Books

Grove Press
Grove Press
Grove Press

Wetlands

by Charlotte Roche

“With her jaunty dissection of the sex life and the private grooming habits of the novel’s eighteen-year-old narrator, Helen Memel, Charlotte Roche has turned the previously unspeakable into the national conversation in Germany. . . . A cri de coeur against the oppression of a waxed, shaved, douched and otherwise sanitized women’s world.” —Nicholas Kulish, The New York Times

  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Page Count 240
  • Publication Date February 09, 2010
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-4469-0
  • Dimensions 5" x 7.25"
  • US List Price $14.00
  • Imprint Grove Paperback
  • Publication Date April 08, 2009
  • ISBN-13 978-0-8021-9992-8
  • US List Price $14.00

About The Book

An international sensation—with more than one million copies sold in Germany, and rights snapped up in twenty-seven countries—Wetlands is the sexually and anatomically explicit novel that is changing the conversation about female identity and sexuality around the world.

Helen Memel is an outspoken, contradictory eighteen-year-old, whose childlike stubbornness is offset by a precocious sexual confidence. She begins her story from a hospital bed, where she’s slowly recovering from an operation and lamenting her parents’ divorce. To distract and console herself, Helen ruminates on her past sexual and physical adventures in increasingly uncomfortable detail; what ensues is “a headlong dash through every crevice and byproduct—both physical and psychological—of Helen’s body and mind.” (The New York Times).

Fantastically sexual, Helen is constantly blurring the line between celebration, provocation, and dysfunction in her relationship with her body. Punky alienated teenager, young woman reclaiming her body from the tyranny of repressive hygiene (women mustn’t smell, excrete, desire), bratty smartass, vulnerable, lonely daughter, shock merchant, and pleasure seeker—Helen is all of these things and more, and her frequent attempts to assert her maturity ultimately prove just how fragile, confused, and young she truly is.

In the tradition of The Sexual Life of Catherine M. and Melissa P.’s 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed, Charlotte Roche exposes the double bind of female sexuality, delivering a compulsively readable and fearlessly intimate manifesto on sex, hygiene, and the repercussions of family trauma.

Praise

“With her jaunty dissection of the sex life and the private grooming habits of the novel’s eighteen-year-old narrator, Helen Memel, Charlotte Roche has turned the previously unspeakable into the national conversation in Germany. . . . A cri de coeur against the oppression of a waxed, shaved, douched and otherwise sanitized women’s world.” —Nicholas Kulish, The New York Times

“An encyclopedia of bodily secretions and a catalog of nonstandard ends for them . . . A cautionary tale about entrusting private grooming to professional bikini waxers. . . . [As a] book that does not intend to arouse but to titillate . . . Wetlands is the epitome of the form.” —Troy Patterson, Slate

“If Wetlands helps start a conversation about hemorrhoids and taking a crap like a human being whether or not your at ‘his’ house and liking anal sex and liking the smell of pussy or whatever, if it helps women take away a moment of understanding that we’re all sort of dirty and weird and sexual and that that’s okay, then, fuck it, this should be required reading.” —Megan Carpentier, Jezebel

Wetlands is Roche’s scatological counterattack to our ultra-sanitized world. Scandalous, compelling and altogether disturbing, this is a new erotic literary classic.” —Diane Anderson-Minshall, Curve

“[There is a] fundamental humor underlying the book . . . and beneath all the poo and smegma there’s a nice little story of a lonely, sad girl.” —Jack Harrison, Nerve

“Every once in a while, the novel, which keeps defaulting to its genteel, overmannered self, needs a purgative, and Wetlands is it. . . . Roche follows in the admirable footsteps of Brecht, Böll and Grass. Never was there a more corporeally articulate heroine than eighteen-year-old Helen, [whose] detailed descriptions of her endless experiments, often brutal, with bodily secretions . . . are infinitely more fascinating than any number of psychologically authentic characterizations in traditional novels. The real pornography might well be of politeness. . . . Roche reorients our senses to the kinds of stories we should be hearing, the very manner of their telling. We have been returned to the primitive base of fiction, and other modes seem somehow profoundly trivial. Novelists, germ-phobics all, sell us ethical narratives, as clean as hospital rooms. We need the Helen Memels to mess up the joint.” —Anis Shivani, San Francisco Chronicle

“Reading some paragraphs of [Wetlands] might cause an urgent desire to brush your teeth or take a shower, or both. And you will never look at your vagina—or cauliflower—the same way again. . . . . While certainly not for the squeamish, Wetlands raises fascinating questions about female hygiene and women’s lack of connection to their own bodies. . . . [Wetlands] has administered CPR to feminism.” —Julide Tanriverdi, Bust

Wetlands is that rarest of commodities: a genuine literary cause celebre.” —Shakespeherian Rag

“Ladies, prepare to be shocked.” —Joanna Goddard, Glamour.com

Wetlands offers the queasy intimacy and whip-smart, laughing-out-loud raunch of a Margaret Cho routine. . . . [It] mounts a highly intelligent and effective assault on the commonly held cultural ideas about women’s bodies . . . [and] has the inestimable virtue of being genuinely funny. . . . Wetlands contains a truly astounding volume and density of filth—most of it quite literal. . . . [But] even the most blatantly revolting passages work in service of the compelling set of themes at the novel’s heart. . . . The tremendous appeal of Helen’s narrative voice—with its boldness, good humor, youthful naivete, and utter lack of shame—is central to the novel’s overall success. . . . The fact that she is such a sympathetic and singularly memorable character is the best proof that Wetlands has consistently more going for it that shock value alone.” —Ryan Michael Williams, PopMatters

“A compelling psychological drama . . . The emotional core of Wetlands is not sex: it’s the aching need of a teenager from a broken family to be loved. . . . Wetlands is a quick read, and actually quite a good one.” —Christine Neulieb, Labyrinth Review

“[A] graphic, brutal scatological glimpse of one young woman’s sexual proclivities . . . Helen celebrates shattering sexual and social taboos in a way others might only dream of.” —London Lite

“We have to warn you, this isn’t the sort of book we usually review; [there aren’t] the usual chick-lit themes of finding Mr. Right, having babies or buying the perfect pair of shoes. Wetlands is the controversial debut novel from British-born Charlotte Roche, and it’s causing a frenzy in the publishing world. . . . It’s the book EVERYONE is talking about. . . . Powerful, funny and original, but it’s certainly not one for everyone. Just don’t lend it to your granny.” —Heat (UK)

“[It’s the] heartbreaking flashes of insight into family dysfunction, not the tours through beds and brothels, that have the greatest ring of authenticity.” —Gillian Engberg, Booklist

Wetlands is at times difficult to read, but that is all the more reason to read it. Female readers will be compelled to analyze their reaction to the gross-outs of this novel, and what it says about their own ideas about femininity, but I almost hope the readers are more often male. Women: Give this book to a man who needs to read it!” —Jessica Cutler, author of The Washingtonienne

“The aim of [Wetlands] is not to arouse, but to disturb. . . . Roche isn’t writing a serious apology for self-mutilation, or for promiscuity. . . . She’s writing about a troubled teenager. And that’s interesting—more interesting that bacterial sex play for the fetishistic sake of it.” —Russell Smith, The Globe and Mail

“[An] explicit and provocative debut novel about an 18-year-old girl with a very active sex life. . . . Through [protagonist] Helen Memel’s mix of eroticism and profanity, Roche attacks conventional views on hygiene, sexuality and the definition of femininity.”
Publishers Weekly

“An explicit novel, often shockingly so, but also a surprisingly accomplished literary work, which evokes the voice of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the perversion of J.G. Ballard’s Crash and the feminist agenda of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch.” —Granta Magazine

“Using language explicit enough to make the Mayflower Madam blush . . . the sassy if confessional tone [of Wetlands] introduces a 21st century Lolita whose bravado is slowly chipped away. . . . Intense . . . Exhilarating, moving, sad, and scary.” —Library Journal

“Not since Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch have readers and critics had such a Rorschach test for their body issues as this year’s novel Wetlands.” —Jessica Crispin, Bookslut

“A sharply-written, taboo-busting black comedy, both gross and engrossing. . . . [Helen Memmel] is Florence Nightingale’s worst nightmare. . . . Wetlands, in the tradition of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, is a remarkable novel about mental illness that has been mistaken for feminist literature.” —Alice O’Keefe, Newstatesman

“[A] tale of anal trauma . . . Much of Wetlands is authentically stomach turning. . . . It’s good to remember that being too clean can be bad for your brain and your body, and a little blood/sweat/smegma can actually be hot. . . . Roche does want to make you think . . . but she really wants to make you barf. Which, in its way, is also a noble thing. We tend to assume that gross-out humor—and grossness for pure grossness’s stake—is the province of boys. But any girl who ever wanted one of those squishy bloody eyeball toys, or who whiled away the hours with her girlfriends discussing ways to sneak body fluids into common household products, will know that being totally gross can be empowering for anybody. Gross stuff, in addition to just being fun, also relieves the pressure of pretending that our bodies are odorless, secretionless, effortlessly attractive social-interaction machines, a pressure which still lies much more heavily on women than on men. The truth is, women can be just as gross as men can—they just don’t get as much opportunity to do it in the outlets of mainstream culture. So if Charlotte Roche wants to make everybody puke with her story of smegma meals and anal leakage, that’s cool. And, okay, maybe a little feminist.” —Anna North, Jezebel.com

“‘Provocative’ is one of those publishing buzzwords reflexively used to stir up interest in the most banal of books. [But for Wetlands] the overused descriptor is tepid. . . . The novel’s utterly original, occasionally stomach-churning imagery [is] . . . probably not for Oprah’s book club.” —Anne Kingston, Maclean’s

Profoundly unsettling.” —Rowan Pelling, Daily Mail

“If you ever wondered what you’d be like if you weren’t shy, polite, tolerant, modest, sexually repressed, logical, and constrained by modern standards of hygiene, this may be the book for you. . . . This is not a beautiful or perfect book, but an enterprising one, and its cumulative effect is admirable. . . . Our bodies mean a lot to us—even the asshole, about which far too little has been written. Every writer needs to claim a bit of territory, and assholes are there for the grabbing. Boldly, Roche takes them for her own.” —The Guardian

“Roche has created a female lead that is likeable and funny, flawed and idiosyncratic. She manages to win you over because of, not despite of, the gross stuff. . . . Helen speaks abut female sexuality in a way that is rarely heard. . . . [Wetlands] is an easy page turner of a read, with a [heroine] who doesn’t conform to mainstream ideas of femininity and a great mixture of the gross and erotic.” —Subtext Magazine

“Savage, darkly humorous . . . Wetlands points to an odd paradox: For all the hedonism of an apparently liberated culture in which women can drink and screw with the best of them, the language we use to describe this behavior and these unleashed desires is profoundly outdated or, more often, simply absent. . . . [Roche] reminds us how far we have to go to overcome deep-seated embarrassments about the basic biological facts. . . . In Helen, Roche has created a character that promises a certain kind of liberation—the right to be sick and sexy, the right to be damaged and confident, the right to speak about anything and everything without shame. To combine such earnestness with comedy is a tough feat, but Roche pulls it off with a rare charm.” —Nina Power, Salon.com

“A bold, brash manifesto of contemporary feminine rebellion. Charlotte Roche is the long-lost love child of Anais Nin and Henry Miller.” —Kevin Keck, author of Oedipus Wrecked

“[A] graphic, brutal scatological glimpse of one young woman’s sexual proclivities . . . Helen celebrates shattering sexual and social taboos in a way others might only dream of.” —London Lite

“[Wetlands] makes for a stomach-churning read, to be sure. But in these times of hyper-cleansed, antibacterial everything, it’s also weirdly compelling to read about someone who revels in the body’s natural functions. Without it being a fart joke. . . . Helen’s messy, oozing, sexually unpredictable body operates as a metaphor for all the messiness of being eighteen and grappling with issues of identity, sexuality, family dynamics, and history—your reaction to the world and its to you. . . . The writing is disarming—direct, simple, and funny. Helen is witty, charming, and endearingly weird. . . . [Wetlands] has certainly struck a nerve . . . [and] to dismiss it is to dismiss the importance of understanding our entire human ecosystem by learning to live with and even wade through what too many of us still view as our less-than-desirable swampy bits.” —Josey Vogels, The National Post (online)

“[A] scandalous novel about sex, personal hygiene, and almost every conceivable part of the female anatomy [that] has taken the Teutonic literary world by storm. . . . It is the unashamedly shocking aspect of Wetlands that has turned the book into Germany’s current runaway literary success. Since the novel was published in February this year it has topped the best-seller fiction lists, with well over a million copies sold. It has become the only German book to top Amazon.com’s global best-seller list, was recently translated into Dutch, and is now doing almost as well in Holland. The novel is both an assault on the sexual and behavioral taboos that inhibit young men and women and an at times excruciatingly explicit account by the female narrator of how she goes about systematically breaking them.” —The Independent (UK)

“As the furore surrounding the publication of Wetlands has shown, there’s a very vocal segment of the population ready to accuse women who embrace pornography of some sort of treachery.” —The List

“There’s more to Wetlands than the graphic, bodily-function-related descriptions. The dirt, the indulging in self and others—not wanting to let go of a single bit of oneself, to the extent of trying to reinternalize any manifestation of injury or even just one’s sweat and tears—this whole back to basics (if not exactly nature) is very much just a shield for Helen, her attempt to protect herself from a world of hurt. Her ridiculously cheery tone gives the impression of a generally happy-in-her-own-filthy-skin girl, but it, too, is misleading. In fact, all she does is hurt (and yes, there’ a lot of pain involved around and in recovering from the operations). . . . It is a surprisingly insightful work, even as it (or at least her indulgences) seem so absurd. But it’s not an easy read. It’s about as uneasy a read as one can imagine. Helen . . . mentions a lot of sex, but this is not an erotic work. Yet it feels almost pornographic, because of the childish tone and the fact that Helen is a damaged child. The emphasis on her being of (legal) age is no coincidence: she is technically an adult, and has been for a short while now, but for the most part she is just a child. This isn’t a book about the freedom of not shaving one’s armpits (surprisingly, Helen shaves—and is shaved—a lot—though, of course, that’s also part of her problem, as it set everything in motion when she didn’t do a good job of it) or a new, permissive feminism of getting down and dirty. It’s simply a tender little story of a broken family and the toll it’s taken on one member of it. But—and this can’t be emphasized enough—it is very graphic, a book that’s almost hard to hold, because you figure when you close it bodily fluids will start dripping out from between the pages.” —The Complete Review

“Maeve Binchy is famous for her unique humour and insight; Cecelia Ahern is popular for her unlikely twists and touches of magic; Charlotte Roche has a different formula for success—hemorrhoids, hairy armpits and halitosis, mixed together into an unlikely erotic potpourri.” —Irish Independent

Wetlands made me squirm-in-my-seat uncomfortable—and I loved every minute of it! Roche turns expectations about women and sexuality on their head, and does it with a frankness that’s brave and hilarious. In a world where women’s bodies are supposed to be nipped, tucked, shaved and douched, Wetlands is a much needed antidote.” —Jessica Valenti, author of The Purity Myth and Full Frontal Feminism

“Thank you, Charlotte Roche. Finally someone who describes our bodies and the things we can do with them the way they really are: warm, moist, intensely fragrant . . . You might think that in the era of Internet porn sites like Youporn this isn’t necessarily revolutionary. But it is—because the hero is a woman. It’s told from her perspective, felt from her perspective, imagined from her perspective. That makes it different from other bodily-fluid-narratives, behind whose cameras or screenplays are men.” —Brigitte magazine (Germany)

Wetlands is first and foremost a romantic book, and it shows that our society is threatened not by the liberalization of sexual inhibitions but rather from a prudishness that hides behind silicon breasts.” —Vanity Fair (Germany)

“Whether it is the fantasies about sex, the polemics against the use of deodorants, the avocado cores grown specially for use in masturbation, or the detailed and inventive passages of scatological or genital description, Wetlands has left few indifferent.” —The Observer (UK)

“Roche jumps from the realm of pain to that of desire as if at the most fundamental level they were one and the same . . . The admission of the grotesqueness of one’s own body is perhaps the most chivalrous of all acts of courtesy, as it frees others from the burden of perfection . . . Charlotte Roche has succeeded in doing something linguistically nearly impossible: She reconciles us to the humiliations that mark the beginning of any seduction.” —Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Germany)

“[Wetlands] makes The Vagina Monologues sound like a nursery story. Helen’s oblivion to bodily shame and all the normal conventions that govern female sexuality make the novel both shocking and funny.” —Sunday Morning Herald (Australia)

Wetlands reads like an inventory of all the revolting things that come out of the body: blister-fluids, pus, farts, scabs, bogeys, urine. . . . Wetlands is to sex what the Bush Tucker Trial is to eating out.” —Craig Brown, The Spectator (UK)

“The latest erotic sensation reads a bit too much like a fictional version of Mommie Dearest for comfort.” —Joan Smith, The Times (UK)

Wetlands delivers a robust examination of the notion of the ‘clean woman’ . . . [and proves] that women are more than the sum of their orifices.” —Ed Caesar, Sunday Times (UK)

Excerpt

As far back as I can remember, I’ve had hemorrhoids. For many, many years I thought I couldn’t tell anyone. After all, only grandfathers get hemorrhoids. I always thought they were very unladylike. I’ve been to Dr. Fiddel, my proctologist, about them so many times. But he always said to leave them there as long as they didn’t hurt. And they didn’t. They just itched. And for that he gave me a zinc salve.

For exterior itching, you squeeze a hazelnut-sized dollop from the tube onto your finger with the shortest nail and rub it onto your rosette. The tube’s also got a pointed attachment with lots of holes in it that allows you to shove it up your ass and squeeze salve out to quell the itchiness inside.

Before I had the salve I would scratch at my butt hole in my sleep so much that I’d wake up in the morning with a brown stain in my underwear the size of the top of a cork.

That’s how much it itched, and that’s how deep I’d stick my finger in.

So yes, I’d say it’s very unladylike.

My hemorrhoids look strange. Over the years they’ve worked their way farther and farther out. All around the rosette now there are cloud-shaped lobes of skin that almost look like the arms of a sea anemone. Dr. Fiddel calls it cauliflower.

He says removing it would be strictly an aesthetic move. He’ll only take it off if someone is really burdened by it. A good reason for removing it would be if my lover didn’t like it, or if the cauliflower gave me anxiety during sex. But I’d never admit that.

If somebody loves me or is even just hot for me, something like the cauliflower shouldn’t make a difference. And anyway, I’ve had very successful anal sex for many years—from the age of fifteen up to now, at eighteen—despite the ever-expanding cauliflower. By very successful I mean that I can come with just a cock up my ass, not being touched anywhere else. Yep, I’m proud of that.

It’s also a good way to test whether someone is serious about me. During one of the first few times I have sex with somebody new, I get us into my favorite position: doggystyle, me on all fours with my face down, him behind me with his tongue in my pussy and his nose in my ass. He’s got to work his way in there, because the hole is covered with the vegetable. I call this position “stuff your face,” and so far nobody has complained.

When you’ve got something like that on an organ that’s so important for sex (is the bum even an organ?), you have to train yourself to relax. This in turn helps enable you to let yourself go and loosen up during, for instance, anal sex.

And since the ass is obviously part of sex for me, it’s also subject to the modern shaving regime, along with my pussy, my legs, my underarms, the upper lip, both big toes, and the top of my feet as well. Of course, the upper lip doesn’t get shaved but rather plucked, because we all know you’ll develop a mustache if you shave it. As a girl you don’t want that. I used to be happy enough without all the shaving, but then I started with that crap and now I can’t quit.

Back to shaving my ass. Unlike other people, I know exactly what my butthole looks like. I look at it every day in the bathroom. Standing with my bum facing the mirror, legs spread, my hands holding my ass cheeks apart, and my head practically on the floor, I look back between my legs.

I shave my ass exactly the same way. Except that I have to let one cheek go in order to hold the razor. The wet blade is put against the cauliflower and then pulled bravely in a straight line outward from the center. Right on out to the middle of the cheek, occasionally leaving behind a stray hair. Since I’m always conflicted about the idea of shaving, I always rush it and end up pressing too hard. Which is exactly how I caused the anal lesion that’s the reason I’m lying here in the hospital now. Blame it all on lady-shaving. Feel like Venus. Be a goddess.

Perhaps not everyone knows what an anal lesion is. It’s a hairline rip or cut in the skin of your rosette. And if this small open wound gets infected as well—which down there is highly likely—then it hurts like hell. Like with me right now.

Turns out your butthole is always in motion. When you talk, laugh, cough, walk, sleep, and, above all else, when you go to the bathroom. But I only realized this once it started to hurt. The swollen hemorrhoids are also pushing with all their strength against the razor wound, ripping the lesion open even farther and causing the worst pain I’ve ever experienced.

By far. In second place is the pain I felt run down my spine—ratatatatat—the time my father accidentally slammed the hatchback door of our car on my back. The third worst pain I’ve ever felt was when I ripped out my nipple ring taking off a sweater. That’s why my right nipple looks like a snake’s tongue now.

Back to my bum. In excruciating pain I made my way from school to the hospital and showed my cut to every doctor. Immediately I got a bed in the proctology unit—or do you call it the internal-medicine unit? Internal medicine sounds better than specifying “ass unit.” Don’t want to make other people envious. Maybe we can just generalize with internal medicine. I’ll ask about it later, when the pain is gone. Anyway, now I’m not allowed to move. I just lie here in the fetal position. With my skirt hiked up and my underpants pulled down, ass toward the door. That way anyone who enters the room immediately knows what the story is. It must look really infected. Everyone who comes in says, “Ooh.”

And they talk about pus and an engorged blister that’s hanging out of the wound on my butthole. I picture the blister like the skin on the neck of one of those tropical birds that puffs its throat out when trying to mate. A shimmering, inflated, red-blue sac. The next proctologist who comes in says curtly, “Hello, the name is Dr. Notz.”

Then he jams something up my asshole. The pain bores its way up my spine and into my brain. I nearly pass out. After a few seconds of pain I feel a wet squishiness and cry out, “Ow! Give me some warning. What the hell was that?”

His response: “My thumb. You’ll have to excuse me, but with that big blister there I couldn’t see anything.”

What a way to introduce yourself.

“And now? What do you see?”

“We’ve got to operate immediately. Have you eaten anything today?”

“How could I with this pain?”

“Good. General anesthesia then. It’s better given the situation.”

I’m happy, too. I don’t want to be conscious for something like this.

“What exactly are you going to do during the operation?”

The conversation is already straining me. It’s tough to concentrate on anything but the pain.

“We’ll make a wedge-shaped incision to cut out the infected tissue.”

“I can’t really picture that—wedge-shaped? Can you draw a picture for me?”

Apparently the esteemed Dr. Notz hasn’t often been asked by patients to sketch a diagram right before an operation. He wants to leave, glances at the door, stifles a sigh.

Then he pulls a silver pen out of his chest pocket. It looks heavy. Expensive. He looks around for a piece of paper to draw on. I can’t help him and hope he doesn’t expect me to. Any movement hurts. I close my eyes. There’s rustling and I hear him ripping a piece of paper out of something. I have to open my eyes—I’m anxious to see the drawing. He holds the piece of paper in his palm and scribbles with the pen. Then he presents his creation. I read: savoy cabbage in cream sauce. No way. He’s ripped the paper out of the hospital menu. I turn the paper around. He’s drawn a circle. I figure it’s supposed to be my butthole. And out of the circle a triangular wedge has been cut, as if someone has made off with a piece of cake.

Aha, got it. Thanks, Dr. Notz. Ever thought about putting all that talent into a career as an artist? The sketch doesn’t help me at all. Though I’m still no better informed, I don’t ask any more questions. He isn’t interested in helping enlighten me.

“Surely you could cut out the cauliflower with just a little flick of the wrist?”

“It’ll be done.”

He walks out, leaving me lying in the puddle of water from the blister. I’m alone. And worried about the operation. I think of general anesthesia as something dangerous, as if every second patient never wakes up. I feel courageous for going ahead with it. The anesthesiologist comes in next.

The sandman. He pulls up a low stool and sits down with his face right in front of mine. He speaks softly and has a lot more compassion for my situation than Dr. Notz.

He asks how old I am. If I were under eighteen there would have to be a legal guardian here. But I’m not. I tell him I’ve come of legal age this year. He looks incredulously into my eyes. I know. Nobody ever believes it; I look younger. I know this drill. I put on my serious you-can-trust-me face and lock eyes with him. His gaze changes. He believes me. On with the discussion.

He explains how the anesthesia works. I’ll count and then just fall asleep at some point without even noticing. He’ll sit by my head throughout the operation, monitor my breathing, and check that the anesthesia is agreeing with me. Aha. So this sitting-too-close-to-my-face thing is an occupational hazard. Most people don’t notice anyway—they’re knocked out. And he’s probably supposed to be as unobtrusive as possible and hunker down close to the patient’s head so as not to disturb the real doctors. Poor guy. The standard position while practicing his trade? Squatting.

He’s brought a contract that I’m supposed to sign. It says the operation could result in incontinence. I ask how it could affect my pissing. He grins and says this refers to anal incontinence.

Never heard of it. But suddenly I realize what this means: “You mean I might lose control of my sphincter muscles and then I could just crap myself anytime and anyplace and would need a diaper and stink all the time?”

The sandman: “Yes, but that rarely happens. Sign here, please.”

I sign it. What else am I supposed to do? If that’s what it takes to have the surgery. I can’t exactly go home and operate on myself.

Oh, man. Please, dear nonexistent God, don’t let this happen. I’d be wearing a diaper at age eighteen. You’re not supposed to need those until you’re eighty. It would also mean I’d only have managed to live fourteen years of my life without diapers. And you certainly don’t look cool in them.

“Dear anesthesiologist, would it be possible for me to see what they cut away during the operation? I don’t like the idea that a part of me could end up in the trash along with aborted fetuses and appendixes without my being able to picture it. I want to hold it in my hand and examine it.”

“If that’s what you want, then sure.”

“Thanks.” He sticks a catheter into my arm and secures everything with surgical tape. This is where they’ll pump in the anesthesia later. He says that in a few minutes a nurse will come to take me to surgery. Now the anesthesiologist too leaves me lying in the puddle of moisture from my blister and walks out.

The thought of anal incontinence worries me. Dear nonexistent God, if I manage to get out of here without anal incontinence, I’ll stop doing all the things that give me a bad conscience. Like the game I play with my friend Corinna where we run through the city drunk and grab people’s eyeglasses, break them, and then chuck them into the street.

We have to run quickly—some people get so pissed off that they come after us really fast even without their glasses. The game is stupid anyway because we always sober up from all the excitement and adrenaline. Big waste of money. Afterward we always have to start from scratch again getting drunk.

Actually, I’d like to give that game up anyway—sometimes at night I dream of the faces of the people whoseglasses we’ve just plucked off. It’s as if we’ve ripped off a body part.

I’ll give that one up right now, and I’ll try to come up with a list of some other things.

Maybe if it’s absolutely necessary I’ll give up the hookers. That would be a major sacrifice, though. It would be great if giving up the glasses game would suffice.

I’ve decided to be the best patient this hospital has ever had. I’m going to be extra nice to the overworked nurses and doctors. I’ll clean up my own messes. Like the fluid from my blister. There’s an open box of rubber gloves on the windowsill. Obviously for examinations. Did Notz have one on when he popped the blister on my ass? Shit, I didn’t notice. Next to the carton of rubber gloves is a big translucent-plastic container. Tupperware for a giant. Maybe there’s something in there I can use to clean myself up. My bed is up against the window. Slowly, gingerly, I stretch myself out a little without moving my infected bum and manage to grab it. I pull the container onto my bed. Ouch. Lifting it and pulling it tenses my stomach muscles, sending a knife of pain into the infection. I pause. Close my eyes. Breathe deeply. Lie still. Wait for the pain to subside. Eyes open. Okay.

Now I can open the container. What excitement. It’s filled to the brim with giant hygienic wipes, adult diapers, disposable underwear, toweling, and bed covers that are plastic on one side and cloth on the other.

I would like to have had one of those under me when Notz came in. Then the bed wouldn’t be all wet. Not very comfortable. I need two of them now. One, cloth side down over the puddle. It’ll soak it up. But then I’d be laying on plastic. Don’t like that. So another one with its plastic side down—plastic on plastic—and the cloth side up. Well done, Helen. Despite the hellish pain, you are your own best nurse. Anyone who can take care of herself so well will definitely recuperate quickly. I’ll have to be a bit more hygienic here in the hospital than I am outside in my normal life.

Decide For Yourself

I agree. Wetlands is a Feminist cri de coeur

“An explicit novel, often shockingly so, but also a surprisingly accomplished literary work, which evokes the voice of J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, the perversion of J.G. Ballard’s Crash and the feminist agenda of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. . . . [Wetlands] hasn’t been out of Germany’s newspapers since publication.” —Philip Oltermann, Granta

No. Wetlands is just filth

“Because she’s female, some European readers have interpreted Helen’s lack of inhibition as a feminist statement—and yes, Roche does show that it’s possible for a woman to be just as gross as a man. But that’s a pretty tired concept of equality.” —Time Out New York

Read an Excerpt from Wetlands and Judge for Yourself:

Washing your pussy is considered a deadly serious science in our home. It’s made out to be extremely difficult to keep a pussy really clean. Which is nonsense, of course. A little water, a little soap, scrub-scrub. Done.

Just don’t wash too much. For one thing because of the all-important flora of the pussy. But also because of the taste and scent of the pussy which is so important during sex. Don’t want to get rid of that. I’ve experimented with long periods of not washing my pussy. My aim is to get its enticing scent to waft lightly out of my pants, even through thick jeans or ski-pants. Men won’t consciously notice it but it’ll register subliminally since we’re all just animals who want to mate—preferably with someone who smells like pussy.

Then when you’re flirting you can’t help smiling the whole time because you know what’s filling the air with that deliciously sweet scent. It’s what perfume is supposed to accomplish. We’re always told that perfume has an erotic effect on those around us. But why not use our own much more powerful perfume? In reality we’re all turned on by the scents of pussy, cock and sweat. Most people have been alienated from their bodies and trained to think that anything natural stinks and anything artificial smells nice. When a woman wearing perfume passes me on the street, it makes me sick to my stomach. No matter how subtle it is. What is she hiding? Women spray perfume in public toilets after they’ve taken a shit, too. They think it makes everything smell pleasant again. But I still smell the shit. For me the smell of plain old shit or piss is better than the disgusting perfumes people buy.

Even worse than women spraying perfume in public toilets is a new invention that seems to be spreading fast.

You go to the bathroom at a restaurant or train station and as you pull the stall door closed behind you, you’re misted from above. The first time it happened I was really horrified. I thought someone had splashed water on me from another stall. But then I looked up and saw a dispenser attached above the top of the door. It’s actually designed to spray innocent bathroom users with sickeningly-sweet disinfectant as soon as they close the door. On your hair, on your clothes, on your face. If that doesn’t constitute rape by hygiene fanatics I don’t know what does.

I use my smegma the way others use their vials of perfume. I dip my finger in my pussy and dab a little slime behind my earlobes. It works wonders from the moment you greet someone with a kiss on each cheek. Another rule my mother had about pussies was that they get infected much more easily than penises. That they’re much more vulnerable to fungus and mold and whatnot. Which is why girls should never sit down on an unfamiliar or public toilet seat. I was taught to piss in an upright crouch, hovering above the rim, never touching the icky pee-pee basin at all. But I’ve figured out that a lot of the things I was taught aren’t true.

I’ve turned myself into a walking laboratory on pussy hygiene. I enjoy plopping myself down on any dirty toilet seat anywhere. That’s not all. I scrub the seat before I sit down, rubbing my pussy once around with a graceful gyration of my hips. When I press my pussy onto the seat it makes a smacking noise and then it sucks up all the pubic hairs, droplets, splotches and puddles of various shades and consistencies. I’ve been doing this on every sort of toilet for four years now. My favorites are the ones at highway rest stops where there’s just one toilet shared by men and women. And I’ve never had a single infection. My gynecologist, Dr. Broekert, can confirm that.

Once there was a time when I did think my pussy was infected. Whenever I went to the bathroom, sat down, and let my sphincter muscles relax so the piss could come out, I would notice afterwards when looked down—which I like to do—that there was a lovely, big, soft, white clump of slime in the water. With strings of champagne bubbles rising from it.

I have to admit that I’m very wet all day long—I could change my underwear several times a day. But I don’t. I like to let it collect. Back to the clump of slime. Was it possible that I’d been sick all along, and that this slimy gunk was the result of a pussy infection I’d contracted from all my toilet experiments?

Dr. Boekert was able to allay my fears. It was the result of a healthy, very-active slime-producing mucous membrane. That’s not how he put it. But that’s what he meant.

I keep close track of my bodily secretions. The whole active mucous membrane thing used to make me proud when I was younger, hooking up with boys. They might have barely touched my labia with a finger, but inside there was a slip n’ slide ready to go.

One boyfriend always sang while we were messing around: “By the rivers of Babylon” . . . These days I could make a business out of it, filling little containers for dry women who have problems producing mucous. It’s definitely better to get the real thing than to use some artificial lube. That way it smells like pussy, too! But maybe women would only be willing to do this with someone they knew—some might be grossed out by a stranger’s slime. You could always try it out. Maybe with a dry friend.

I really like to smell and eat my smegma. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated with my pussy’s creases. All the things you can find in there. I have long hair—on my head—and sometimes I’ll find a stray hair lodged between the folds of my pussy. It’s exciting to pull the hair out very slowly and to feel it moving in the various places it has twisted its way into. It annoys me when this sensation is over—I wish I had even longer hair so the feeling would last longer.

It’s a rare pleasure. Like another thing I get a kick out of: When I’m alone in the bathtub and I have to fart, I try to get the air bubbles to glide up between my labia. It doesn’t happen very often—even less often than with the hairs—but when it does, the bubbles feel like hard balls trying to bore their way between my warm, squishy lips. When it happens—let’s say once a month—my whole abdomen tingles and my pussy itches so much I have to scratch it with my long fingernails until I come. When my pussy itches I have to scratch it real hard. I scratch up and down between the inner labia—which I call the dewlaps—and the outer labia—which I call the ladyfingers—and at some point I fold back the dewlaps to the right and left so I can scratch right down the middle. I spread my legs wide—until the hip joints crack—so the warm water can flow into my hole. Right as I’m about to come, I pinch my clit—which I call my snail-tail. That makes me come so much harder. Yep, that’s how it’s done.

Back to smegma. I looked up in the dictionary exactly what smegma is. My best friend Corrina told me one time that only men have smegma.

So what’s this between my lips and in my underwear?

That’s what I thought, but not what I said. I was afraid to say it. But there in the dictionary was a long explanation of what smegma is. That’s what it’s called in women, too, by the way. So ha! One sentence has stuck with me to this day: “Only through inadequate hygiene can smegma accumulate to a level visible to the naked eye.”

Excuse me? That’s outrageous. An accumulation of smegma is definitely visible to me with the naked eye at the end of the day no matter how thoroughly I rinse the folds of my pussy with soapy water in the morning.

So what do they mean? Are you supposed to wash yourself multiple times during the day? Anyway, it’s good to have a juicy pussy. It’s extremely helpful for certain things. The concept of “inadequate hygiene” is flexible—like a pussy. So there.