Photo: Mario Mancuso

Women We Read This Week

Virginia Heffernan’s “How to Untangle a Necklace” in The Message

Sometimes a writer dishes up a metaphor that feels like a gift. Virginia Heffernan’s essay on the familiar puzzle of untangling a necklace—and with it, reflections on mothers, women’s work, and the “riddle of femininity” (with a shout-out to Freud)—is a mere “4-minute read,” but it sticks to your ribs. When it comes to the infernal knots that work themselves into our jewelry and our psyches, Heffernan is both pensive and pragmatic:

I like to tap the real culprit knots in a necklace with the bottom of a glass or a phone, the better to loosen the knot and put millimeters of space between its sinews. My gaze now lives in crannies; there’s a microchemistry to this.

Straightening out the snarls in our prettiest chains is a neat parallel to the ones that show up in our relationships, our responsibilities, and our writing. Those, of course, are harder to fix. “[T]he nature of the tangled necklace is that you’ll forget what you know about its not being tangled,” Heffernan writes. Patience, some luck, and this essay will help jog your memory.


Sari Botton’s “The Cost of Telling Your Truth, Publicly” in Longreads: An Interview with Jillian Lauren and an excerpt from her new memoir Everything You Ever Wanted

Sari Botton’s interview with Jillian Lauren had me from the first sentence: “In her first memoir, Some Girls: My Life in a Harem, Jillian Lauren held back pretty much nothing.” I wasn’t as curious about the harem thing as I was about the idea of not holding back. The notion of telling all frightens every memoirist, and yet telling all is exactly what motivates memoirists to write. It’s delicate territory.

Botton is on a “never-ending quest for the best way to handle writing about those who’d rather not be written about,” and I’m with her on that. On the one hand, who wants to hurt those closest to you by revealing what maybe should be held back? On the other hand, if you do hold back, readers sense it immediately and won’t be moved by your story. A writer who holds back strikes readers as ungenerous, stingy, even dishonest.

In Button’s interview with Lauren, and in the brilliant excerpt from Lauren’s new memoir, Everything You Ever Wanted, that follows the interview, both women explore what is lost and what is gained from writing in an open, big-hearted way. As Lauren says in her interview, “There are consequences for living in a public way . . . And what I have gotten out of that is the chance to make amends, the chance to change my behavior, the chance to make a mistake and apologize and start again.” In other words, the chances one takes as a writer actually give her chances to grow as a human being.

Lindsay Popper’s “How to Love Your Father When He’s in Prison for Child Porn” in Narratively

The subject of child pornography and those who watch it has recently been brought to the fore by Luke Malone’s essay on young adult pedophiles. Humanity tends to be united in despising child pornographers and pedophiles; even in jails they are segregated from others to avoid injury or death. In Popper’s article we see the human side of a man who watches child pornography and the toll it takes on his children when he is discovered. Popper doesn’t ask for our sympathy, but it is invoked anyway, through the heartbreaking accounts of how a family manages to deal with such a realization.

I walk back to the car, sobs heaving out of my chest, and drive bleary eyed back towards the city, sorry for him, sorry for me, sorry for all the ways I tried and didn’t, all the ways we’ve all failed. The NPR announcer is still on in the background, and I resent her for whatever her easy life is, and then sob louder because I’m sure she also has some secret pain.

Popper offers no easy answers, no pat solutions or simple indictments. Perhaps it is impossible for most people to feel sympathy for someone whose victims were children, those who need protecting most. Perhaps, though, what society needs is less anger and more of an attempt to understand – so that we can do something to stop this crime and save both the children and the perpetrators. Popper reflects, “I am still angry, still tender, still seasick. And my heart, which never has any choice in the matter, is wide open.” Upon reading the piece your heart may become a little more open too.



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