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Book Review - The Only Girl in the Car
The Only Girl in the Car
by Kathy Dobie
Delta, 2003
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D.
Mar 1st 2005

In The Only Girl in the Car, her memoir of her early adolescence, Kathy Dobie writes about her decision to lose her virginity and her bad choices as older boys and men used her. Her family lived in Connecticut, near New Haven and her father worked for Yale University. She had a younger sister and two older brothers. Her brother Bill got into trouble and ran away from home several times, apparently falling in with the wrong sort of friends. One of the central unanswered questions of Dobie's story is what leads her to take such risks and go against everything that her parents believe. Her family seems normal and relatively untroubled, so she is not acting out some problem at home. She was a strong student, and had received excellent grades in the years before. None of her girl friends took the same sorts of risks as she does, and in fact they distanced themselves from her when they learn of her behavior, so they did not lead her to bad behavior. Dobie's own words do not shed much light on her actions. She says that she swooned with pleasure at boys' touch, but she seemed intent on her course of action before any boy had even touched her. She was not dominated by one particular personality, but instead moved from man to man to boy to boy in a short space of time, showing a lot of independence. Yet she also acquiesced to their requests even when she knew that it would not make her happy at all.

Dobie briefly describes her childhood and then in slightly more detail her sexual thoughts and talk with friends as she entered puberty. They suggest she was possibly a little advanced for her age, but she was just one of several who played the same games, and none of the others even followed her lead when she started having sex. It almost seems that one day she made a decision to have sex out of the blue, chose the male to do it, and followed through on her plan. It is disturbing how this decision comes out of the blue and as if there was nothing anyone could have ever done to get her to be different. The first two people she was with were men in their thirties and forties. She moved onto boys a little closer to her own age. She describes this period of her life as a storm, a "storm of boys, fingers, tongues, dirty words, whispered hotly in my ear, then shouted at my face," and maybe it makes sense to think of this as a random natural phenomenon. It is almost as if Dobie were struck by lightning.

Her period of active sexuality lasted a few months, until one night she had sex with four males in the same car, and got such a bad reputation that no one will speak to her, and she became totally isolated from any of her former friends. On that final night, she agreed to the sex, but she did not want it; she experienced it as close to being raped, and it was horrible for her. At that point, she turned her life around, and could reflect on what her short-lived promiscuity meant for the rest of her life. She longed to leave town and avoid her reputation as a slut. She remained close to her sister and focused again on her schoolwork. She became a devotee of Ayn Rand, which is appropriate enough for a teenage rebel. More significantly, she found her talent as a writer and did well enough to eventually got into NYU, and settled into life in the big city.

The Only Girl in the Car is a short memoir, but still it manages to explore the meanings of sex for young women, and it does it well. Dobie has a strong command of language and she conveys her feelings well. In her telling, it does not make much difference why she became so intent to have sex, because what was important were the thrill of her discovering her power over men and the consequences of her actions through the ways her peers treated her. Obviously, the label of "slut" has as much power now as it ever did to isolate and hurt young women. Dobie explains not just her relationships with men but also the support of her siblings during this time of her life, which was so important for her. A memoir like this captures the small details of a life and the significance of early sexual experiences in ways that cannot be found in sociological studies and statistics.


2005 Christian Perring. All rights reserved. 


Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Review.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.