Reading Joelle Fraser: The Territory of Men

“When you first met him, he said I want to know all about you. You don’t believe him, you’ve heard that before. You remember the familiar, distracted gaze. He listens, but his eyes flicker over your face, your lips, your throat, as if your voice were merely an accompaniment, your body the main event.
Isn’t your desire for him enough–what else would he really need to know? That’s you’re divorced, that you will never pierce your ears, that you like it from behind? Or that you prefer to wear black, to make love to certain songs, to take naps on dark days? But what about this: what if you told him about your father, about the things you’ve stolen, about what it takes sometimes to get you through the night? Would he want to listen to your fears, to hear of the images you can’t forget–the blind man you drove by one night, the way he just stood there in the rain, your frightened brother reaching for your hand, you mother’s face collapsed in grief as another man left?
You remember men who loved you more the less you revealed. As you pulled from them, they reached for you. You let them love your body, opened it to them as if that was the only gift you could give, that and the memory of when you were gone. What you have brought them to, such a painful hope of nothing.”
–from San Francisco, The Territory of Men
Joelle Fraser’s memoir of growing up the sweet, self-sufficient child of ramshackle hippie parents turns into a must-read memoir as she pushes aside the granny prints to reveal how she’s grown up to be just like them: a women as obsessed with being desired in ‘the territory of men’ as her mother was, and as full of dreams and good intentions she’s unable to commit to as her handsome, alcoholic father.
With a blunt, compassionate precision reminiscent of Caroline Knapp’s Drinking: A Love Story, Fraser takes the scalpel of memory to her 35 years and produces a critically acclaimed, must-read memoir. This is her first book–I can’t wait to see what she writes next–and damn, I wish I could write as honestly and yet delicately as she does.
In a sense, what makes this book special is that the author doesn’t write about herself as if she is special–she just tells her story, and that of her family, in a dramatic, yet subtle way that draws you in and keeps you reading. I know these people, you think five pages in, but then the story keeps shimmering and shifting, and she’s got you, and you just don’t want to stop.