By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
These adventures are offered not just as stories, but as elements of legend. Palac not only likes porn, but discovers that sexual submission and S&M - everything anti-porn feminists condemn as "degrading" - are what really get her hot. Going for what she wants, telling the truth about her desires and rejecting political correctness in favor of sexual freedom are what make her heroic.
Well. There is a fascinating book to be written about the contradictions of desire, about the way the images that compel our groins often horrify our rational minds. But this isn't it. For starters, anyone who came of age around the same time as Palac will roar at the idea that she should be considered a sexual trailblazer because she's a woman who admitted her erotic longings. In 1973, when Palac was 10, Erica Jong's "zipless fuck" fantasy was in every bookstore; by 1981, even that journal of radical thought, Mademoiselle, had featured a cover story on vibrators. And whatever Palac's sense of feminist persecution for her embrace of pornography - in an introduction to the book, Susie Bright describes the On Our Backs staff as feeling "as if we were on trial at Salem" - anti-porn feminists never represented more than one wing of a much larger, more diverse movement.
In addition, for all of Palac's talk about female honesty (and despite the fact that many who buy this book will do so in the hope of finding smut), she is astonishingly opaque about her own sex life. We never learn how she discovered her submissive tendencies, how far they go, what she actually does with her lovers. It's unclear as well why she sees being free to explore transgressive sex as so important. The week she first met Bright, Palac reports, she had her labia pierced, an experience that "pushed me into womanhood in a way that losing my virginity never did." Readers are left to their own guesses about what the hell she means by that.
Finally, there is a dismaying juicelessness to this book, supposedly all about the pleasures of sex. A great deal of the problem is Palac's breathtaking shallowness - apparently all her knowledge of life has been gleaned from the most banal elements of popular culture. She complains that as a teen she never discovered masturbation because "there was no episode of The Brady Bunch where Marcia finds her clit and comes." Later, after a shrink helps her realize that she's attracted to S&M because Catholicism taught her to eroticize suffering, and that her psychological task is to get rid of "the despair caused by this fucked-up doctrine without losing the hot sexual fantasies it inspired," she decides to confront her childhood conditioning. How? She buys a Jesus Christ Superstar CD. At this point, it's easy to see why Palac is a good submissive: Even the most pacifist reader has the overwhelming impulse to slap her silly face.
The Story of Mary MacLane was a young woman's angry attempt to assert female reality against cultural images. And yes, revealing her carnal side was part of that; a woman deprived of the full range of her sexuality is a crippled being. But to claim the converse, that sex is all it takes to set you free - which is Palac's argument, such as it is - ignores the fact that fucking is only part of what we do with our lives. Becoming fully human demands that we also consider real-world issues like politics, power, economics. It demands having a mind.
MacLane understood that, and by all evidence, to the end of her short life, she remained a true rebel, subversive to her core. Palac's journey, on the other hand, ultimately takes her from the edge of the bed to the garden of the Santa Barbara courthouse, where, dressed in "a 1940s ivory silk and tulle dress with a five-foot train and a short veil," she marries the lover a friend dubs "The Marlboro Man." She weeps during the ceremony, "awestruck by the power of this ritual," and later, when she starts receiving mail from her mother addressed to "Mrs. Andrew Rice," reports that she finds it "cute."
"As I turn this thing called sex around in my hand like a prism and watch the light reflect in unexpected directions," she muses, "my final conclusion is this: I have evolved. And America has evolved as a culture, a group."
Ah, Lisa, Lisa. Guess again.