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Would You Rather is a memoir that follows the life and eventual coming out of Katie Heaney who, at twenty-five, had never had sex. The book follows Katie’s life from her days at an undergraduate college to her grown-up life in New York City, working for Buzzfeed. Along the way, she details her crushes on boys, as well as her resistance to intimacy with them, and the shame she feels because of it. The book also integrates her fear of planes, her short-term passion for astrology, and her personal struggle with anxiety.
Would You Rather is what I’d call a “feel good” memoir. The narrator faces a dilemma (in this case, not being able or wanting to sleep with boys–why?), a realization (that maybe she could sleep with girls?), and a resolution (sleeping with girls is good, yay!). It follows an even pace, progressing with soft, easy prose until it reaches the height of the story, and then resolves with the same quiet ease.
Heaney is funny. Her sardonic sense of humor is what lifts the book when it needs to be lifted: “It isn’t at all uncommon to see a pair of women holding hands as they walk down the sidewalk; I know because my eyes are drawn to them like moths to a big, gay flame.”
Her humor is a staple of the piece. She uses it in her interactions with others, to hide her anxiety, and to express herself when she’s uncomfortable. Although I enjoyed the light-heartedness of the piece, in many places, I’d wished the text went deeper. She comes close to reaching many deep sentiments: “They told me that I made. My story didn’t have to fit inside anyone’s expectations, because it wasn’t, first and foremost, a story. It was my life.”
And this section, “That was the best part of the whole day (Pride) for me: seeing and being seen by other queer women, huddling together and smiling because it was our special day and we had that one thing in common.”
Overall, though, the prose stays somewhat removed from the heart of the narrator. We see her feel uncomfortable, we see her struggle to understand her developing relationship with her first girlfriend, but we never see her truly down and out, at the bottom of the bottom. And while that may not be the story she was trying to tell, I would’ve loved to have more passages like the following:
[I]t wasn’t hard to see myself in his eyes, and all guys’ eyes, really, as a little bit desperate, and a little bit sad. I didn’t feel that I was those things, or that my book as a whole came off that way, but there were these interviews and excerpts running online under headlines like “I Have Been Single for My Entire Life” and “Help Me, for I Am a Tragic, Old Virgin,” and I imagine that’s kind of hard to ignore. For me, at least, it was impossible.
This paragraph is so wonderful because it shows true vulnerability. It goes beyond the expected to show something visceral and painful for the narrator. This is what makes memoirs great—this revealing of one’s darkest self.
I also would’ve liked to see more passion in the narration about the women she likes. Something raw and unfiltered. Even though much of the book focuses on her lack of sex and wanting to have it, we are never privy to any of her thoughts about women or men. The narrative voice here could be improved by diving deeper into her personal thoughts.
Conversely, the strength of the book is that, because it stays light-hearted, it will speak to many people. Her jovial awkwardness is endearing, and her lack of interpersonal skills made me see myself in her, as many others will. In this way, the book is universal. Gay, straight or anything else, we all understand how it is to be separate, to be bumbling, to want to fit in.
Still, being a woman who loves woman, my favorite moments of this book are her shy, fumbling feelings for girls and how they seep out at all the wrong times.
“When I lifted her lime green Limited Too t-shirt to wrap the blanket around her torso, I looked at her breasts for just a beat too long.”
Same, Katie. Same.
Would You Rather
By Katie Heaney
Paperback, 9780399180958, 256 pp.