Californian born Ashley Cardiff – best known as managing editor of The Gloss, an online pop culture magazine for women – has published her first book Night Terrors: Sex, Dating, Puberty and Other Alarming Things. The book is a mixture of memoir, social commentary and essay.
In Night Terrors, Cardiff charts her sexual and social development, from outrageous drawings she made as a rebellious child, to cringe-worthy and horrifying events that beset her in her teens and twenties, like being forced to go to church by the Mormon parents of an ex-boyfriend.
She flippantly dismisses women who do masturbate as “pathologically insane” due to the outrageous fantasies they conjure up.Witty observation and the ability to tell a tale are both at the heart of good confessional writing, and Ashley Cardiff certainly displays both of these abilities.
In one chapter, she describes how by over-emphasising how completely comfortable she is with same-sex relationships, she manages to give the absolutely opposite impression. Her observations are clever and her delivery just the right level of read-through-your-fingers-cringe to be engaging.
But whilst she sets out a scene beautifully, much of her writing is subsequently marred by a vein of nastiness that runs throughout. In a scene describing a sleepover party she had as a child, she describes wonderfully how the “mean girls” that went to the party expertly manipulated and excluded her from the “cool” fun, by monopolising the remote control and talking about things she wouldn’t understand.
But she ruins any one-upmanship she could have claimed over these girls by lampooning them rudely; one of them she describes as having the sort of “blandly attractive features that would make for a mean toothpaste commercial.”
Throughout the book these nasty, personal jabs at her characters continue – an interview she attended, unprepared, is turned on the interviewer who apparently relished rejecting interviewees; an old acquaintance who genuinely seems to be very annoying is sneered at for being a virgin – which removes much of the reader’s pathos towards the author.
Ashley Cardiff writes about important issues in this book; sexual development and female sexuality for example are both relevant and sensitive topics. And whilst she isn’t afraid to discuss these issues, she doesn’t necessarily always treat them with the gravitas and respect they need.
In describing masturbation – which she doesn’t do herself because she’s too self-aware – she flippantly dismisses women who do masturbate as “pathologically insane” due to the outrageous fantasies they conjure up, and men as shockingly simple creatures who need little to no stimulation at all.
While she is obviously employing a huge dollop of hyperbole here, at no point does she go back and quantify her statements, or challenge them. She also doesn’t challenge the confusing social norms and expectations that surround female sexuality. As the book is described as, amongst other things, a collection of essays, this seems to be quite an important oversight.
Well written and engaging, Night Terrors is let down by a callous treatment of its subjects and by not fully engaging with the issues brought to the table.
Night Terrors was released on the 2nd July by Gotham Books.
Do you have a favourite dirty memoir or other sex-positive book that you think is doing it better? Tell us in the comments!