The Bride Stripped Bare – Review

Told in 138 lessons, instead of chapters, “The Bride Stripped Bare” is a book written from the perspective of an anonymous young housewife who finds her world jarred to the foundation by the possibility (nay, likelihood) that her husband has been having an ongoing affair with her best friend since childhood.

The book is often talked about as a frank account of what a woman feels and thinks sexually. As it focuses on a woman feeling betrayed by her husband before seeking out an affair with a man she meets at a library group, and then a number of other encounters with strangers and to greater degrees of sexual adventures, it is easy to see how this becomes an overriding characteristic of the book. The idea of a woman seeking out anonymous group sex can be equal parts titillation and disquieting. It garners attention and does it with an efficiency and speed that is commendable.

But it’s not what I find most interesting when thinking back on the book and while reading the thoughts of others on the book. Until her husband’s possible infidelity comes to light, the young wife seems perfectly happy with every aspect of her life. Her existence could be summed up in three words: Life Is Good.  Since there are no clear suggestions to the contrary, we have to also assume that her sex life is good – or that, at least, she perceives it as good; which is essentially the same thing.

So why did it take her husband’s infidelity for the anonymous young bride to suddenly see the “truth” about her sexual life and decide that these new experiences were really what most excited and engaged her? Rather than being a story of a woman’s sexual awakening, it seems more a story of a hurt person seeking comfort and revenge through mimicing the actions of those who have hurt her.

For with her husband’s infidelity constantly in the background the text, looming over each sexual encounter she has, it becomes impossible to distinguish between an experience felt genuinely and an experience being constantly interpreted by the experiencer. The wronged housewife becomes an unreliable narrator. While the actual events of the story seem to be reliable in their telling, what we can’t trust are the emotional and psychological underpinnings of those actions and their intangible aftermaths.

It makes me think of the film by Gus Van Sant, “Elephant,” about two boys who shoot up their high school school. Van Sant stated that he desired to make a film showing the utter  randomness and essential meaninglessness behind events such as school shootings. That the attempt to attribute meaning is a pointless endeavor. But then he makes his two shooters gay lovers and has scenes depicting how they were typically treated by the other kids (it wasn’t well).  While it could be argued that such things were purposefully planted in the plot as a trap for people looking for meaning, even in a film that is reputed to showcase the lack of meaning, it fails because it simply does provide the opportunity to find a reason. If Van Sandt had really wanted to provide no reason, he wouldn’t have provided even the briefest hint of one.

And so I feel about Gemmel’s “The Bride Stripped Bare.” I have a hard time seeing it purely as a novel of a sexual awakening, of sorts, for a woman and a “frank” and “honest” portrayal of how women think of sex when there’s a big pink elephant looming over each and every sexual experience the young bride has.

Still, for whatever you read into the work, it is a very good read and very well written.  My views are only a reflection of myself, the reviewer, as I think any review is at its most honest level.

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