic procedure was that a patient with pedophilia, fetishism or (in those days) homosexuality would be instructed to masturbate, with a Playboy magazine within easy reach. When the patient started to approach orgasm, he was supposed to grab the magazine and focus intently on the nude adult female just before and during ejaculation. This was supposed to establish erotic interest in adult females.”

The last section, titled “The Devotee” is another well-written, and fascinating story, about men who love women who are missing limbs. It’s not that they just happen to love women with limbs missing, it’s that this is one of the reasons they really (again the need to italicize the really) love these women. I thought this last section provided a beautiful closing for a terrific-ly bizarre book on love, lust and longing.

Today is the 19th of February. This means Valentines Day is over (hallelujah!) but love, of all kinds, always surrounds us. The Other Side of Desire looks at four of those kinds. Four kinds of love, or lust, you don’t always talk about, think about or even want to know about. It doesn’t matter if you agree with all that’s in this book, if you’re an open-minded individual willing to take a journey to the other side of desire, you won’t regret it.

The Other Side of Desire: Four Journey into the Far Realms of Lust and Longing by Daniel Bergner (Amazon.com).

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