Unzipped: What Happens When Friends Talk About Sex - A True Story by Courtney Weaver '87 (Doubleday, 256 pages, $21.95).
Male-female relationships have always been fertile soil for writers, but the best cultivation of this ground in the 1990s seemed to come at the hands of women. Just as books (Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary), alternative newspaper columns ("Female Trouble" in the New York Press by Amy Sohn '95), and television series (Sex and the City) were attracting a following, Courtney Weaver began turning out a weekly column called "Unzipped" for the on-line magazine Salon. Weaver's columns were based on her frank talks with friends about sex and relationships. In her first book, a retelling of many of the stories from her columns, she takes readers on an entertaining odyssey through today's dating scene in San Francisco.
As a writer Weaver's biggest assets are her friends: Harriet holds to old-fashioned dating rules, Marie (Weaver's hairdresser) is in an open marriage that has blown wide open, and Jemma has entered a master-slave relationship with a dominant man. As Weaver follows this diverse cast of real characters, she is matter-of-fact and to the point; she has no problem asking all the questions politeness might forbid. Her voice is sardonic but never bitter or dismissive.
Drifting in and out of a tepid, on-and-off relationship with an old boyfriend, Weaver's own forays into dating provide wry commentary on some modern nuances of male-female relations. Innovations in telecommunication are, we discover, fodder for frenzied, neurotic speculation. Today's modern woman doesn't just sit at home waiting for the man to call. Instead she compulsively checks voice mail, e-mail, and caller ID for telltale signs that he might have communicated his intentions in any way. The peak of this techno-neurotica comes when Weaver, desperate for insights into her noncommittal boyfriend's mind, steals his voice-mail password and obsessively listens to his messages for weeks, an invasion of privacy that seems far more shocking than any revelations in Unzipped about sexual lifestyles or practices.
Ordinary life in Weaver's account often shares the page with racier material. Moving from stories about sex and dating to retellings of arguments she has had with her mother, Weaver relates tales of heartrending betrayal alongside the saga of the boyfriend who gave his mate a cheese grater as a birthday gift. The height of these surreal juxtapositions occurs as a man casually offers Weaver an Altoid in the midst of an S&M sex-club scene. The small details enhance the book's sense of authenticity, but the portrayal of ordinary life is perhaps a bit too authentic in parts. As in life, the story line frequently meanders and sometimes drifts too far into the mundane.
Still, it's an enjoyable ride. Reading Unzipped gives you the guilty pleasure of peeking into other people's lives - without having to steal any passwords.
Jen Mayer is a freelance writer based in San Francisco.