by Courtney Weaver
Doubleday, 352 pp, $19.95
"Unzipped" doesn't have an epigraph, but these wistful lines from Philip Larkin's "Love Again" might serve: "That spreads through other lives like a tree/ And sways them on in a sort of sense And say why it never worked for me." Courtney Weaver's autobiographical Cook's tour of contemporary singledom reveals a world in which sex is everywhere but lasting affection is exceedingly hard to find.
Devotees of Weaver's column in the Internet magazine Salon, on which "Unzipped" is based, will recognize the cast of characters: the highly sexed (so we are told) Weaver herself, a year of whose life the book chronicles in promiscuous but inevitably melancholy detail; Harriet, Weaver's New York-based best friend, who reads "The Rules: Time-Tested Secrets for Capturing the Heart of Mr. Right" with the literalism some save for Scripture; Aidan, a dreamy Irish bartender hopelessly in love with Weaver; Marie, a punk hairstylist who has just had a baby and whose husband has just taken a lover; and Jemma, Weaver's British neighbor, who leaves her husband to enter an S&M relationship with a man she met on the Internet (we never learn his name; Jemma calls him "Sir").
Their escapades are predictable: Weaver and Aidan have a lot of sex, he brings her ice cream and Diet Shasta when she's sick, she wishes she could return his affection, but she just doesn't want anything from Aidan other than a good romp in bed. Harriet is dating a commitment-phobic loser of the Men Are From Mars variety--but in the end, he proposes to her. And so on.
Weaver seems to imagine that bored housewives in Peoria will read about her randy exploits with envy. But beneath "Unzipped"'s glamorous sheen lies a thick layer of despair. Lamenting the "postmodern urban diaspora," as she calls it, Weaver observes to her mother that her disparately situated friends are scattered around the globe. She cannot imagine Aidan, Harriet, Jemma-and-Sir, and Marie all sitting down together at a dinner party. Her mothers sighs and asks, "How did my generation raise you kids to be so afraid of commitment?" "I'm not afraid of committing, Mom," Weaver says. "I just can't seem to make an intimate emotional connection."
That slogan turns out to have its limits. When the party's over, Weaver is left with only her telephone, her Internet portal, and her crisp white sheets. She peers into her almost bare refrigerator and thinks, "This is my life.. I am here, alone.. I think about if there were someone else here, someone who lived in this apartment with me, who was not a cat or a bird but my partner." If you've ever sat alone in your kitchen staring at your answering machine and realizing that the successful career, the fabulous parties, and the disposable income are not enough, you've been there.
But Weaver's moment of self-pity, though not unmoving, isn't enough to provide ballast for this cliché-ridden romp. Is her point St. Augustine's, that our hearts are restless until they rest in God? Or is she bolstering Wendy Shalit's attribution of modern women's malaise to the sexual revolution? Weaver lacks the will to dig to the roots of her misery.
Without such digging, her story remains solipsistic, and forgettable. If Weaver reflected longer on her mother's question about her fear of commitment, the book might have provided more than a reassuring look in the mirror for Weaver's contemporaries. Without the willingness to explore what's behind her generation's urban malaise and compulsive coupling, Weaver's story ends--in the words of another poet--not with a bang but a whimper.