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Kerry was born in 1970 and grew up in northern New Jersey, a quick drive to Manhattan. Her parents divorced when she was young. Her mother decided she wanted to be a doctor, so she was very busy, and then when she went to medical school, Kerry moved in with her father, who didn't supervise her much at all. Kerry was making out with boys and letting them go further than they did with other girls when she was still a preteen. When she was thirteen, she jerked off an older boy after school while her friend messed around with a boyfriend in another room. A couple of months later her father goes away leaving Kerry and her sister Tyler alone in the house, so Kerry has a party, and the place gets trashed. Her father doesn't complain about his supply of pot being stolen. But he does send Kerry to a different school, where she makes new friends, and just learns to be smarter at keeping her secrets from her father. This memoir proceeds to describe her high school years, her college experience, and her twenties. She has sex with boys (always "boys," even when they are in their twenties) whose names she never finds out, who use her, and who have no intention of ever seeing her again. She wants boys to like her, and she wants a long term boyfriend, but she always feels alone. Even when she does get a boyfriend, she gets bored. It's only right at the end of the book that she learns to break her long-standing pattern in her relations with men.
Loose Girl is an easy read, as you would expect from a compilation of sexual encounters of a teen girl. Yet it is surprise to discover that Cohen is now a psychotherapist, since the book spends so little time discussing the reasons why Kerry behaved as she did. We are left to mainly piece it together ourselves: both parents are self-involved, and give Kerry too much freedom. Her father does not want to be an authority figure, but instead wants her friends to like him, to the extent that he flirts with the girls and smokes pot with them. He also has boundary problems with Kerry -- at one point he gets in her bed with her, which makes her uncomfortable and she has to kick him out. It is not all her parents' fault though. It is also part of the culture, which encourages girls' use of their sexuality to be popular, yet at the same time condemns them as sluts. It's a double bind that condemns girls like Kerry to misery. For the most part, Cohen just describes her experiences. She is a good writer, even if she seems to miss some of the subtleties and complexities of her experience. It's easy to lose patience with Kerry because she keeps on making the same mistakes, and she is active in causing the problems that make her so desperate. She says she is aching with need, but she does not say what she needs: presumably she wants respect and love, but of course high school girls know that you don't get those things by being easy.
The book would have been more interesting if Cohen had put more of her present self into her story, reflecting on what she thinks of her former self, what effects her promiscuity had on her, and whether she regrets her behavior. As it is, the narration is always from Kerry's point of view at the time, and so reads like a salacious "young adult" novel. She gives the impression that many young women have comparable experiences to Kerry's, but she gives only a few statistics or discussion of the sexual practices of today's teens and college students. It is easy to come to the conclusion that wealthy teens like a debauched existence, and rather than feel sympathetic towards them, one is just tempted to dismiss them as deserving the unhappiness they bring to themselves. Presumably that is not Cohen's intended effect, but she does not do enough to explain why her former self deserves the reader's sympathy.
Reading over the reader comments at Amazon.com, it is clear that some readers respond very positively to the book, admiring its rare and honest description of Kerry's frame of mind, while others complain that it doesn't provide insight into Kerry's behavior. Cohen's memoir does at least provide a basic sense of how a young woman can end up having had dozens of sexual partners, without even considering herself to be a particularly sexual person.
Link: Kerry Cohen's website
© 2008 Christian Perring
Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.