I’m most comfortable as a book reviewer sharing books I’d recommend. It’s simpler to write about what you love, and - I think - usually more helpful to readers. So, I’d decided originally not to write about Robin Rinaldi’s new memoir, The Wild Oats Project.
But then the buzz started, and I knew that while this wasn’t a book I loved, it was a book I needed to talk about. Newspaper profiles, radio interviews and my husband's question about "that book I'd been reading with the naked woman on the cover"...everyone's talking about Robin Rinaldi and her confessional memoirs of her year of living in an open (very, very, VERY open) marriage. I'd really been looking forward to reading this memoir of the author's year of living "for passion at any cost."
The project was simple: An attractive, successful magazine journalist, Robin Rinaldi, would move into a San Francisco apartment, join a dating site, and get laid. Never mind that she already owned a beautiful flat a few blocks away, that she was forty-four, or that she was married to a man she’d been in love with for eighteen years. What followed—a year of sex, heartbreak, and unexpected revelation—is the topic of this riveting memoir, The Wild Oats Project.
An open marriage was never one of Rinaldi’s goals—her priority as she approached midlife was to start a family. But when her husband insisted on a vasectomy, she decided that she could remain married only on her own terms. If I can’t have children, she told herself, then I’m going to have lovers. During the week she would live alone, seduce men (and women), attend erotic workshops, and partake in wall-banging sex. On the weekends, she would go home and be a wife.
There's no doubt that Robin Rinaldi's story is interesting, or that her writing is strong and clear. Unfortunately, her story is self-indulgent and narcissistic to a point where I felt bad for all of the characters who crossed her path. She claims that she is exploring the fine line between loving others and being true to herself, but her lack of empathy or love for others is what ultimately had me losing interest in this exploration about halfway through.
Robin Rinaldi is certainly winning the public relations effort that she’s crafted; she’s getting loads of attention, which ultimately is what as a reader I think she sought for most of the 300 pages in her memoir.
But I can’t help but wonder how the public would have viewed a similar memoir written by a man. How would you feel about a middle aged man’s stories of cheating on his wife, bedding dozens of women with whom he had no emotional relationship, and living his life thinking only of his own needs and desires?
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Why are we supposed to celebrate Rinaldi’s tales, when I know we’d all recoil at a man’s version?
And what of her husband? Where do his rights to privacy and privateness lie? Rinaldi claims that he encouraged her to write her story because if she wrote it truthfully it would not only the story of their marriage, but the story of any marriage. However, I couldn't shake the idea that Rinaldi's motivation for the open marriage was as punishment for her husband's unwillingness to have baby with her.
As a reader, we put a lot of trust in a book's author. By the end of The Wild Oats Project, I felt as cuckolded as her husband; used and ignored for her own gain.