Humorless and overwrought, this discourse on modern female sexuality reads more like a relic from early populist feminist literature than the latest bulletin from the front. Written in alternating chapters by Chernin ( The Hungry Self ) and Stendhal, a German journalist, it wages psychological arguments by telling the story of two women--one American and heterosexual, the other European and gay--who meet in a Paris cafe and explore their sexual identities through dialogue and letters. Chernin and Stendhal try to generate a great deal of heat, intellectual and sensual, through the device of this quasi-fictional, highly rhetorical partnership, but it is not engaging. The American character, ``Claire Heller,'' is self-im portant and self-dramatizing, while her counterpart, ``Alma Renau,'' fares better only because her Teutonic aloofness imposes less gratingly on readers. What passes for feminist thinking between them is only the stalest of sexual woolgathering: ``Shall I say we are all, each one of us, in a body we've chosen? The body matches up with us. Everything else is a lie, daydream, mere ambition.'' (June)
Is heterosexual intercourse a way of reclaiming a universal and innate female power or a colonization of women by men? In Chernin and Stendal's fictitious narrative, a European lesbian feminist poet and an American heterosexual novelist suspicious of feminism debate such critical questions about female identity and sexuality. Using the insights of both Anglo-American and French feminism, the writers explore the possibilities of an authentic sexual identity within patriarchy; of reclaiming a lost history of female power; and of more fluid constructions of gender. By making scholarly feminist theory accessible to nonspecialists, this collaboration demonstrates that communication between women of diverse sexual preferences, practices, and politics may lead to greater mutual understanding and empowerment.-- Deborah Gussman, Rutgers Univ., New Brunswick, N.J.