In her new book, “Abandon Me: Memoirs,” Melissa Febos writes, “Every addiction, every mad love transcends the legacy of singular people.” Any one person’s story speaks of human nature itself, and the mad loves speak the loudest. I’m reminded of James Joyce who said, “In the particular is contained the universal.”
So when Febos writes in detail about her passionate affair with Amaia, a married professor she meets at a conference, her own story gives clues as to the nature of desire itself. And Febos is really good at reading these clues, which makes her memoir just as brilliant and insightful as it is beautiful and entertaining.
You know when you’re trying to tell a story and you don’t know where to start because everything is connected? That’s “Abandon Me.” While the memoir tells the story of Febos’s abusive relationship with Amaia, to understand their relationship, we need to understand Febos’s fear of abandonment, the main topic of the book woven throughout in eloquently braided essays. There’s the abandonment of her birth father and the frequent absence of her sea captain stepfather, who raises Febos and who she considers her real dad. Then there’s her subsequent self-abandonment through childhood sexual encounters and, later, drug abuse.
Getting back to the universal found in the particular, Febos writes about her fears and desires with her humanity on her sleeve, and it’s a humanity she understands that she shares with her readers.
“As much as we like to own, we also like to be owned in love,” Febos writes. “Or at least, to belong to someone. I am a feminist and the desire to be possessed is one I have been reluctant to admit. I may not want to flash a diamond ring or replace my name with someone else’s, but the mark of her mouth on me meant something similar—if not owned, then wanted. And who does not want to be wanted?”
“Abandon Me” is for anyone who wants to explore the nature of desire. It’s the follow-up to Febos’s well-received memoir, “Whip Smart,” which recounts the four years she spent as a professional dominatrix while studying at The New School. If books about love, or sex, or complicated identities are your thing, I suggest reading both.