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More than Men Off the Leash?

Laid Bare by Jesse Fink.

Being a teetotaller, there wasn’t the option to brace myself for reading Laid Bare with something fortifying.

So I did my equivalent and downed my Sisterhood Soundtrack: Pat doing We Belong, Kate with Running up That Hill, Chrissie doing Pleasure and Pain and a bit of Cher because I’m yet to decide whether I’m a Gypsy, Tramp or Thief.

My 3-ish most formative romantic entanglements were with Him. Not author Jesse Fink of course, but 3-ish men who were each off the proverbial leash after the demise of long relationships. My head, heart, sheets and prose knows the story of What The Divorced Guy Did Next a little too well.

Even if I hadn’t, Californication is one of my favourite shows. When I’m feeling all masochistic I read Sam de Brito. This is very familiar terrain.

A slightly risqué scene from Californication

The book opens with the epiphany Fink has while straddling the face of one of Australia’s “most famous women”. Indeed, homage is paid to his “erect cock” on page one.

A feminist response to this post-split memoir would have been satisfying to write. Equally so would have been an ever-so-slightly vitriolic rebuke from a woman who’s been loved/fucked by Him. But I’ll refrain. I prefer writing to be a tad more challenging.

So aside from dousing my wounds in acid, making me vacillate between depressed and angry, nostalgic and homicidal, what else could I milk from Laid Bare?

Gender. More specifically gender as related to audience, to books.

Is there such a thing as a women’s book? How about a men’s book? Can a book itself have a gender?

I ask this and think of razors. Less about my masochism and more about marketing. The pink For Her packaging reflects marketing and the public fetishisation of choice but has absolutely nothing to do with function.

So, is it authors or in fact the marketers at publishing houses who envisage that a book’s audience will be populated by only one gender?

Do men and women really like different books? The thought makes me bristle.

Bristle, but perhaps it somewhat explains my reaction to Laid Bare. Was there really any chance I’d enjoy a book that opens with a man “finding himself” while ejaculating into some nameless faceless mouth?

So what excluded me? My genitals? My feminism? My disharmony with having fallen - more than once - for this man?

If I’m to argue that Laid Bare - with it’s grotesque vanity and copious sporting/drinking/fucking glory days anecdotes and liberal use of the C-word - is a men’s book, then what about every other book I’ve read? Were they gendered too?

The book I read prior to Laid Bare was written by a man. The book before that too. And like every other book I’ve read, neither feel very gendered.

In fact, the more I dwelt the more I realised Fink’s was the first I’ve read that felt male.

So how - reading two or so books a week - have I managed to avoid male books my whole life? Is it because I’m genitally repelled by them or is it because most books aren’t in fact gendered?

And if Fink’s was my first male book what about female books? Is it to be expected that, being a woman, I would have read more of them?

Earlier this year I read a shelf of Alice Hoffman books, back to back. Some I liked, some I loathed, each paragraph I was convinced that I was reading a female book. I felt the same reading the Jodi Picoult oeuvre.

So why does even typing such an idea conjure indigestion and guilt? Why do I feel I’ll accidentally incur the wrath of the Stella Prize folk? Why am I thinking of Jim Crow suddenly?

Can I make the claim that some books feel gendered without implying that this is in any way connected to quality, importance or worth?

Can I make the claim and still harbour my anti-essentialist views on gender, on sexuality?

Is claiming that a book feels gendered a compliment or a condemnation?

I alternated between pelvic floor clenching and teeth grinding throughout Laid Bare. I’m okay with this. Fink opens hoping we’ll have some conversations: ta daa! I’m not sure I’ve just started the one he hoped for, but then, I paid $32.99 for it; I’ve no further favours to give.

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