Title: The Mistress Contract
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books):
“The remarkable true document that is The Mistress Contract opens with a piece of paper that was signed in 1981 by a woman and her wealthy lover. The contract establishes an exchange that she thinks fair: If he will provide an adequate and separate home for her and cover her expenses, she will provide him with ‘mistress services’: ‘All sexual acts as requested, with suspension of historical, emotional, psychological disclaimers.’
For the duration of the agreement, she will become his sexual property.
Then — on a small recorder that fit in her purse — this extraordinary and unconventional couple began to tape their conversations about their relationship, conversations that took place while travelling, over dinner at home and in restaurants, on the phone, even in bed.
This book is based on those tapes. It is a candid record of what they had to say to each other privately about the arrangement and its power relations, their physical relationship and the sexual forces that shaped it. As private and intimate as it is, though, the book also turns an unblinking light on a period of intense upheaval between men and women.
Looking back now, thirty years later, this extraordinary couple — who are still together — are willing to reveal their most private moments to our scrutiny. What they capture in The Mistress Contract is an unapologetic revelation and a bold provocation.”
Thoughts: The Mistress Contract is one that piqued my interest from the very first time it was brought to my attention as a new fall release. The idea of a couple agreeing to share their most intimate details about their relationship, however anonymous, was as titillating as it was a huge opportunity to delve into the mind of someone who knowingly enters in a mistress relationship. Unfortunately, The Mistress Contract was nothing like I expected it to be, and my disappointment is profound.
What I was hoping for was an honest discussion about their relationship, why they entered into such an agreement, how it has impacted other relationships in their lives, and the like. Instead, what I found was 166 pages of philosophical diatribes on various gender differences like honest discussions about physical pleasure, feminism, power, and the like. They cite Nietzsche and other philosophers. They discuss ideas and works that are completely unfamiliar. It is dialogue of a kind that felt forced and unfamiliar.
There is no doubt that this couple does love each other. The fact that they are still together after so many years is a testament to their affection for each other; their arrangement definitely works for them. Sadly, this emotional connection appears somewhat nonessential when they start debating about the differences between men and women. The frequent references to the tape recorder and the book they were going to write with the taped dialogue (i.e. The Mistress Contract) made me question which came first – their relationship or their book idea. The dialogue itself is at times forced, and the syntax used is stilted. It was all a bit too deliberate and too planned for me to be comfortable with their supposedly frank discussions. It felt like a performance.
Some of the best moments of The Mistress Contract do occur during some of the more heated debates. They deliberately bait each other, and one or the other frequently mentions how irritated s/he is getting or how the other keeps changing the subject. While the topics themselves may have been planned, their reactions to the discussions come across as completely genuine. It is a refreshing reminder that relationships are not about agreeing with one’s partner 100 percent of the time and that healthy debate is necessary for a healthy relationship founded on mutual respect.
Had I not had such clear expectations about The Mistress Contract before I ever opened the book, I doubt I would have had such a strong negative reaction to it. However, I did, and my opinion of what the book actually contained is now forever tainted by those previous ideas. In trying to set aside my disappointment, I could not overcome the feeling that no one talks like they do in the book, and that every detail of the book was pre-planned as a huge publicity stunt. The Mistress Contract did not feel genuine, and I cannot help but feel that there was a huge lost opportunity for the couple to share more about the whys of their relationship rather than their thoughts on male-female relationships.