Review Detail3.8 2
Though I like to flatter myself that I’m a brave reader, one willing to step outside her comfort zone and try new things, often I don’t. If you look through my very favorite books, most of them share an introverted, sassy, strong-minded heroine. These are the characters I understand best: the misfits, the nerds, the hermit-inclined, the sarcastic. Sex & Violence is about someone who is almost entirely the opposite of me, but done so well that I can actually dig up sympathy for this person so wholly unlike me.
Evan’s mom died when he was young, leaving him with his nerd father, who moved them all around the country for his work. The combination of the constant moving and his father’s emotional distance resulted in Evan’s lack of desire for any sort of emotional attachment to others. He searches out an endless string of a certain type of girl, the kind who will have sex with him quickly and without fuss. He avoids friendships with men and women alike, deleting people’s numbers from his phone when he’s done with them.
Evan’s attractive, in a lean runner sort of way, and getting girls has always come easily to him, from the time he was fifteen. He’s already had a lot of sexual partners, and he both takes pride in this and shames himself for it. The way that he thinks about himself and about women and even about other guys is infuriating and so completely sad. Evan seems to sense that there’s something wrong with him, but he doesn’t want to deal with it. Sex is easy; relationships are hard, messy and doomed to end when his father moves them again. When Evan meets people, he immediately classifies them: dumb jock, secretly gay, slutty, too much work, nerd. Based on these first impressions, he writes people off or determines just how far he’ll let them into his life.
Everything changes for him when two assholes attack him as he’s getting out of the shower. He fooled around with the wrong girl and they were going to make him pay. Both Evan and the girl, Colette, ended up in the hospital. The doctors had to remove Evan’s ruptured spleen, fix his broken nose, and mend a number of other breaks and bruises. His dad moves them to Marchant Falls, where Evan’s dad grew up.
At first, Evan hates it there, just like he hates being anywhere, only more because he’s now terrified of being attracted to girls, large guys, and bathrooms without door locks. His dad makes him go to counseling, which he’s a surprisingly good sport about, even if he does keep a lot to himself. Shocking himself, Evan even makes friends, though he does make rather a mess of it several times. Throughout Sex & Violence, Evan writes letters to Collete that he doesn’t plan to send, explaining, apologizing and trying to deal. As his mental state slowly improves, the letters become more infrequent. These served as a nice way to track Evan’s progress.
Settled in one place all summer, affected by the magic of the lake and the small town determination to befriend him, Evan opens up. He spends time with the local teens, reluctantly at first, but then because he really wants to be with them. For the first time, he sticks around with someone long enough to see below his prejudiced view of them from that first meeting. The dumb jock might be a bit of an asshole, but he’s also not a terrible guy. The girl he thought was a slut is waiting for marriage. The girl he pegged as a prude loves sex and is very open about that. Over the summer, Evan learns that there’s more to others and, in so doing, figures out that there’s more to him than Dirtbag Evan.
In a lot of ways, Sex & Violence really enraged me. As Evan says over and over, he’s a dirtbag. His reflections on people are facile and insulting. At the same time, he’s also clearly broken up inside, and, for all his flaws, he never had sex with a girl under false pretenses. Nothing he did merited a beat-down by some jealous ex-boyfriend with shit for brains. The language in Sex & Violence will likely bother a lot of readers, and I get it, but it also reads as authentically male and unflinchingly honest. Mesrobian did a brilliant job of writing a gender not her own.
What I love best about Sex & Violence is how insecure Evan really is right under the surface. So often male narration avoids discussion of feelings or self-doubt, when those are definitely things that boys think about, much as pop culture would like to pretend otherwise. Evan worries about his appearance quite a bit, particularly how his ears stick out now that he’s cutting his hair so short. I also love the healthy attitude toward counseling shown in Sex & Violence. There’s still a stigma in our culture about seeing a psychiatrist, which I think is absurd. If we all had the time and the money, I think everyone should talk to a shrink, even the shrinks. Oh, and Sex & Violence is very sex positive, with a focus on having sex mindfully when you’re ready for it. Even better, Mesrobian shows that girls have sex drives too. Hurrah!
What Left Me Wanting More:
A smattering of minor issues. The gay bashing language used throughout the novel by admittedly bad guys, but not used to make any sort of point about acceptance, bothered me. The lack of emotional connection I felt kept me from really feeling the novel. Finally, the fact that Evan started messing around with his friend's sister even after hearing about her psycho ex seemed a bit outlandish, given the fact that he'd been beaten almost to death by a psycho ex.
The Final Verdict:
If you’re wondering whether Sex & Violence is something you would enjoy, consider the title. The main subject matter does revolve around those two things, with plenty of profanity and fairly graphic scenarios. If you’re okay with that, I highly recommend Sex & Violence, which brings a rare male POV to subjects of sexual activity, rape and abuse.