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The Mistress Contract

picture of book cover

A pseudo-academic treatise disguised as a conversation between a man and his long-time mistress, The Mistress Contract is a book you'll either love, hate or go "what IS this?"

I'm in the latter category. It has a lot of promise, with the short novel kicking off with a 1981 contract between a woman and her lover that says he'll cover her expenses in return for all sexual acts he requests. The couple then tapes their conversations over the course of their years together, exploring issues around family, marriage, gender dynamics and of course sex. There's a lot of talk about sex, with an early chapter focused around the clitoris and another about how the man wants sex five times a day. Whether you believe that people use words like "poppycock" while discussing the clitoris and discuss the works of van de Velder and Ideal Marriage, Its Physiology and Technique. is completely up to you. If you immediately assume that these people don't actually exist, because what woman utters a sentence like ""The issue of the vagina is a logical dodge" while in a restaurant, then you've accepted that this book is making a statement, and you're lost in a weird novel.  

So if you evaluate it that way, and see the structure as an inventive way to explore relationships...it's still very weird.

The good news is that The Mistress Contract is a provocative look at the dynamics in a relationship - the pairing of He and She, as they are called, is far more successful than their marriages, or even relationships with their children. She has mixed feelings about what feminism means, the couple have an interesting conversation about teacher's unions and their role and it's fun when they gossip about other coupless.

But fundamentally, you have two characters who are supposed to be representative of....I'm not sure what. I accept that this is a book that may be read in a gender studies course, or that I just didn't "get it" (although, for the record, I took a LOT of gender studies courses in my youth, consider myself a feminist, blah blah blah). But Tess of the D'urbervilles and John Irving references aside, it's not quite highbrow enough to be in a literary canon, not quite sexy enough to be a guilty pleasure, and not quite normal enough to be a book you kick back to read for fun.