I found this a tough and compelling read, and I'm still grappling with mixed feelings about it. Not Your Ordinary Housewife is a gruelling, and funny, and shocking, and, at its heart, a tragic love story.
Nikki was once one of Australia's foremost porn queen's, loved and revered by thousands of men who wrote her intimate letters, swooned over her raunchy photos and videos, and masturbated endlessly to the fragrance of her used underwear.
The life Nikki Stern has led is one where blame and victimisation could easily live, but it doesn't. This book is as much an ode to the heart wrenching and toxic relationship she had with her late husband, Paul, as it is biography. A cautionary tale of what it means to live with and love someone who is psychopathic.
Nikki harks from a very well-healed background. Adopted as a baby by Jewish parents who were well ensconced in the Arts (with a capital A), she was educated at MLC and holds more than one tertiary qualification. Nikki is an intelligent, capable and very creative soul, which makes reading her story is all the more difficult.
Early in the book Nikki shows how she fell deeply in love with Paul in Amsterdam. Paul is 8 years younger than she, but her equal in creativity and spontaneity, and it is easy to see the seeds of what becomes a manipulative and abusive relationship in Paul's constant pushing of Nikki's sexual boundaries. Being an experimentalist herself, and in spite of reservations, Nikki complies with his increasingly hedonistic requests and it is this acquiescence that lays the foundation for the direction their relationship and Nikki's life eventually takes.
Over time, Paul draws Nikki further and further across her moral boundaries. He uses threats, begging, persuasion and emotional blackmail to draw her more and more deeply into the porn industry and why? Because it seemed to be the only way he was content to earn a living. She identifies he has a need to live on the social fringe, however I suspect participating - nay - driving the porn industry served some other deeply disturbed purpose within him.
More than once I wanted to reach into the pages, take Nikki by the shoulders and scream 'NO! JUST SAY NO! He's too gutless to kill himself.' But (in spite of my warnings) Nikki gave in to is persistent pestering, over and over again, until she was being videoed with 6 men at once, or with a few girls (which she never took to -'Pussy perfume made me gag'), for the sake of peace.
The toughest part to cope with was when her adoptive mother died and Nikki had the financial freedom to leave - and she didn't. I heard Nikki speak at an author talk and she explained that Paul was an immigrant to Australia and had no family here. No one at all he could turn to, so she believed leaving him would have been cruel. This is speaks of the love Nikki felt for Paul. What she was willing to put up with, the extent of her incredible compassion for a man most women would have long washed their hands of.
The great irony of her story, though, is that by the time she was at the height of her popularity as a home grown porn star, her relationship with Paul was celibate. The only time she had sex was for work (prostitution, movies or photo shoots) or procreation (she had 3 children to Paul). Her true sexuality had become completely repressed, perhaps because of her overexposure to sex as a commodity?
Paul's final demise at a young age is horrific and predictable. That Nikki has survived to be as intact as she is is quite astounding. There is no blame, no resentment, very little regret in her story and I think it's this that makes her tale so remarkable.
This book is graphic. It has humorous moments. Its searingly honest. The writing itself isn't Pulitzer Prize winning, but Nikki says herself she's not a 'writer'. Nikki is brave beyond conception in giving detailed descriptions of what she agreed to do, with whom and why. She has written this book with blind courage, and it will stay with me for a long time.