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Looking for Mr Goodbar (Washington Square Press.) - Judith Rossner

”To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

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Professor Martin Engle broke off his four year affair with his student Theresa Dunn by quoting Ecclesiastes to her. Like a lion circling a herd of gazelles probing for the weakest member he had decided she was the right one to sustain his ego. She was just coming out of her ugly duckling stage and emerging from the shadows cast by the wings of her swan like sister. She is self conscious of her body. A polio incident as a child left her with a slight sway which men will later think is sexy. She has a scar running down her back from a surgery to repair damage done to her spine by the disease. She had to be in the hospital for over a year strapped into a series of casts and back braces to insure she could continue to walk. 

She was tailor made for Martin Engle. 

When he hires her as his “writing assistant” the only writing was the scribbling on the wall. He notices the slight bobble in her walk and asks her about it which exposures all her insecurities wiping away in a matter of seconds her new vision of herself. 

”I’m not attempting to seduce you.” he said. “I am attempting to comfort you because I see that I’ve hurt you.”

An excuse to touch her more like it. She gave him a reply that must have made his heart sing knowing that he’d sunk his teeth into his prey. 

”But I’d rather be seduced then comforted.”

Another kink to their “relationship” is that his work space is next to the office where his wife works as a pediatrician. When they make love have sex it is on a daybed right against the wall separating the two rooms. The recklessness of potentially being caught had to heighten his enjoyment. 

The fact that Theresa would rather be seduced than comforted also shows her need to be normal. Being seen as a sexual being gets her further away from the image of that little girl in the hospital bed. 

Martin was an adult that didn’t have to be a parent. It is all part of the seduction package that makes him more charming to these young girls. 

”One of the reasons she loved him was that she’d understood since she first heard him talk that all those sly or hostile or outrageous thoughts that had cropped up in her mind for years and remained unsaid because they would shock or upset or alienate the people she knew would be perfectly alright with him.”

Martin’s charm does have more than a few cracks in the veneer.

”Theresa has asked him after sex why he was angry with her, he’d said he always disliked women after fucking them. She’d blanched because she had never thought of what they did as just fucking.”

To a mature self-confident woman a statement like that would have insured Martin an ass kicking to the curb, but then Martin doesn’t like women capable of doing that. He likes girls. He is truly a monster. A man, a succubus, who steals away their innocence and then trades them for another hatchling. They each have a season it seems. 

The reason I’ve spent so much of this review writing about Theresa’s first relationship is that I believe this is THE turning moment in her life. The cavalier way that Martin has sex with her advances her well beyond her years. As part of the seduction he made her feel special and encouraged her to be a writer, but then in an act of betrayal that dismisses his kind words he showed her that he valued her most for the pleasure she could give him. The very pleasure that he could then hate her for because, after all, it isn’t his fault that he is this way. 

Martin Engle did not bash her with the lamp that ended her life, but the lingering results of his actions did put her in that bed with that stranger. 

This book is loosely based on the actual case of Roseann Barr, a Catholic school teacher who picked up men in New York bars. Unfortunately this reckless behavior resulted in her murder on New Year’s day in 1973. The seemingly nice girl in the wrong place meeting a nightmare. When Theresa starts picking up men in bars she sometimes reveals to them that she is a school teacher. This is shocking to the men. They didn’t expect to meet a school teacher in a bar and certainly didn’t expect to meet one that wanted to have sex with them. 

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Diane Keaton plays Theresa Dunn in the movie based on the book.

Theresa starts to panic when she meets James Morrisey. James isn’t interested in taking advantage of her sexually. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t find her attractive. Things would be simpler for Theresa if he was the kind of guy who wanted a quick tumble in the hay. He is a romantic. He is successful. He screams mortgage, six kids, and a white picket fence. (These are bad things another leftover twist from her time with Martin.) She treats James like crap as if she is trying to save herself from the responsibilities and expectations that being involved with a guy like James entails. 

”Aha Theresa, “ He said. “You’re so cruel to me. Why?” Because you like me too much, was what came into her head. But of course that was ridiculous. It wasn’t that simple.

Yes it is. 

The rose tinted glasses rest lightly on James’s face. He has spun a vision of Theresa out of fine gold and white lace that she does not want to be. How stupid can he be to love a woman like her? Unfortunately she can’t even like herself enough to allow someone to love her. Theresa’s final pick-up at the Mr. Goodbar is, in my mind, a last desperate attempt to escape the encircling sensibility of a life with James. 

It works.

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This book is famous for it’s sex scenes. They are so deftly woven into the plot that the sensationalism of them is somewhat offset by the psychological elements that Judith Rossner explores in the process. This book has been called a feminist book which I wonder if that would even be a part of the discussion if Judith Rossner had been Jeffrey Rossner? There are breadcrumbs…”Why is it,” she asked, “that if you ask a woman how she is, the first thing she tells you is about her husband or boyfriend?”...but I never found the loaf. The book was too commercially successful to ever be looked on as literature, but if Rossner was still alive and giving a lecture on writing I’d be there...with bells on...a fresh notebook before me, and a finely honed pencil in my hand.