You know, I had high hopes for Anatomy of a Single Girl, Daria Snadowsky’s sequel to Anatomy of a Boyfriend, which I liked enough to buy once upon a time. (For me, that is praise. I am a book enthusiast, but I am also cheap.) Together, they are the “saga” of sorts of Dominique Baylor, from her senior year of high school up until the start of her sophomore year at college, as she goes through her first serious relationship. It’s been likened to Judy Blume’s Forever… for its frank sexual discussion and activity, but a lot of things have changed since 1975. Spoilers, and some frank sexual discussion, to follow…
I’ll be honest with you, the writing is not spectacular. There is a lot of telling and not showing, though I suppose some of it is necessary to get from the A of meeting a guy to the B of sleeping with him without going through the many days of babysitting and hospital internship in between. Still, there is no shortage of jumping forward in time, which can be incredibly frustrating when you’re spanning only about 2 months of time. It’d be acceptable if some of this was focused on Dom’s hospital internship, or her relationship with her parents, or her relationship with best friend Amy. But those largely get glossed over, as it seems Dom is the sort of person whose life is defined by whether or not she’s in a relationship.
A quick background on Boyfriend (which I did not re-read beforehand and didn’t really need to, except for forgetting the titular boyfriend’s name): Dom meets Wes, falls in love, they lose their virginity to one another (Dom never once orgasms during the tenure of their relationship), they go to different colleges, Wes over break suggests they break up, Dom falls into a post-first love sadness pit. (Said pit is metaphorical.) As such, Single Girl picks up mid-summer after Dom’s freshman year (as a premed at Tulane), when she’s about to return to her parents’ place in Fort Myers for a few weeks.
At the start, Dom is in a one-sided relationship with Calvin from Tulane, who adores her even though her feelings are strictly platonic. She decides to use the summer as an experiment to see if absence will make her heart grow fonder, but the experiment quickly gets thrown out the window when she meets Guy Davies, sexy frat boy physicist. They hit it off and immediately start dating, but Guy would like to take things further sexually, and Dom doesn’t believe in sleeping with someone she can’t be long-term with. However, since they go to different schools in different states and have very time-consuming majors and aspirations, Guy refuses to commit any further than the end of summer break.
If this were most any other trashy read, they’d fight and make up and by the end of the summer, they’d agree they couldn’t be apart and find a way to make it work. But this is a book with ‘single girl’ in the title, and the sequel to a book that ended in a messy, sobbing breakup. So Dom and Guy do not last past the end of summer. In fact, they fizzle out a few times before then.
But in between the fizzle, there is sizzle (Cosmo, call me!), as Dom decides it’d be healthy for her to have a largely sexual relationship with the irresistible Guy. So for a large chunk of the text, they are boning near-continuously, it seems. Some of it is moderately graphic and some of it and some of it falls back under the ‘tell’ heading of ‘we had sex in all kinds of ways!’ I’m not saying I particularly want to read all of the intimate details, but you can’t condense an entire week into a paragraph and reduce the only interesting parts of the week to a sentence. Genuinely, if you want me to care about Dom’s blossoming sexuality, or the profound sense of self she gets from said sexuality, or her relationship with Guy, I need to see more than her running through a list of seedy locations where they can have sex while he shoots each one down in turn, because it doesn’t paint either of them in a good light and it doesn’t earn my interest. (Having a conversation about the sex she wants to have without anyone actually having sex is like watching a slideshow where the projector doesn’t work.)
Dom, as a premed and a medical field/anatomy enthusiast, approaches sex in a very clinical manner sometimes. Her first naked encounters with then-boyfriend Wes are treated almost as an exercise to study the penis. She becomes a little more freewheeling with Guy, finally learning to explore her sexuality beyond an anatomy lesson and as a vehicle for someone else’s pleasure. Dom throws herself into the study of safe sex: Awkward conversations about sexual history! Forcing your partner to get tested for STDs! Visits to Planned Parenthood (including detail descriptions of breast exams AND pap smears)! Depo-Provera! When was the last time you read the phrase “dental dam,” let alone read about someone using one? It’s kind of nice to have her not so flat-out taken by romance, or even taken by lust (and, let’s be honest, she is very taken by both), that she doesn’t try to protect herself and think logically. That said, though, Dom still carries a torch for dreamy romanticism, fantasizing, however briefly, about how good Dr. Dominique Davies would sound. She is of course allowed to cling to whatever fantasy she wants, but when this does not work out, she becomes frustrated, crushed, or both. And we are forced to watch her raging and/or wallowing.
Dom takes everything as a personal attack: when Guy says he doesn’t want kids, when Dom’s parents admit they’re moving to Gainesville, when one of Guy’s frat brothers accuses Dom’s best friend Amy of being a tease. Dom doesn’t have any friends besides Amy. (Well, I suppose you could technically count poor, underdeveloped Calvin as a friend, though we know virtually nothing about him and he only exists as a plot point.) Amy and Dom’s relationship is a bit problematic in and of itself. Amy believes in sex for sex’s sake, and in general, Dom does not approve. They are friends because they were put together alphabetically in school, and do not seem to have anything in common beyond that. Amy is the classic free-spirited artist who is struggling her way through a monogamous relationship that’s doomed for disaster (Dom is resentful of the relationship for splitting up their friendship, though she herself was the same with both Wes and Guy; Dom is also oblivious to the problems Amy is having in her relationship and at home until it all comes to a head); Dom is the uptight overachiever who simultaneously wants a perfect future and hates change.
And that is the essence of Dom, hypocritical and easily offended. During pillow talk with Guy (right after trying to convince cynical Guy that love was a beautiful, real thing that he should absolutely experience):
“Amy used to doubt [love would] ever happen to her before she met her boyfriend at Amherst.”
“Uh-huh. Well, Bruce never would’ve guessed Amy was ‘in love’ last night. I thought she was cool and all, but the guys today were calling her a tease.”
Like a shot, I sit up and yap, “Oh, really? Then you can pass along this message to them from me.” I clutch Guy’s arm and give him an Indian burn.
“You can also say that Amy would never talk shit about them.” I turn away and pull up the blanket. Little does Guy know that I agree with his brothers.
Guy never says that he thinks Amy is a tease, so Dom is taking her anger out on the wrong person, and while her loyalty to her friend is admirable, her self-righteousness is completely misplaced, if she thinks Amy is kind of slutty. And that is the core of my problem with Dominique Baylor. She is a great blank slate for which a girl can follow along and be like, yes, first love is like that, break-ups are like that, sex is like that! But I don’t care for Dom herself. I am fully on board with Dom’s experiences, I just wish I was seeing them through any other person than her. She is admirable, but not likeable. And in a case of potential victim-blaming, I can’t help but think that yes, of course you are going to get into heated arguments if you push an emotional situation with a guy you’ve known for three days, of course this will happen. Of course you are going to get your heart broken, you are only eighteen! Of course your friend will yell at you if you make every situation about you!
When Amy and Joel break up, Dom, theoretically trying to get Amy to think about anything else, brings up her ex for the umpteenth time, even though Dom/Wes broke up over six months ago, and Amy/Joel broke up that morning. I want to reach through the pages and smack her, because no one cares. Poor Amy was with Joel for approximately the same amount of time that Dom was with Wes, and while they did not lose their virginity to one another, their relationship is no less valid, and Dom treats it as though Amy’s experiences are some how less important than Dom’s. Dom may be wonderfully book-smart, but she lacks empathy.
But, you know, all that being said, I did enjoy it (ish) (I enjoyed the first one more), because I do find it relatable as a description of life, much the same way I enjoy Judy Blume. And in closing, I’d like to leave you with this deeply philosophical question that Dom once used to close the end of a chapter.
I wonder how many more penises I’ll have inside me in my lifetime.