Though Eve Ensler had been writing, publishing, and performing in plays since the 1970’s, it was in 1996, with the startling success of The Vagina Monologues, that her name and work began to be well known. The Vagina Monologues is a series of lyrical, thought-provoking monologues, all performed by Ensler in the original production, based on the playwright’s interviews with a wide variety of women about their bodies in general and their genitalia in particular. The premise behind the play was that by openly naming and discussing matters usually kept privatein this case female anatomy and the wide range of women’s sexualitywe can reduce the shame and misunderstandings associated with these matters. Ensler’s 2004 play, The Good Body, similarly presents a mingling of voices and viewpoints, though this time the emphasis is a little more on Ensler’s own experience. The focus of this play is on women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies, especially their obsessive attempts to lose weight or otherwise reshape themselves in a desperate effort to achieve some unrealistic ideal of a good body.
Insecure at Last: Losing It in Our Security Obsessed World is Ensler’s first published work intended solely for the printed page rather than for performance. In it, the author once again addresses a single difficult and abstract conceptin this case securityfrom a variety of perspectives in an attempt to arrive at, if not understanding, at least a place closer to understanding than where she and the reader begin. Perhaps the clearest way to categorize the book is as a somewhat rambling memoir that mingles the author’s political observations with her personal experience, ranging from her childhood to her professional acting life (including how she came to write and perform her best-known works) and her feminist activism. Though such a description might not entirely satisfy readers who select books based on genre, the truth is that Ensler has never been much concerned with having her works fit into particular categories. The style of the book is, in fact, closely related to that of her best-known plays, which weave together material from interviews with personal experiences and veer dramatically back and forth between laughter, fear, hope, and anger. In the range and purpose of the book, at least, Ensler’s many admirers will not be disappointed.
Though not a chronological autobiography, Insecure at Last touches on a number of key points from different moments in Ensler’s life, showing how each of these contributed to her growing understanding of what security really means. She writes about the physical and emotional abuse her family suffered at the hands of her alcoholic father and about the way he provided the family with surface security in the form of a comfortable middle-class lifestyle while producing terror and anxiety in young Eve, who never knew when he might once again vent his irrational rages on her. She tells of her imaginary childhood friend, Mr. Alligator, whom she fantasized would come to take her away from her frightening family life. Elsewhere, she remarks in passing about the period as a young adult when she tried to lose herself in sexual promiscuity and drug experimentation. She also details bits and pieces of information about her travels, including a near-miss plane crash that made her realize how little control individuals have over their own day-to-day security; about her personal life, particularly the painful breakup of a long-term romantic relationship; and about her slow personal journey to self-acceptance and moving beyond her early sense of the profound insecurity in her world.
There is, however, at least as much space in Insecure at Last given over to the lives and issues of other people as there is to the author’s personal reflections and revelations. Since 1993, Ensler has traveled widely in her work as an activist, trying to raise global awareness of women’s rights and improve the lot of battered and oppressed women in...
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