The Surrender is Toni Bentley’s “erotic memoir” about transcendence/anal sex/submission, and despite the fact that there were things in the book that bugged me, I quite liked it overall. To start with the things that bothered me: I could have done with a lot less Freudian psychologizing, though at the same time, it feels somewhat unfair to criticize the book for its emphasis on something that is apparently a very big part of Bentley’s subjective experience of her life and sexuality. Like, even though for me the appeal of being called a “good girl” feels like it has zero relationship to anything about my childhood or parents, I can’t speak for anyone else’s feelings or experiences; while I may not be able to relate to the way Bentley connects her childhood experiences of shame or humiliation, particularly related to her relationship to her father, to her adult sexuality, I can’t disbelieve her experience of the relatedness of those things. I also feel like Bentley and I have quite different takes on gender and male/female relationships, but, again, her experiences and feelings are hers, so it’s sort of neither here nor there except to the extent that I, as a reader, want a memoir to be “relatable” in some way: I sort of do, but I also see the value in reading memoirs that come from different perspectives. That said, I was annoyed that Bentley wrote these two sentences and that her editor didn’t talk her out of them: “I reckon every woman wants a cock between her legs, ultimately. The question is: Does she want one of her own, or can she tolerate one belonging to a man?” (43). Ugh, really?

Those complaints aside, Bentley is smart and funny, and I appreciated this book’s combination of intensity and humor, and how wide-ranging it is. It includes sections about such disparate things as being an atheist who had wanted to find God/faith for a long time and crotchless underpants and the various styles thereof; it’s got sexy threesome/foursome scenes and philosophical musings about non-monogamy and stories about the experience of jealousy. At its heart, really, is a whole lot about the experience of letting go—the surrender of the title. For Bentley, that surrender comes mostly via anal sex (though not entirely: there’s a section where she writes about learning to go down on her lover in just the way he likes that also has a fair bit of surrender/submission in it). The sections about that experience of surrender and submission were probably my favorite parts of the book, and I think not just because I do find those bits relatable—there’s something so pure and intense about the way Bentley writes about the experience of letting go of her “desire to know, control, understand, and analyze”, about how that makes room for her to experience “openness and vulnerability” (7). Also, I love that Bentley writes about laughing during sex—and not like, oops-we-fell-off-the-bed laughter or oh-bodies-are-weird laughter, but a laughter that’s tied to that experience of letting go. My other favorite bits are the writerly parts—as someone who also feels the impulse to write things down, I really liked sections like this:

He presented me with the first sex I’d ever had that I thought about in words, that I wanted to describe and preserve in words. And so the scribbling began. Every time he came, and left, I went straight to my notebook and wrote it all down. I was experiencing an impossible pleasure, and having it on paper would prove that the impossible existed. (29)

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