Michael Mellow, age thirteen, discovers a book called PLEASURING
(complete with realistic illustrations), which features his parents
graphically enjoying their sexuality. He immediately shares his
discovery with his siblings --- Claudia, Dashiell and Holly, ages
six to fifteen.
PLEASURING becomes a national sensation, with Roz and Paul Mellow
appearing on television, on the covers of magazines, and on lecture
tours. The book makes the Mellows wealthy, but it also changes the
Michael reflects, "No one ever thought about how it felt to be Paul
and Roz Mellow's children ... how it felt to have your parents
display their bodies, their preferences, their most private
Thirty years later, the parents (who divorced two years after
PLEASURING was released) argue over whether or not to reissue the
book. Roz recruits Michael to persuade his father to allow the
anniversary edition, so Michael travels to Florida to talk to Paul.
The trip becomes a prolonged respite from Michael's own life, which
has focused lately on the sexually detrimental side effects of his
Meanwhile, the grown Dashiell finds an ominous lump in his neck.
His illness gives him time to reflect yet again on the fact that
his parents' book spoke slightingly of homosexuality --- a fact
that continues to wound him in spite of his satisfying life with
his partner, Tom, and his work with a senatorial campaign
Holly, the Mellows' oldest child, has long left the family, first
for a life of transience and drugs and later for marriage and
motherhood. When she married, her primary emotion was relief at no
longer bearing the name Mellow or having to hear, "You're not
related to the sex book Mellows?"
Their little sister, Claudia, has lived permanently with
self-hatred, based mostly on her short thick body. Thirty years
after first seeing her parents' sensational book, she is just
embarking on her first real relationship.
Paul, the father, is on his third marriage yet still considers Roz
to be his true wife. Nearly thirty years after their divorce, he
continues to obsess on the ending of their marriage. His motive for
refusing to agree to a re-release of PLEASURING is spite for Roz's
decision to leave him.
Roz, now a professor teaching human sexuality to college students,
remains attractive at 67. However, she continues to long for the
acclaim she experienced when PLEASURING was first published.
Meg Wolitzer is a master storyteller. In her hands, the lives of
these six people are realistically interwoven and absolutely
fascinating. A subtle mystery --- how exactly did the Mellow
marriage end? --- threads through the plot. The answer manages to
be truly surprising despite abundant clues. I highly recommend this
intelligent and thought-provoking work, which offers readers subtle
resolution and hope.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon (Terryms2001@yahoo.com) on January 19, 2011