Anyone who spends enough time on tumblr will recognize Sara Sutterlin’s poetry. Usually appearing in all capital letters and uploaded in a screen-cap of a text window, her work is unapologetic, demanding, and brutal in its detail. She writes about everything from heartbreak to internalized misogyny, and her posts are wildly popular, resonating hardcore with tumblr’s younger female (read: feminist) demographic. When I saw Sutterlin was looking for reviewers for her ebooks, which are more like digital zines due to their stripped down style, I jumped at the opportunity to do more than just stalk her website.
We all have questions we would love to ask our exes. Some might be about the relationship itself, or about where things between us stands now. Maybe we would like to clarify an unfinished moment or a lie that was never forgotten. In NO LONGER MINE: INTERVIEWS WITH EX BOYFRIENDS, Sutterlin explores this curiosity. But instead of demanding answers to lingering concerns, she asks her exes about herself, an act both self-indulgent and fascinating. She explains her project briefly and without apology, offering the results without any sales pitch. “AS A PART OF MY SELF LOATHING SELF EXPLORATION BULLSHIT PROJECT I DECIDED TO INTERVIEW SOME OF MY EX BOYFRIENDS AND ASK THEM A BUNCH OF WEIRD SHIT.” The ebook is for her, and if you benefit from it, cool. But that’s not Sutterlin’s priority.
I don’t want that to be read as an insult. It isn’t. I have so much respect for writers who write for themselves—especially women, who are told at every turn that their stories are invalid. The bulk of my work was written for myself because I had feelings I needed to exorcise, or because I wanted to communicate something that I wished someone had communicated to me. This blog is for me, at the end of the day. It’s a chance for me to read things without paying for them in exchange for an honest review. More importantly, it’s a means to represent myself, instead of letting the world decide how I should be represented. Sutterlin’s ebook is for her, but she is allowing her exes to represent her through their answers to her (highly intentional) questions. The result is honest, fascinating, and raw. I feel like I know Sutterlin, or that I know a version refracted through a mirror from the words of those who loved and lost her. To be even more exact, the ebook offers a glimpse of who she was at a time when these men thought they knew her, if they ever did.
“DO YOU REMEMBER THE FIRST TIME YOU SAW ME/MET ME? WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION?” It’s almost funny how boring the answers are to this traditionally romantic question, but don’t most of us have pretty boring ‘how we first met’ stories? They are interesting to us, and they are usually only interesting when we are still with our partner. As is the case here, the men are somewhat interchangeable, their stories similar. They met at a party, they met at someone’s house. One man remembers the American Apparel dress Sutterlin was wearing at the time with surprising specificity. The romance here is stripped bare, in some cases finished and in some cases not. Her final question sets up what could be an incredibly beautiful answer, if she were still in love with any of the men she is talking to, which she is not, and that is exactly the point. “DO YOU REMEMBER THE MOMENT YOU THOUGHT “MAN I LOVE THAT GIRL” AND THE MOMENT YOU HAD WHERE YOU REALIZED “MAYBE I DON’T LOVE THIS GIRL”? WHICH MOMENT IS CLEARER IN YOUR MIND?” One man fell in love with her on a mattress on the floor, maybe it was an inflatable mattress, he can’t quite remember. In the most biting moment of the ebook, which is coincidentally its end and as a result indicative of its self-awareness, another man answers, “YOU GOT FIRED AND SLEPT WITH THAT AMERICAN GUY AND IGNORED ALL MY TEXTS. SERIOUSLY SARA, FUCK THIS QUESTION.”
Short, themed collections like this one might seem like a gimmick to an uncritical reader, but the feminism is strong with this one. I can’t say for certain what Sutterlin’s angle is, whether we should interpret this as a statement about love or relationships or how men understand—or fail to understand—the women they love. I do know, however, that it made me want to ask my exes, and even my current partner, some of the same questions. But would I like the answers I received? Would I be the woman they described? I have exes I still consider close friends and exes I don’t speak to anymore, and the truth would probably lie somewhere between those two extremes. But even truth is constructed, fleeting, grown out of like Sutterlin’s American Apparel dress. I think the best thing to walk away from this ebook with is the awareness that women change, women grow, women fuck up and learn and hurt others and are hurt by others and every other cliché in the book. Sutterlin may be difficult to get along with, but she is a strong, badass voice, and challenging, cheating, uncompromising women are critically important too.