22 Minutes of Unconditional Love

Early on in 22 Minutes of Unconditional Love by Daphne Merkin (This Close to Happy: A Reckoning with Depression), the narrator--a writer and a married woman who's pregnant with her second child--says this from her perch in the early 2000s: "I've been meaning to write this book for years.... It's for myself, of course, that I tell it but also for all of you who have stumbled into this kind of twisted love--love indistinct from obsession--and reeled from its force."

The narrator proceeds to rehash an episode in the life of her admitted alter ego, a woman she calls Judith Stone, an editor at a Manhattan publishing house. One night at a party in the early 1990s, Judith meets Howard Rose, a criminal lawyer. Judith and Howard skip dating and go straight to sex. Howard is physically and verbally domineering in bed--"Do I own you now?" is one of his choicer lines--and he's cold and cruel to Judith out of the sack. It's not that she doesn't see the problem with "the spell he cast on her and her willingness to fulfill his every whim, concubine-like"; she keeps pursuing Howard because she likes the kind of sex they're having and entertains a hope that he will grow to love her.

Readers may consider Merkin's novel a fascinating look at human psychology, especially if they are intrigued by the notion of sadomasochism and admire Dr. Freud. As for those who find 22 Minutes of Unconditional Love's masochistic protagonist tough to take, they will nevertheless likely appreciate the book's vigorous prose and structural intricacy. --Nell Beram, author and freelance writer

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