Wrecked, by Charlotte Roche

June 2013

“With my husband’s cock in my ass, my women’s movement head always tries to talk me out of the possibility that it can feel good, even as my rectum is telling me how good it feels. Who should I believe?”

Elizabeth Kiehl, the main character in Charlotte Roche’s second novel, Wrecked, hears her feminist mother’s voice whenever she rents porn with her husband or accompanies him to brothels for the threesomes she’s convinced keep their marriage together. The book opens with a 15-page sex scene that Elizabeth dissects in such relentless detail, it all but loses its appeal. In fact, for a book with so much sex, Wrecked isn’t necessarily sexy.

It’s hard to suss out whether Roche’s prose is meant to be shocking in its crudeness, or whether she’s digging toward a deeper portrayal of modern female experience.

Roche, a German writer and former television VJ, caused a stir with her debut, 2oo8’s Wetlands, an Amazon international No. 1 bestseller that was met with as much admiration (“an updated 21st-century Fear of Flying“) as disgust (“all the nuance of Mad Magazine and less wit”). Wrecked shares that book’s fascination with graphic internalism, unblinking descriptions of bodily fluid and function, and characters fixated on death, sex, and broken family. The entire first half of Wrecked is the inner monologue of a woman who’s as meticulous and neurotic as she is socially conscious. Woven through tirelessly mundane descriptions of domesticity and trips to therapy are graphic-sex thought bubbles, lots of porn flicks, and the aforementioned brothel visits, which Elizabeth tallies, hoping to save up enough points so she can sleep with other men.

Halfway through, we get to the heart of Elizabeth’s backstory. The day before she was set to marry her ex, her three brothers were killed and her mother badly burned in a horrific accident on the autobahn. They were on the way to her wedding in England, and were driving only so they could transport her larger-than-life custom wedding dress. From that day forward, Elizabeth opted for a simple and controlled life, striving to create a boring, bourgeois existence for her daughter in contrast to her own bohemian upbringing (which she constantly references, though the only evidence we ever see is the three baby daddies at her brothers’ funeral).

As a character study, Wrecked is more nuanced than Wetlands. As we retroactively absorb Elizabeth’s obsession with bodily function, decay, and death, it seems a blatant challenge by Roche that the root of her neurosis isn’t revealed until deep into the book. We’re forced to really live with her issues before we know why they exist.

It’s hard to suss out whether Roche’s prose is meant to be shocking in its crudeness, or whether she’s digging toward a deeper portrayal of modern female experience. In particular, her characterization of Elizabeth’s relationship with her mother raises questions about how second-wave feminism affected the next generation’s need for stability. For a younger, confessional generation, Roche’s take may be refreshing and of the moment, but older readers–especially those well versed in feminist sex-positive literature–may find it exhaustive and sophomoric. Either way, Wrecked demands tenacity from its readers.

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