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76 of 100 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Stunning Memoir, June 5, 2008
This review is from: Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage (Hardcover)
Jenny Block has produced a stunning memoir in "OPEN: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage." In writing about relationships and marriage, Block writes what other authors rarely put into print. Her's is not a memoir about finding Mr. Right, nor is it a comic memoir about finding a string of Mr. Wrongs. This is not about her experiences going through an awful divorce, and it is not about how she discovered herself after leaving her husband. This is not a traditional coming out story, neither is it a tortured tale of her life lived deep in the closet. Jenny Block's memoir is about challenging conventional wisdom. This memoir is an attempt to shock the reader awake with the clear message that anything is possible, as a couple, as long as it is engaged in openly and honestly. She admits that her story could have been a more traditional one of infidelity and divorce had she lacked the courage to think in radically different ways. At the same time she acknowledges that her solution, a polyamorous marriage, may not work for everyone. What she is adamant about, in retelling her experiences, is that no one has to settle for the standard answers. When your marriage is on the verge of divorce, when the boyfriend whom you love dearly is just not satisfying you anymore, these are not merely times when one should despair, according to Jenny, these are the times when one should get creative and get honest.

This begs the question, has Jenny Block saved her marriage or destroyed it? How one answers this question, after reading this memoir, is really a testament to how one feels about monogamy. If one feels that monogamy is essential for a marriage then the only answer one may accept is that Jenny Block's marriage ended when she took other lovers. She may not have gotten divorced, yet she is certainly not still "married," because, committed monogamists would argue, marriage requires a monogamous relationship. In response she spends time in her memoir discussing the statistics on infidelity and the pain caused by the lying and deceptions which accompany the infidelities. The unwritten question asked in much of this memoir is - wouldn't we, as a society and a world, be better off if we spent less time hurting each other with lies and deceptions regarding sex? Throughout her memoir she challenges the reader to think about what is the worst thing that could happen in being honest with each other? Yet not wanting to dwell on the negatives, Jenny uses her life and experiences as she retells them, to argue that the best outcome is that your spouse or partner will be fine with you having other lovers.

And why not! Sex may not be just sex, and romantic entanglements may occur, but Block suggests that everything can be worked out as long as you and your primary partner are able to maintain open and honest communication. Block returns to the theme of honesty often in this memoir. It reminded me of Bertrand Russell writing in his 1967 autobiography about how he no longer loved his wife, "I had no wish to be unkind, but I believed in those days (what experience has taught me to think possibly open to doubt) that in intimate relations one should speak the truth." Which leads to the next most common theme in Block's memoir which is, speaking the truth is not easy. It requires each person in the relationship to really listen to each other and to speak with gentleness yet from the heart.

The most stunning argument presented by Block is that no one should be insecure if they can't fulfill 100% of their lover's needs and desires. "I began to think" she writes "it was unfair-ludicrous, really-to expect my husband to fulfill me on every level. Outside of the bedroom, I don't have those standards for him. We have different friends for different things." When I read this, I immediately realized the truth in what she was writing. Block's approach is a much more mature and loving way to think about ones spouse or partner. When teenagers date they date obsessively. They need to do everything together and being apart even for a short time can seem like they are loosing the one they love. As we mature in our ability to love we realize that the people we love are their own individuals and that they have their own needs and wants. Space, and the ability to be ones own self, is not only important but can be crucial to maintaining a relationship. Wives give their husbands the space to go golfing while husbands give their wives the space to attend yoga classes, and their happiness as a couple increases when each can engage in these fulfilling activities. Block's radical, and truthful, approach is to ask why do we not behave the same way with regard to sex. If one partner wanted oral sex and the other did not, would not the relationship be happier if the one desiring the oral sex could find satisfaction with another? In theory, we all have to recognize that the relationship would be happier. The problem with agreeing with Block on this point is that no one wants to imagine that it is this simple. Block would be the first to agree that open and honest communication is difficult and that there are pitfalls to an open relationship which must be avoided, but, if there were any motivation for writing this memoir, it was to demonstrate that it is possible to work through and around these difficulties and to achieve happiness and sexual fulfillment.

Now to my criticism of the book.

If relationships are about more than one person then a memoir about living in an open marriage must represent more than one voice. Up until Chapter 3, Just Pick Someone Already, Block was fine writing solely from her perspective. From the point of her marriage onward the book would have been better, had we as readers, been able to hear, at least sometimes, from her husband's perspective. The one page letter that Christopher contributes at the end of the book is not sufficient to overcome this glaring omission. I think that the book would have been given more credibility if they had written about opening their marriage as a couple rather than solely from Jenny's voice. Writing only from her voice opens the prose up to the criticism of being too self-centered, a criticism that is enhanced because it is Block, herself, who desires the additional sexual relationships and her husband who seems content without them.

When Block's lover Jemma is added to the picture in Chapter 7, You Can't Run Out Of Love, her voice too should have been added to the prose. If living in a polyamorous marriage is about maintaining an open and honest dialog between partners, then Block missed an opportunity by not showing us, the reader, that dialog in action. The inclusion of Christopher's one page letter at the end of the book stands in stark contrast to the missing letter from Jemma.

If anything these omissions leave Jenny standing alone to face her critics accusations that her husband and girlfriend are not really OK with the situation.

The omissions may not be that troubling, however, if one can accept that not everyone is ready at the same time to tell their story. While Jenny Block may have been ready to proclaim her open relationship to the world, Christopher and Jemma certainly may not want to be that public. Should we distrust Block's motives because of this, no. Is the book less compelling, yes, but marginally so. Block herself does not shy away from writing from her own truth. The fact that she is only one, of three persons in this relationship, able to be so open and honest should not lead to criticisms of her or distrust for her. Instead, it should lead every reader to recognize the courage it took to write this book and to value more, her lone voice.
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Showing 1-4 of 4 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 23, 2010 10:09:11 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 23, 2010 10:12:12 AM PDT
James Greene says:
I found this review helpful and it made me curious to read the book myself. In a subjective way I can appreciate the reviewer's criticism that the voices of the other two people in the open marriage were not adequately heard or heard at all. Still , I will be interested in the author's insights gained from her experience. I am interested in this social phenomenon and the author's perspective will be interesting to read.

Posted on Mar 30, 2012 8:38:47 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Mar 30, 2012 8:41:32 AM PDT
J. Lewallen says:
"She may not have gotten divorced, yet she is certainly not still "married," because, committed monogamists would argue, marriage requires a monogamous relationship. "

Who the hell are these idiot "committed monogamists" and who told them they get to define what "marriage" means? You are married or you are not; a marriage is MUCH more complex than just sex. If both partners agree to something and remain committed to staying together, who the hell are you or they to decide that their marriage is somehow void??

Aside from this comment really bugging me (obviously!), your review and comments were excellent.. :-) But I'm tired of dogmatic monogamists getting to define and set rules for the rest of society...

Posted on Jul 6, 2012 10:35:58 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Jul 8, 2012 10:12:01 AM PDT
Kon Tiki says:
Whether Block is being truthful or not isn't the point. The message is the point. Which is, "it works for me".

Alas, we will never know why it works, because the voices of the most important people in the story, her husband and girlfriend, have been largely omitted. Considering this book is about making the argument for total honesty and transparency, this omission is as suspicious as it is ironic. One can only conclude it works for her because it doesn't work for anyone else. Which is commonly the case in these arrangements.

In a world overrun with self-centered people, it is tiresome to read about the life of a privileged suburban white woman who is enjoying a loving relationship yet wants more. "Open" tells us everything about what Jenny wants, why Jenny should get it, why we should feel sorry for Jenny (!), and why people who see things differently are silly and misguided. Apparently the "Rabbi's daughter" learned nothing along the way, because "Open" fails to practice what it preaches.

Jenny's writing gives the impression of a modern day Marie Antoinette. Her book should be renamed CAKE.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 8, 2012 12:57:59 AM PDT
JR Corry says:
Sweetie, these rules are what's natural and what works. Even in polygamous areas, it's common for a man to become uniquely attached to only ONE of his wives.
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