Ice and Fire

Andrea Dworkin, a fierce feminist voice on pornography and violence against women, has written her first novel. Told in the first person, it follows the narrator’s life from her childhood in Camden, New Jersey, affected by a sickly mother and an absent father, to an elite New England college (closely resembling Bennington College, which Dworkin attended), to the Lower East Side of New York, where she becomes a writer, prostitute, and drug addict. Along the way there are assorted rapes, violent sexual couplings, and many four-letter words.

ICE AND FIRE is disturbing for several reasons. First, Dworkin has created a well-educated, upper-middle-class heroine who is victimized by men and society, yet the root causes of the victimization are never explained. Second, Dworkin has some rather unsettling things to say about the “institution” of intercourse: “Coitus is punishment,” repeats the narrator, again and again throughout the book (the line is drawn from Franz Kafka). It is not until halfway through the book that the narrator meets a “nice” man; he is worthy of this title because he is impotent, because he “has too much respect for women” to make love to them. Unfortunately, after the narrator marries him, he recovers from his affliction and regularly beats her--he can “pulverize human bones.” It would seem that Dworkin believes that intercourse, for women, only leads to violence and degradation. Finally, this is a book without hope; its characters are not kind to one another or to themselves.

While one can applaud Dworkin’s attempt to interweave her politics and fiction, ICE AND FIRE is relentlessly depressing and distasteful. One hopes for so much more from this important figure in the women’s movement.