All women possess an inner "bad girl." If you don't believe me, check out Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave (Norton, 304 pages, $24.95), edited by Ellen Sussman.
Sussman enlisted 25 other women writers to tell their own personal bad-girl stories for this provocative book of essays. Though there is a sexual element to many of the stories, each author has her own distinct idea of what being a bad girl means.
Former New Yorker writer Daphne Merkin gets right to the point in the title of her essay: "Penises I have Known":
"Penises, it appears, deserve to be worshipped or envied (or, if need be, encouraged) but they don't deserve to be nattered on about. This is still sacred male territory and women trespass at their own literary peril."
But nattering on is precisely what Merkin does here. Halfway into her essay I wondered when she would actually get to the penises she has known. She does, but not until the end; up until then we get her many thoughts on the male member, from a literary historical perspective to a conversation she had with her teenage daughter and virginal housekeeper; probably more than you'll want to know, but fun reading nonetheless.
Turns out Erica Jong, who you might think would have a doozy of a tale, was/is really a good girl in disguise. In "My Dirty Little Secret," she writes:
"My purgatory is to be identified forever with a bad girl I invented in my youth for the purpose of being noticed. She haunts me still."
Some of the essays are funny, some naughty, some sad, some heartbreaking. From Pam Houston, whose 1992 short story collection Cowboys Are My Weakness made me an instant fan of her strong, smart, feminine voice, I expected some kind of rollicking Western tale of debauchery. Instead, she surprised me with her poignant story of seeking closure after the death of her abusive father.
Kaui Hart Hemmings — new to me — cracked me up with her "Author Questionnaire," in which she poses questions to herself and answers them:
"Proudest moment? Re-creating Julia Stiles's drunken dance scene in the movie '10 Things I Hate About You' to the song 'Hypnotize' by Biggie Smalls at a stranger's birthday party on a wobbly picnic table."
In these times of celebrity bad girls, we forget sometimes that there's more to the story. Reading Bad Girls not only gave me a bit of a new perspective on such things, but also forced me to recall some of my own "bad girl" days.
If anyone out there has a bad girl tale they'd like to share, drop me an e-mail. I'll send my copy of the book to the best one.