Review: The Surrender, Toni Bentley

So, I debated with myself for a couple of weeks. Should I review this one on my blog? I pretty much review all the books I read, but should I draw a line with books like Toni Bentley’s memoir, The Surrender? Maybe I should. I read it out of curiosity. I had heard about it, and I can’t remember when or how, but it recently popped back on my radar again, if you will, so I just read it. Bentley is known for writing a more conventional and well-regarded memoir about her time with the New York City Ballet. Who knows? Maybe I will not click the publish button. If you are reading this, then you’ll know I decided to be brave because I’m a grown-ass woman in her mid-forties, and I can read and review whatever strikes my curiosity. I guess if Toni Bentley can tell the world about her sexual escapades, then I can at least have to guts to admit I read the ensuing memoir.

Anyway, if this book isn’t on your radar, and you know nothing about it, let me enlighten you. It is a memoir about Toni Bentley’s sexual relationship with a man who introduced her to anal sex. If that squicks you out, I should mention there is not a great deal of detail in the descriptions. I mean, it’s explicit, but more with language than actual description of sex—of any kind, really. It probably crosses the line for a lot of folks. But, I mean, do you pick up a book like this if you aren’t a bit prepared for what its pages will reveal? I should think most of us would know whether reading this would cross our lines or not. However, I will say I didn’t find it titillating—and not because I’m a prude or closed-minded or anything. It’s more (unintentionally? purposefully?) humorous than anything else, and pretty much not sexy at all. Sort of sad? It is not badly written. The prose is a bit purple here and there, but it might surprise you that it doesn’t entirely suck if you decide to read it yourself. But, I mean, if she can write some of the lines she wrote in that book and take herself seriously still… well, I have to give her props.

I will admit I was curious as to how someone could write a whole memoir about the subject. Well, it sort of isn’t. It’s more about Bentley’s sexual exploration in general. Actually, it’s kind of an interesting psychological self-study at its core. She doesn’t even get to the affair with the man she nicknames A-Man (I know, I positively cringed, too) until halfway through the book. Ultimately, I finished it because I was pretty curious how this whole relationship of hers was going to play out. I found her to be fairly… shall we charitably say inwardly focused? She cops to it—one chapter is about how as a ballet dancer, she focused on the mirror in the studio, albeit as a study of her imperfections. But you can’t help thinking it did something to her psyche to be so focused on herself and her movement in that mirror. I found her to be somewhat passionless. She doesn’t come off as likable. Not that she was trying, I don’t think. I mean, do you write a book like this if you care what people think about you? She’s not a coward, however. No one who would put a memoir like this out there can be accused of cowardice. Insanity? Jury’s out on that one. I’ll spare you the details, but if you read it, you will definitely wonder what the hell is wrong with her at some point. Actually, there are some great reviews on Goodreads that go into more detail than I feel like doing. And some of those reviews are pretty awesome.

By the way, this memoir was made into a one-woman play, and it sounds like it was about like you’d expect. However, award for most hilarious thing I have read in connection to this book goes to Ms. Bentley herself. In an interview with Salon, she is asked the following question:

At the end of your book, you have only had anal sex with one other man. Now, years later, have you had other anal relationships?

Her response is pretty brazen:

I would rather not talk about my personal life.

Oh, honey. It’s too late to close that door now. (I resisted a pun here, unlike Ms. Bentley, so you are welcome.)

Rating: ★★½☆☆

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