I received this book from The Next Best Book Club in exchange for an honest review.
“An act of faith. Faith—true faith—does not come without grappling in the shadows; faith never comes free from doubt” (Rauch 100).
Sara Rauch is in a long-term relationship with a woman when she begins a low-residency MFA. While there, she finds herself attracted to a married man, and well-known author, who is also in the program and has an affair with him. Rauch’s memoir recalls these two intense and different relationships, the heartbreaks of both, while also exploring her Catholic upbringing and lifelong obsession with romantic love.
This review has taken me a long time to write. The point of a memoir is that the author is writing and recalling a moment from their lives, which Rauch is doing, and offering reader’s a glimpse and understanding into it. I think the problem is that XO just doesn’t go deep enough, or at least not as deep as I would have liked. While I found Rauch’s ideas of God and spirituality interesting I thought they would be more relevant to the narrative she was writing about, at times I found that the themes of religion, spirituality, love, maps, bears, etc. only loosely connected to one another. It felt like I was reading a collection of short thoughts than an overarching memoir.
I’ll also say that I couldn’t really relate or empathize with the subject matter. I have not been cheated on nor have I cheated on a partner, so I found it hard to read Rauch’s narrative where there was no ownership over the hurt she had caused by having an affair. I was hoping for more understanding as to why Rauch did this, why she thought she was okay to do this outside of her own admission that she loves very intensely, because that isn’t an excuse. I was hoping for something along the lines of Jenny Yuen’s Polyamorous in which the author acknowledges she cheated on a partner in the past and her journey to realizing she was polyamorous, but Rauch doesn’t offer up an explanation for her actions in the memoir, at least not in the narrative we are given.
In the “Story Notes and Sources” section at the end of the book, Rauch reveals that, outside of the narrative of XO, she has learned she is a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and empath, which “clashed mightily with my (and Piper’s) vision of love as all-consuming and all-fulfilling” (Rauch 151). I can’t help but wonder if taking a look at her past relationships from the perspective of knowing now that Rauch is a Highly Sensitive Person and empath could have benefitted XO. I understand that Rauch is writing about a moment in her past where she didn’t realize these things about herself, but to have it tacked on at the very end, in the sources no less, made it feel like a defense of sorts for her actions. The label of empath felt almost like the TikTok version of the meme “Me, an Empath.” This is not to say I don’t believe people can be empaths, but the fact that we read Rauch’s memoir and find little empathy for the hurt she has caused to her partners (and their partners in one sense) but focuses instead on her heartbreak and how it isn’t fair she should feel heartbroken while ignoring the heartbreak she has caused made it hard for me to relate too and care about.
XO was not for me. There’s a lot of interesting ideas brought up but I felt disconnected from Rauch’s voice, like I just couldn’t fully understand the story she was trying to tell. I know there’s an audience waiting for this book but sadly it wasn’t me.
Publication: April 5th 2022
Pages: 170 pages (PDF)
Source: TNBBC (Thanks Lori!)
Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir, LGTBQ+
My Rating: ⛤⛤
Sara Rauch is in a long-term, committed relationship with another woman when she begins a low-residency MFA in fiction. Though it goes against the promises she’s made, she finds herself pulled into an intense affair with a married man, a well-known writer in the program. More than an essay about bisexual infidelity and the resulting heartbreaks, XO unfolds Rauch’s story like a map of psychic terrain, allowing the author to explore her longstanding obsessions with romantic love, personal faith and belief systems, and the stories we tell ourselves to get through our ever changing lives.