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The Mistress Contract
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The Mistress Contract is one that piqued my interest from the very first time it was brought to my attention as a new fall release. The idea of a couple agreeing to share their most intimate details about their relationship, however anonymous, was as titillating as it was a huge opportunity to delve into the mind of someone who knowingly enters in a mistress relationship. Unfortunately, The Mistress Contract was nothing like I expected it to be, and my disappointment is profound.
What I was hoping for was an honest discussion about their relationship, why they entered into such an agreement, how it has impacted other relationships in their lives, and the like. Instead, what I found was 166 pages of philosophical diatribes on various gender differences like honest discussions about physical pleasure, feminism, power, and the like. They cite Nietzsche and other philosophers. They discuss ideas and works that are completely unfamiliar. It is dialogue of a kind that felt forced and unfamiliar.
There is no doubt that this couple does love each other. The fact that they are still together after so many years is a testament to their affection for each other; their arrangement definitely works for them. Sadly, this emotional connection appears somewhat nonessential when they start debating about the differences between men and women. The frequent references to the tape recorder and the book they were going to write with the taped dialogue (i.e. The Mistress Contract) made me question which came first - their relationship or their book idea. The dialogue itself is at times forced, and the syntax used is stilted. It was all a bit too deliberate and too planned for me to be comfortable with their supposedly frank discussions. It felt like a performance.
Some of the best moments of The Mistress Contract do occur during some of the more heated debates. They deliberately bait each other, and one or the other frequently mentions how irritated s/he is getting or how the other keeps changing the subject. While the topics themselves may have been planned, their reactions to the discussions come across as completely genuine. It is a refreshing reminder that relationships are not about agreeing with one's partner 100 percent of the time and that healthy debate is necessary for a healthy relationship founded on mutual respect.
Had I not had such clear expectations about The Mistress Contract before I ever opened the book, I doubt I would have had such a strong negative reaction to it. However, I did, and my opinion of what the book actually contained is now forever tainted by those previous ideas. In trying to set aside my disappointment, I could not overcome the feeling that no one talks like they do in the book, and that every detail of the book was pre-planned as a huge publicity stunt. The Mistress Contract did not feel genuine, and I cannot help but feel that there was a huge lost opportunity for the couple to share more about the whys of their relationship rather than their thoughts on male-female relationships.
Acknowledgements: Thank you to NetGalley and Alexa Villanueva from Unbridled Books for my e-galley!
I guess the more a book has to say about how awesome and edgy it is, the more boring and mundane it must be. There's just too much in the way of actually interesting and personal-feeling non-fiction out there on the topics of gender, marriage, and infidelity for me to recommend that anyone read this.
Very little of this slim paperback is salacious. None of it was erotic. Much of it was offensive. Starting with the tagline:
“He is a successful businessman.
She could be any woman.”
But could this be any woman? Personally, I doubt it. Not because I have any trouble with the title contract. Certainly, it’s rarely brought up during this couple’s conversations, and never as an actual vs. philosophical issue. It was written in the context of a long-term, semi-committed relationship. (One that we’d call poly today – “He” apparently had another woman in Seattle with whom “He” also maintains a relationship.)
Some of these conversations were recorded over meals, some in bed, some over the telephone. The personal isn’t particularly political to these two people. Most of what they talk about is the relations between the sexes and while they use their personal lives as examples, it’s in a casual way. What’s grating and offensive is that “He” is patriarchal, overbearing, and unconsciously sexist - while proclaiming his feminism, in which of course he was earlier and better than “She”. I kept waiting for some sign of personal growth, but that wasn’t forthcoming either, possibly because the conversations may not be in any temporal order.
“She” talks about feminism and feminist authors, but not as if they’ve given her any growth or joy. Instead, “She” seems to blame feminist ideas – as does “He” – as the source of some unhappiness or doubt, not empowerment. I say “seem” because it’s just not easy to piece together a narrative of any kind for either of them.
Overall, I’m just not sure of the authors’ purpose in committing this to paper. Titillation? Falls flat. Character study? Too abstract. Snapshot of 80’s sexism, or feminism? Well, perhaps, but difficult to tell because the “conversations” mostly lack dates. Pure narcissism? Closer.
I think this was an interesting idea, but needs far better execution. Dates? Historical (herstorical) background? Conversations cast in the light of current events, thinking? More conversations, more personal background?
[eta: I wrote this without seeing the other LT reviews - I'm amused to see that I had similar reactions.
The Mistress Contract opens with a document that a woman sent to her wealthy lover for his signature sometime in the 1980s. The contract establishes an exchange that she thinks fair: If he will provide adequate accommodations for her and cover her expenses, she will provide to him the following "mistress services" -- all housekeeping duties and all sexual acts as requested, with suspension of historical, emotional, psychological disclaimers. For the duration of the Agreement, she will become his sexual property. Upon receipt of the document, he phoned her immediately to accept. For 20 years afterward, this extraordinary and unconventional couple recorded their conversations about their relationship, conversations that took place while traveling, over dinner, and even in bed. This book is the transcript of those tapes and a record of all they had to say about the arrangement, its power relations, its sexual politics.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)155 — Philosophy and Psychology Psychology Developmental And Differential Psychology
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The conversations were surely very interesting to the two people involved. They were not interesting to me.
If you are looking for something like what is described in the promotional materials, read The Story of O. ( )